At first glance, Kate MccGwire's feather sculptures seem to be frozen in the frenzied climax of some kind of perpetual movement. The mysterious feathered forms writhe and undulate, seemingly without end at times, creating a real visual and textural feast for the senses. But MccGwire's methodology for these graceful sculptures begins with reuse. In fact, the London-based artist uses recycled feathers from all sorts of birds -- pigeon, crow, duck, magpie, pheasant -- gathered from a wide network of pigeon racers and farmers who actually send her feathers in the thousands by mail.
MccGwire began working with feathers in 2007, taking a new creative direction after a fire in her studio destroyed much of her previous works. In an email, MccGwire recounted how for years, she'd already been collecting feathers of pigeons she found during her daily walks with the dog:
Daily I was finding moulted feathers lying on the ground so I started collecting them and swiftly realised that If I was to make something of any scale I would need thousands of feathers, so I set about the task of sourcing them. Over the past 5 years I have built up a network of pigeon racing enthusiasts who regularly send me feathers from the birds when they moult in spring and autumn. [..] I include large stamped addressed envelopes so that it's easy for them to just collect up the feathers that normally they would just throw away in the routine cleansing of the pigeon lofts.
In addition to pigeons, MccGwire collects feathers from other species, though these are usually from birds that seen as pests or game birds, and so are usually shot:
Crows and magpies are shot by farmers as pests on their farms. I ask for them to send me the wing and tail feathers of the birds that would otherwise be thrown away. Game birds -- pheasant, duck, woodcock, etc. are shot for sport and food, and I have a very kind plucker who saves me the specific feathers that I need.
To create all her sculptures, MccGwire painstakingly collects, cleans and sorts the tens of thousands of feathers she receives, with the supply being dependent upon factors like the species of bird and the timing of the moulting season.
For example, her 2010 work Slick (photos below) used iridescent blue magpie feathers, which took her years to collect, since there are only a few blue feathers on every magpie.
In her work, MccGwire often consciously chooses to accentuate the sculpture site's architectural or historical context. For instance, for her 2010 piece Evacuate (photo below), which was sited in a 300-year-old country estate, she selected the feathers of birds (mallard, goose, peacock, pheasant, teal, woodcock, woodpigeon, quail, grouse, French partridge, turkey and chicken) that would have been cooked in this oven over the years.
Birds have long been symbols of spiritual power and grace, oftentimes portrayed as messengers bringing omens and other mystical occurrences. MccGwire's sculptures seem to suggest a kind of mystical alchemy, melding ancient symbolism with free-flowing forms, pushing the possibilities of such a fascinating material -- while at the same time inviting us to witness th forces of nature, made manifest.
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