27 Oct 2017

Bird Eco-Art in Hong Kong: inspiring a new audience

For thousands of years, nature has inspired artists across the world to create works of breathtaking beauty. And by encouraging people to observe and appreciate nature, we can inspire them to help conserve it. That’s why the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society has introduced an innovative programme which combines conservation and creativity to bring our message to a wider public than ever before.

Images of endangered birds are projected onto local scenes
Images of endangered birds are projected onto local scenes © Hong Kong Birdwatching Society / Cheung Wai Lok, Matthew Kwan
By Christina YM Chan, Hong Kong Birdwatching Society

Art and nature have always gone hand in hand. In recent decades, movements like Land Art, Earth Art and Environmental Art have swept across Europe, the USA, Japan and Taiwan. These artists use creativity to demonstrate their love of nature and to raise awareness, with some even deploying natural materials and creating their works in the wild. 

Since the 1990s, artists have gone one step further and joined forces with conservationists, combining their knowledge to create a new genre, Eco-Art. Eco-Art spans the media, using visual art, installation, music, dance and drama to deliver messages across the whole community, reaching audiences who might not have been interested in hard science.

Over the past 60 years, we at the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society (BirdLife in China (Hong Kong)) have been working hard to realise our vision: People and Birds Together, Nature Forever. Last year, we launched Hong Kong Birds Eco-Art after observing how many artists of all genres had been inspired by the vivid colour and beauty of birds.

 

Up to 3000 Common Shelduck used to overwinter in Hong Kong, but there have been no recorded sightings since 2014 © Hong Kong Bird Watching Society / Cheung Wai Lok, Matthew Kwan

 

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We believe that art isn’t just for artists, but for everyone, as everyone has the unique ability to be creative. So we invited members of the public of all backgrounds to join in this innovative education programme, combining birdwatching with art creation. We hoped that the experience of creating art in nature would not only enthuse participants about the birds that inspired them, but also stimulate support for the habitat that they live in.

Our first programme, supported by Hong Kong Railway Company Limited, provided a series of workshops exploring the following skills:

 

Light Stencils

Many birds overwinter in Hong Kong, or pass by the city on their yearly migration. Factors like climate change and habitat loss mean that some are now rarely seen or have even disappeared. Such species include the Dalmatian Pelican Pelecanus crispus, Spoon-billed Sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus, Black-headed Ibis Threskiornis melanocephalus, Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna and Black Stork Ciconia nigra.

 

Hong Kong supported 15 Black Stork in 1967. Their last recorded sighting was in 2015 © Hong Kong Birdwatching Society / Cheung Wai Lok, Matthew Kwan

 

By cutting out silhouettes and using a flashlight with long exposure photography, workshop participants allowed the soul and spirit of these lost birds to return to Hong Kong in the form of light.

 

Floating Platforms

A large number of fishponds in northern Hong Kong fall within a Ramsar site. Due to its ample supply of food, this is an important refueling stop for migratory birds. We selected a fishpond in San Tin as the project site.

 

A floating platform created by the participants © Hong Kong Birdwatching Society / Cheung Wai Lok, Matthew Kwan

 

The floating platforms were intended as a place for visiting birds to forage, or simply to rest during their long migration. Participants practiced associative thinking in a range of exercises, including writing letters to the birds. They then interpreted their feelings and wishes for the birds into floating platform designs, drawing inspiration from surrounding habitat.

 

Birds in motion

When we mention bird photography, most people’s thought jump straight to nature documentaries. But bird photographers are also experts at capturing form, colour and the distinctive behavior and unique personalities of the different bird species. In fact, it’s easy to compare bird species to different humans: some act like busy blue-collar workers, some like retired old men, and some are vain and beautiful, captivated by their own reflection!

Participants used continuous shooting and time-lapse photography to capture the quirks and foibles of each bird species. The photographs were then made into flipbooks with a title that encapsulated the character of that particular bird.