Over the last two years the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) has been working with artist and animator Sean Harris in partnership with the Senedd (the Welsh Parliament), Ruthin Craft Centre, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales and communities across the AONB and beyond.
Devised by Harris but evolved through many conversations along the way, the project gives voice to two iconic birds: one close to hand and viscerally familiar to older generations, the other more distant but an enduring symbol of the far-reaching consequences of our actions as consumers.
The Curlew – which may be gone from Wales in less than a decade – and the Great Auk – whose tragic demise is bookended by pioneering Welsh science – together raise stark questions of our capacity to learn from past mistakes. They speak of an unsustainable relationship with the ‘beyond human’ world born of society’s increasing disconnection from nature.
How do we remedy this? Where do we find hope? And how do we overcome the divisions that hold us back in undertaking the actions which are so urgently required?
For two decades Sean has used animation as a vehicle for exploring and expressing the diverse relationships between people and landscapes in Wales and beyond. Invariably adopting a resonant creature as guide – salmon, deer, butterfly, crane, bison – his inclusive way of working forges new networks.
His collaboration with the AONB is long-standing and pioneering activity undertaken within its landscapes has provided the blueprint for subsequent work with an array of conservation and research institutions elsewhere in Wales and beyond.
The current project aspires to recalibrate our connection with nature by questioning our contemporary perception of it. This entails journeys to other places reached via creatively-enabled travels through time and space – and through the landscape itself. These enable us to view our own time and place anew, perhaps even through the eyes of other species.
For millennia art and beast have combined to present a vital means to question, express our relationship with the land and ultimately to say, ‘this is us and this is our place’. Embracing this ethos within an animated travelling menagerie, Harris brings the birds to life so as to hold up a mirror to society and thereby help shape a better future for generations to come.