Rāra avis

Rāra avis, commissioned for Contour 556: interventions in the landscape, curated by Neil Hobbs, Public Art Festival 22 Oct - 13 Nov

Links to 5 videos: 

Rāra avis is a site specific work in which Erica employed QR codes to create five thoughtful points of intervention along of the Kingston Foreshore, a location inhabited by black swans. By scanning these codes with their devices, viewers were taken to a website supporting digital works featuring images of black or white swans. Combining film and photographs of black swans in Australia and white swans in England, Erica created movies that explore ideas of possible and impossible dualities through patterns and symmetry.  Only available online through the portal of the QR codes along the foreshore, these works played with the idea of the presence of place and lived experiences in the real world. This is in contrast to the constructed and interconnected landscape in cyberspace that allows us to be in multiple places simultaneously.  Viewed in real time during the course of an outdoor walk, these small interventions employing swans as points of reflection, provide new perspectives on this landscape that may be taken for granted in the everyday. 

In considering the dualities of experience, this work also considers an historical reference to black and white swans. Until the French explorer Antonie Caen sighted black swans on the Western coast of Australia during his 1636 voyage, Europeans had presumed that all swans were white. Until then the black swan symbolised something that didn’t exist. The phrase rāra avis, coined by 1st Century Roman poet Juvenal,  ‘as rare a bird upon the Earth as a black swan,’ stated the impossible. The sighting of black swans on European expeditions overturned this thought, and reasoning that underpinned such a fallacy. However the significance of the philosophical idea of the black swan has continued as an analogy to remind us of the fragility of any system of thought, and that any seeming impossibility might yet be disproven. A ‘Black Swan Theory’ has also been developed in order to speculate about how we might perceive rare events that exist beyond our normal expectations of systems in nature, science, technology and society. 

This work has been created for ‘Contour 556: interventions in the landscape’ is a three week public art festival on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra in October 2016. It took place around the major cultural institutions: the National Library of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the High Court of Australia and the Kingston Arts Precinct. It featured fifty local, national and international artists, encompassing artworks, performances, sound installations, music, and digital projections responding to the layers of Canberra’s history. Contour 556 interrogated the relationship between artworks and space; artists and the public; and the ways in which art, performance and play can influence how the public perceive and remember space. The event was the first of its kind for the Canberra region, and there is scope to see it become a biennial fixture in the visual arts calendar, attracting local, national and international visitors.  Website for exhibition