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Henrik Hakansson - Three Days of the Condor
Henrik Håkansson, California condor in flight, Film still, super 16mm film, 2004. Image copyright Henrik Håkansson. Image courtesy of the artist and the Modern Institute Glasgow.

CAMBRIDGE, UK.- Kettle’s Yard is presenting the first major exhibition in the UK of Swedish artist Henrik Håkansson. The exhibition takes its name from a new work ‘Three Days of the Condor’, one of three installations concerned with bird species whose survival in the wild is threatened - the California Condor, Gurney’s Pitta and Spix’s Macaw – evoking the isolation, vulnerability and beauty of some of the loneliest birds in the world.

Through film, sound and sculptural installations, the artist combines scientific systems of observation and communication with frequent references to popular film and music culture. At the heart of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the bunkhouse at Big Sur from which Håkansson filmed the California Condor. The condor’s story is dramatic. Thousands once flew from British Columbia to Mexico before declining precipitously during the Gold Rush. They reached a low of just 27 birds in the 1980s. Desperate biologists captured all remaining wild condors in 1987 and began breeding them in zoos. In 1992, they began re-introducing them and now 125 of the 272 birds in existence are back in the wild. Footage recorded by the artist, with rare sightings of the bird, is presented for the first time in ‘Three Days of the Condor’.

Gurney’s Pitta survives in very small numbers in southern Myanmar (formerly Burma) and Thailand. Lulled into a visual trance by the dense jungle undergrowth in Hakansson’s film, it takes a while to notice the tiny bird, with its jewel-like plumage. Håkansson also pressed a record of its song, which plays on a turntable nearby. Copies of the record are available for visitors to take away free from the exhibition.

Håkansson’s most recent research has been concerned with Spix’s Macaw, now extinct in its native Brazil and only preserved in a few private collections. “The Spix’s Macaw is a beautiful, heart-breakingly rare bird,” says Håkansson. “and its loss in the natural world reveals the fragility of its very existence – and of nature itself - not unlike the fragility of great works of art that we expect to last forever.” Poignantly, the installation includes a museum specimen on loan from the Natural History Museum: the preserved ‘skin’ of a bird whose discovery was also its tragedy.

Illegal poaching and collecting practices, the destruction of natural habitat and climate change are all part of the underlying agenda. According to BirdLife International, one in eight of the world’s birds —1,213 species in total — face extinction today. Håkansson’s exhibition provides a timely and thoughtful opportunity to explore our conflicted and often contradictory relationship to the world around us.

The exhibition has been organised by Kettle’s Yard, with grant-aid from Arts Council England and The Elephant Trust, and the support of BirdLife International. The artist also acknowledges the help of Ventana Wildlife Society in the making of ‘Three Days of the Condor’.

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