On Saturday, May 17th, 2008, in the Lower Cowling Arboretum, we (Carleton College seniors Tricia England and Sarah Nienaber) installed a digital bird sanctuary, affectionately nicknamed “Zoo Arb.”
This sanctuary featured digital photographic and audio representations of birds from the Rice County area whom we had captured on film and caged within the confines of our laptop screens. These high-tech cages were placed on “bird” swings we had constructed of plywood and twine, which then were carefully hung on the most perch-worthy trees. Creating a sense of finite space in this open, outdoor environment was the sanctuary cage, which we constructed of chicken wire that we made to conform to a small thicket of trees, creating a space of enclosure like one might see at a zoo.
As students of site-specific media, we are interested in the emphatically anti-place quality of the increasingly prevalent media plinth and repository, the laptop. This piece of technology displays and stores a substantial amount of the media people enjoy, and its defining factor lies in its portability, its eschewal of chords or roots. In approaching this project, we asked ourselves whether such a piece of technology does or can have an organic relationship with site. Examining the natural world, we were struck by the example of birds, beings who, through their migratory habits, reject a static relationship with place, yet who, particularly through the media of song, define and enhance the aesthetics of the places they alight.
In addition to creating a pleasing aesthetic experience, “Zoo Arb” seeks to heighten its audience’s awareness of the role that the perceived personal sanctuary, the laptop, plays in both rejecting and enhancing place. By turning to an example from the natural world, the bird, we can sense both the confining and liberating aspects of place and placelessness, as well as the boons and the losses involved in physical and artistic enclosure.
Meet the birds: