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Henrik Hakansson - Cyanopsitta spixii Case Study
Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology (Cyanopsitta spixii), 2005. © Henrik Håkansson.

BOSTON, MA.- Swedish multi-media artist Henrik Håkansson blurs the boundaries between the natural and cultural worlds this summer in Henrik Håkansson–Cyanopsitta spixii Case Study #001, on view through September 17, 2006, a contemporary Artist-In-Residence exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston. The exhibition investigates how illegal collecting practices over the last 180 years have predicated the tragic extinction of the Brazilian Spix’s Macaw (Cyanopsitta spixii) in the wild. Centering on a rare nineteenth century specimen of the Spix’s Macaw on loan from Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, this exhibition also draws parallels between the loss of a species and the loss of art, both inestimable treasures. The show is Håkansson’s first solo U.S. museum exhibition – and the first in a series of exhibitions planned by the artist centering on the Spix’s Macaw and collecting practices in the natural world.

“The Spix’s Macaw is a beautiful, heart-breakingly rare bird, and its loss in the natural world reveals the fragility of its very existence – and of nature itself,” says Håkansson. “Not unlike the fragility of great works of art that we expect to last forever, the disappearance of this rare and beautiful species illustrates a naivety that exists about the idea of permanence – and what society can do to destroy it.”

The work also explores illegal poaching and collecting practices that predicated the Spix’s Macaw’s extinction. “Håkansson is one of a number of artists, who work in areas usually reserved for Science, indicating the many doors and possibilities that are open to artists,” says Pieranna Cavalchini, Curator of Contemporary Art at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “He is interested in exploring and blurring the boundaries of culture and nature, dramatizing and heightening serious issues at play in nature – including, in this case, issues surrounding the ‘collectability’ and ‘theft’ of the natural world and the destruction of natural habitats.”

Håkansson was a contemporary Artist-In-Residence at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 2003 and 2004, during which time he explored the museum’s archives and collection, as well as its Mediterranean-inspired interior courtyard garden, a sybaritic setting abloom with a seasonally changing display of flora and fauna, on-site greenhouses and adjoining parks. He also sought to learn more about Isabella Stewart Gardner and her own appreciation for nature and its connection to the visual arts.

“Isabella Gardner engaged intimately with nature through her garden projects, her love of birds and animals in a manner very much of the Victorian era,” says Anne Hawley, Norma Jean Calderwood Director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. “Håkansson, by contrast, uses a variety of media to dramatize salient and serious environmental issues facing today’s world.”

The centerpiece of the installation is a rare and fragile nineteenth century specimen of the Spix’s Macaw, on loan from Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology, and never before displayed outside their private collection. The specimen was acquired in the early nineteenth century by the French ornithologist Baron de La Fresnaye. In 1861 his collection of nearly 9000 specimens representing well over 4500 species was purchased by Dr. Henry Bryant and subsequently donated to the Boston Society of Natural History, and in 1920 turned over to the Museum of Contemporary Zoology. Today, there are only 60-100 known Spix’s Macaws living in captivity in private and public collections around the world. The bird is extinct in the wild. As a result, the bird has become desirable. Sadly, for many years, it was the subject of black market trading and illegal collecting.

Additional elements in Henrik Håkansson–Cyanopsitta spixii Case Study #001 include a sound sculpture with a Spix’s Macaw “bird call” engineered by the artist and played on a 1980s Tascam TSR 8-track recorder in five minute intervals every fifteen minutes; loan forms from the exhibition; a map and a timeline illustrating the location in Brazil where the species was discovered and important dates in its history; a series of bulletin boards with downloads from the web about the Spix’s Macaw; and a photograph entitled No. 646 (Cyanopsitta spixii), La Vera, Loro Parque Foundation, Tenerife, 2003, showing a caged Spix’s Macaw in a breeding station in the Canary Islands.

Henrik Håkansson is a mixed-media artist from Sweden, whose installations have been the focus of gallery shows worldwide including in France, Italy, Germany, Japan, the United States and the Netherlands. Håkansson began his Artistin-Residency at the Gardner Museum in 2003 and later came back for a prolonged stay in 2004. On view concurrently with the Gardner Museum show is Tropico-Végétal at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (June 8-August 27, 2006), an exhibition comprising an imagined landscape created through five artists’ perspectives. In Håkansson’s contribution, “A travers bois pour trouver la forêt,” the artist creates a hanging forest incorporating leading-edge technologies with an appreciation for the exuberance found in the natural world.

Other participating artists in the project include: Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla; Gerda Steiner & Jörg Lenzlinger; Salla Tykkä; and Sergio Vega. Håkansson’s past projects have included Z.O.N.E. (Zoological Optimized Nocturnal Ecstasy) for Frogs, a mini-biodome disco, where frogs danced to techno music spun by a live DJ, and The Monsters of Rock Tour, a performance piece in which chirping crickets blasted over a PA stood in for a rock band.

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