Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art: Feminist Art Base: Sutapa Biswas

Magnesium Bird

Sutapa Biswas. Magnesium Bird, 2006.

Magnesium Bird is an evocative and haunting work filmed in the 18th Century walled gardens at Harewood House (Yorkshire, UK).

In it, we see a large number of small birds sculpted out of magnesium ribbon being ignited at dusk. The sculpted birds burst into flames, creating balls of white fire that billow huge mounds of smoke, punctuating the landscape before us. In the background, we see a small group of children playing in front of a series of large greenhouses that reflect the density of the sky above. Their play further disrupts the stillness of the space. Filmed during storms and torrential weather, the sound track carries the viewer to the moment at which the work was shot.  The voices and conversations of the children at play eerily set against the stormy grain of the weather.

The film represents a rite of passage for the artist Biswas, who in the making of this work recalls that birds were the subject of the last conversation Biswas had with her father before he died, and the first sound she heard after was bird song. Thus, the context for this work is love and loss. The film presents a visceral encounter in which we the viewer, through the rich visual imagery and soundtrack, are transported to a place somewhere within our own past. The art historian and author Moira Roth was present during the filming of this work, and she recounts, "There was (intentionally) no audience for this event." Perhaps so because all those who were present were active participants in its making; perhaps like those who are involved in preparations for a funeral. Roth continues, "For a brief moment [during filming] the orchard was transformed into a supernatural world of magical birds and mythic children, a world of fire and smoke then ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

"Shifting from painting to film, her Biswas's installations now work on multiple levels of almost Bunuelesque visual poetry." Robert Clark 'Sutapa Biswas, Nottingham', in The Guardian Guide, Saturday September 18th 2004.

Magnesium Bird was commissioned by the Institute of International Visual Arts, London, and realised with the generous support of Film and Video Umbrella, London, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, UK, Chelsea College of Art and Design, and Magnesium Electron.


memory, video, family, death

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When Night ComesUntitled259 days (6,126 hours)Evilbird (Uraegin Thusangolensis)StormBig Fat Bird Taking All I

Magnesium BirdBird SongUnder my table

London, England
United Kingdom

c/o Chelsea College of Art and Design, University of the Arts London, 16 John Islip Street
London, England SW1P
United Kingdom

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