For the birds
In the Holland Project Gallery right now, there’s a forest of trees—Sycamores to be exact—but cut at the top and the bottom, to give gallery visitors the odd sensation of floating through the space a few feet above the ground, midway along the tree trunks. On the trees, and on five window boxes spaced throughout the gallery, are dozens of birds. They’re not actual birds, but amorphous bird shapes, vaguely songbird-like, but made of porcelain, so they might seem fragile, and all white, so they might seem ghost-like.
Reactions to the birds vary depending on the visitor’s cultural associations and feelings toward the natural world. For the Thoreau-reading nature lover, the birds might be beautiful. For the horror movie buff, the birds might evoke the ominous suspense of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.
“This exhibit simulates the feeling of being watched while asking viewers to examine their emotions as they emerge from an innocent, sinister or reverent woods,” reads Josie Luciano’s artist statement on the wall in the gallery. She intends her art installation to give gallery visitors their own subjective responses to the experience of an animal gaze.
Luciano moved to Reno from the Midwest seven years ago. She’s the founder of Urban Roots, a gardening education nonprofit, and now serves on its board. She’s a mother and works as a freelance graphic web designer. She has been exhibiting artworks for the last two years at a number of local venues, including The Generator, Never Ender and Reno Little Theater. Her last exhibit was Carbon Copy at the Neapolitan Gallery in the local bar Monolith. It was a series of drawings she did copying the drawing movements of her infant daughter, whose drawings were also exhibited.
“They looked the same, but they were kind of made with opposite intentions,” said Luciano. “Hers is pure expression. Mine was replication, imitation, surveillance, killing myself with worry, all these things that were dredged up about myself and the control that I try to exact on my life—things I didn’t realize it was about.”
Her current exhibition in the Holland gallery is called simply The Forest. Each of the logs was measured for its specific location in the gallery, because there’s a five-inch slope to the ceiling. There are 130 porcelain birds in the space—Luciano says she made even more but there were “causalities” during installation. The exhibition is on display through Jan. 9, alongside I See How It Is, a collection of drawings by University of Nevada, Reno graduate and Los Angeles resident Christina Lee.
Another aspect of Luciano’s exhibition is a series of shoeboxes on a wall facing the front window of the gallery. Each shoebox interior is painted white but with an outlined bird silhouette left unpainted at the center, as though it had once been used as an avian coffin. The silhouettes create the sensation of birds having been there—a sensation of absence and loss.
“Even as we’re burying the natural world, we’re projecting our death rituals onto them, but the absence of the body, the absence of the birds’ will, that’s a big part of it, too,” said Luciano, describing the boxes.
For Luciano, birds sometimes represent the rest of the natural world, and, for this exhibit, the other animals that might watch humans out in the natural world.
“I think a lot of people think of birds as a proxy for the natural world,” she said. “It seems like a natural stand-in. They’re free, and they’re beautiful, and they’re smart, but they’re also very projected upon. Which is kind of the idea here. You come in and you have an experience based on your relationship to nature. It might feel whimsical to people or it might feel a little malicious.”