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Exhibition explores the history of birds' nests and egg collecting through art
Installation view.

EASTBOURNE.- Towner Art Gallery presents Natural Selection by the artist Andy Holden and his father, the well-known ornithologist Peter Holden. Exploring the history of birds’ nests and egg collecting through animation, video, sculpture, and music, Natural Selection marks the culmination of a five-year collaboration between Holden and his father, now on a national UK tour.

A co-commission with Artangel, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery, Towner is the first regional gallery to which Natural Selection migrates, following Artangel’s launch in the former Newington Library at Elephant & Castle in September 2017. Reimagined for Towner’s large spaces, and drawing in additional elements by Andy Holden, such as new ‘rook’ paintings and tapestries inspired by John Clare and the land enclosure acts, alongside rarely seen works by Eric Ravilious, the exhibition takes on new meaning in the context of nearby rural Sussex.

Natural Selection originated in Holden’s father’s authority in the fields of natural history and ornithology. Peter Holden worked for the RSPB for 45 years, building the Young Ornithologist Club - which Andy Holden joined as a boy - into the largest wildlife club in the world. Peter also regularly featured as ‘the bird man’ on BBC’s Blue Peter.

Conceived in two parts, the exhibition celebrates an astonishing diversity of natural forms and embraces different ways of looking. The first part – A Natural History of Nest Building – examines birds’ nests, and how and why they exist in such an astonishing variety of structures. In a three-screen video, father and son visit various nesting sites and observe the nest building habits of woodpeckers and weaver-birds, house martins and oven birds. Large-scale sculptures inspired by the elaborate structures made by bowerbirds consume the gallery space, alongside Andy Holden’s private nest collection and his new display of bird feathers for the Towner show. Other sculptures made by instrument-maker and wood-turner Geoffrey Leeson are based on the wave-forms of birdsong.

In the second part of the exhibition – A Social History of Egg Collecting – an animated crow tells the story of the development of the practice from aristocratic pursuit, to boyhood hobby, and to underground illegality following the Protection of Birds Act of 1954 which banned the once popular activity in Britain. An expansive hoard of stolen eggs found in the home of notorious collector Richard Pearson in 2006 has been carefully recreated, laying bare the unstoppable urge of the collector.

Natural Selection by Andy Holden and Peter Holden is co-commissioned by Artangel, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and Towner Art Gallery with the support of Arts Council England, Bristol Green Capital 2015, the Henry Moore Foundation and Artangel’s Guardian Angels.

Based in Bedford, Andy Holden’s work spans sculpture and painting, pop music, performance, and video. Recent exhibitions include the 2016 Glasgow International, where Holden premiered his acclaimed animated video Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape; Future Generation Art Prize, presented by the Pinchuk Art Foundation in Venice and As Speed Increases, Objects Can Be In Several Places At Once at Lancaster University, both in 2017.

Solo exhibitions include Towards a Unified Theory of M!MS at 176 Gallery, London and Spike Island, Bristol in 2013-14, Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time at Kettles Yard Cambridge in 2011, Cookham Erratics at the Benaki Museum, Athens and Art Now: Andy Holden at Tate Britain in 2010. In 2014 Holden’s band The Grubby Mitts toured artist-run spaces throughout the UK.

Peter Holden is one of the UK’s leading ornithologists and conversationists. He first expressed his intention of becoming a professional ornithologist at the age of eight and joined the staff of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds in 1969. He worked for the RSPB for 45 years, building the Young Ornithologist Club into the largest wildlife club in the world, and regularly featured as ‘the bird man’ on Blue Peter. Peter was instrumental in developing Big Garden Birdwatch, the first ‘citizen science project in the UK in 1979. Together with Bill Oddie, Peter presented the popular BBC television programme Bird in the Nest in 1994-95. He is the author of several books including the RSPB Handbook of British Birds, the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildife and Birds: their Hidden World. Holden lives in a village in Bedfordshire.

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