Colleen Heslin


  • Perched

    December 6–January 24, 2004

    “Pigeons are a totally nothing bird: ugly, squat, full of worms, always falling off roofs and shitting everywhere. No other thing in the world falls so far short of being able to do what it cannot do as a pigeon does. Right, those are facts; so why don’t we just wipe them out, shoot them, gas them, have a national hunt week with prizes for the most dead: The point is, in some obscure, irrational, nonsensical way, we love them. There are pigeon protection leagues, pigeon enthusiast clubs, a magazine called the Pigeon Weekly. Old ladies who can’t afford it buy them food, and eccentric but well-regarded novelists walk round with pairs of scissors in case they find one with thread caught round its feet…These aimless, awful birds have the power to conjure up the most violent emotions in the human breast.”
    —Jeannette Winterson, Boating for Beginners

    In fables, animals speak and act like humans and this device allows the author to speak more candidly about human society than realism would allow. In her art world fables, Toni Latour looks with a similar candour at the pecking order in her field of operations. From medieval Bestiaries to Disneyworld, animals are invested with human foibles, vices, virtues and motivations and used to stand in for the most idealized and debased human characteristics. Latour reflects this cultural history back upon itself by imitating animal behaviour as an allegory of that curious human habit of art-making.

    In the video Robin Red Breast, a stationary camera records Latour as she imitates the display of the male robin seeking a mate. Lacking binocular vision, this artist/bird tilts its head from side to side and puffs up a red-sweatered chest, scuttling and stopping, scuttling and stopping, over a cropped lawn. The preening and posturing makes transparent the inherent exhibitionism and attention-seeking rituals of the act of performance.

    Perched: Honing Skills for Survival includes a light box containing an image of the artist balancing on a pool noodle outside the Vancouver Aquatic Centre. An audio loop tells the tale of a bird that, needing to make a migration across an ocean, but too small and weak to fly the entire distance at once, carries a twig in its mouth so that it may drop it in the ocean and rest upon it. Accompanied by artifacts of a performance—camoflage underpants, a safety-orange T shirt and rubber boots—this installation both satirizes and elaborates our sentimental identification with the lone struggling bird and dashes our metaphoric impulses against Latour’s self deprecating humour.

    Postscript 12: Colleen Heslin on Perched (PDF)