The diary of the making of a film and an on going fascination with birds and their accompanying cast of human characters. By Ceri Levy.
April 27th 2011
To be truthful this year has been a shockingly bad one for me in so many ways. I was taken really ill in January and am only just recovering three months later. Thankfully I have had things to work on while recuperating and one of those things is about to make its public appearance. We are staging an exhibition entitled Ghosts of Gone Birds, an exhibition highlighting the dangers of bird extinction to raise awareness as well as money for BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions Programme.
By creating a work that represents a particular extinct species, over 60 contemporary artists have brought back to life a bird that has been lost, and the exhibition asks the question why should we lose any more? The natural rate of bird extinction is probably about one bird per century, but in the last thirty years alone 21 bird species have disappeared.
Artists include Rob Ryan, Ralph Steadman, Sir Peter Blake, Jamie Hewlett, Billy Childish, Desmond Morris, Olly and Suzi, Marcus Coates, D*Face, Holly Johnson, Peter Scott’s daughter Dafila and many others, with names continually joining the list.
The show will make its first appearance in Liverpool on May 19th and 20th as a two day festival of art, music, words and birds, with artists, writers and musicians contributing to the proceedings through talks, lectures and readings, with surprise performances and appearances being planned. The venue is the Liverpool School of Art and Design.
It is then intended to bring the show to London in November and we are just finalising details on the venue as I write. Getting to this point has taken the best part of two years and it has proved to be hard work just to get here. No one said it would be easy but I think we are nearly there, so let’s drift back in time and see how we got here.
May 5th 2009
Some time ago, Jackie, my wife, wanted to introduce me to someone that she thought may be interesting for me to work with and that was Chris Aldhous, from the creative agency Good Pilot. How right she would prove to be. My work on The Bird Effect has led me to explore the world of conservation as a strand for the film and I have felt that BirdLife International’s Preventing Extinctions programme was the right vehicle to use. Exploring the programme, which is run by my good friend and birding mentor, Jim Lawrence, has led me to the conclusion that I want to do something more than just include it in the film. Although featuring it in the film is an important enough thing to do, I feel that I could promote BirdLife’s programme in another way as well but have not been sure what that could be. Hence the meeting with Chris was arranged, in case he had some thoughts that may be useful.
Today we met and got on really well and I felt completely enthused talking to someone who is so obviously bursting with thoughts, ideas and creativity. I really feel that we could end up working together in some way. My gut instinct seems to be working overtime today, and let’s hope it’s proven to be right. Amongst other things, we talked about the possibility of staging an exhibition utilising the artists, musicians and writers that we both know and Chris went away to have a think about it. I liked him a lot. Let’s see what, if anything, develops.
May 29th 2009
I got a call today from Chris and I am going back for a meeting with him and his partners, Pierre Humeau and Pete Hodgson, at their offices next week. Being called Good Pilot, I hope they can steer us to somewhere interesting.
June 4th 2009
The more I have been thinking about it the more appealing an exhibition seems to me. Jackie and I venture to GP’s offices and are presented with a great idea. We are hooked the moment Chris unveils the potential title of the show.
Ghosts of Gone Birds.
It sounds like a show that you should know, a show you have already heard about, a show you have already seen. The idea as we discuss it, is to create a memorial to all the bird species that we have lost as a symbol to highlight the danger, sadness and incredible loss that goes hand in hand with extinction. We will get contemporary artists to pick an extinct species to represent and to breathe life back into that bird for Ghosts. One of the main aims is to appeal to a different audience than usual and we think we can do this by approaching a diverse selection of artists from different genres and sections of the art world.
November 2nd 2009
Our first meeting with Jim Lawrence at BirdLife’s offices in Cambridge goes well as we explain our ideas for Ghosts to Jim as well as John Fanshawe, who is involved with the arts and culture agenda within BirdLife International and who has the official title of Senior Strategy Advisor. Also present are Ade Long and Martin Fowlie, from the communications office. I really get the feeling that it will be good working with these guys.
December 18th 2009
This is the day for us to present Ghosts to Dr. Marco Lambertini, the Chief Executive of BirdLife, which ends up cancelled due to the snow that has stopped the world from working. It is so frustrating trying to get things done in this country. We can’t handle any change of weather. Why not!?
January 8th 2010
Finally we get to present to BirdLife and all goes really well. Marco and the other members of BirdLife that we present the idea to are really supportive of Ghosts. They totally get our idea of wanting to appeal to a different demographic than BirdLife reaches out to normally, and to engage with a new audience that perhaps don’t realise the problems that there are in the world for birds. For the first time since conception Good Pilot and myself feel that Ghosts is a living entity and that it truly exists. Level 1 complete.
Today – April 27th 2011
Time since that cold January day has been spent honing the idea and one of the most important developments for Ghosts is that we decided that the show should have two areas within it. The first area containing the Ghosts of Gone Birds, i.e. the extinct birds, and in the second area, we have today’s critically endangered birds, the ones that are on the verge of extinction right now. These are the Ghosts of Nearly Gone Birds. The message of the show is don’t let what’s happened to the birds in area one happen to the birds in area two, and that there is still something we can do to help save today’s birds from extinction. This area offers hope, for without hope we are surely lost.
Ghosts is all about blurring artistic boundaries. I abhor the way that art is so readily compartmentalised into categories, especially in this country. There is a feeling that artists from different genres shouldn’t mix, and I detest this notion. Ghosts, because of its strong theme can cut through this issue, as the subjects themselves are so incredibly diverse that it allows a mix of artists and styles to co-exist happily alongside each other. An urban artist’s bird can and will sit next to a wildlife artist’s piece, while an abstracted painting hangs perfectly next to a photorealist painting. Ghosts is about tearing down man made divisions within art and will appeal to a diverse audience purely by the nature of the far ranging choice of artists and the birds that they depict.
Since last year we have been contacting artists to get them on board the ghost ship and we now have an amazing selection of painters, sculptors, writers and musicians working away on their respective birds. I am staggered by the response we have had from everyone we have approached and the quality of work that has been pouring in is quite simply, humbling. I really feel that it is going to be a unique and beautiful show and with luck we will, between us all, create something magnificent.