THE BOWERBIRD’S BOWER
As humans we all have our self image that driven force inside of us, wanting to become the person we ideal to be. The need for expectations the modernized world created inside of us wanting to motivated us to carve our personal identity, a self-image the world would attract to. Consumerism and symbolism became to be our tools to become this ideal person.
These images of Bowers created and build by Bowerbirds became the perfect example to project this lifestyle and mirror our needs as human beings. This collection of bowers where sighted in the Tablelands and Rainforests of Australia. Bowers are constructed by Bowerbirds: mysterious, architectural masterpieces. They are a stage for elaborate dances in order to attract the female bird, to mate, and to reproduce.
The birds construct these masterpieces by collecting symbolic items, sticks, twigs and colourful ornaments that all contribute to seducing the female. As the y seem to be still lives or remind me of cabinet of curiosities. The birds build these Bowers to attract the female for mating, obsessions with attracting attention, often of potential partners. They are perfect constructed stick-by-stick an architectural master avenue or tunnel is created; something is built out of nature in nature.
The compulsive collection of colourful items, whether white, blue or multi-coloured, is planned obsessively to achieve a particular purpose. Each ornament appears to be neurotically placed to create a unique presence of their world. The placement of each natural or mad-made object contributes towards a final composition aimed at achieving the attention of a partner. A field guide demonstrated to me how a Bowerbird notices the displacement of a single object, moved in its absence by wind, gravity or other animals, and returns that object to the exact, original spot!
These stage-makers create their own world by means of construction and ornamental decoration. Each individual object is placed in its unique position to complete the composition. However, the masterpiece is never complete, and the artist never satisfied; there is an endless rotation and addition of objects. I was fascinated by the role human beings play in this ritual: man-made objects are central to the bower and its success. The act if continually collecting is reminiscent of human behavior and needs, it illustrates the urge or habit to gather and collect natural objects, which, in turn, recalls the era of the cabinet of curiosity, and humankind’s own fascination with rare, natural objects.
I photographed Satin, Great and Golden Bowers. The Satin and Great Bowerbirds collect both natural and man made objects for the decoration of their bowers, whereas the Golden Bowers are situated deep in the rain forest, under the forest canopy, and is constructed with natural objects only.
The Golden Bowerbirds collect green objects, because green objects do not last for very long and are regarded as precious. The also collect rain forest orchids that only grow on the tops of the rainforest canopies. The Golden Bowers are the largest bowers and are made by the smallest Bowerbird. There are rumours that Golden Bowerbirds collect real gold, but this information has not been disseminated to the popular media to prevent the extinction of the species. The Satin Bowerbird male is a blue of color with a purple sheen and the colour blue is the dominant colour collected by the Satin Bowerbird. Their bowers look like a playground strewn with blue toys, washing pins, bottle tops, strings, feathers, spoons, straws, and pens. They also collect the bones and skulls of other animals, such as the Brushtail possum. The Bowerbird will even scavenge the wing of a dead bird if it contains the valuable blue that the Bowerbird is after.
The male Satin Bowerbird only develops its satin, shiny colour after seven years. Before that the male and female look similar. There is some confusion when younger males come to destroy bowers or steal objects: then the “owner” of the bower is under the impression that an interested female has arrived, but suddenly the “she” will fly off with one of his ornaments. Various bowers display similar ornaments and decorations. Surprisingly they are even in the same area. Decorations around a Satin Bower such as cicada nymph cases, brown snail shells, carpet snake skins, fruits and even condoms and their wrappers have also been seen at bowers.
Inside of the bower itself some of the sticks are painted by the Bowerbird’s beak with crushed vegetables and saliva. Inside of the Satin Bower, the bird might paint with a mixture of crushed blueberries, vegetable and saliva. The smell of the paint attracts the female bird. The more decorated and impressive the bower, the better the bird’s chances of attracting a mate.
The Great Bowers makes us of reflective material such as glass or metallic objects appear shiny in sunlight and are employed to seduce the females. Research indicates that bones attract the female to the bower, while once the female has entered the avenue the sight of shiny bits of glass is the main attraction.In the Great Bowers the courts surround the bower, which is where there are snail shells and other non-colourful objects. The more valuable ornaments are on the side of the Bower exits. When the female enters the bower she only sees that area of the court where the male will perform by throwing around the colourful ornaments from the sides of the bower on the periphery of the female’s view from inside the avenue.
Great Bowerbirds also paint the walls of their bowers with vegetable, wallaby dung and saliva. Away from human settlements the bird collects animal bones, leaves, stones, snail shells, flowers, insects, and fruits. Closer to human settlements one will find metallic objects such as gun shells. The distance between these bowers is about two kilometers much stealing of objects occurs.
All of these birds perform a dance to impress the female: for instance, the Satin Bowerbird performs a dance and by making a mechanical-like sound while dancing, the female knows each step of his dance and when she is unimpressed she will simply fly away.
The objects are placed at the entrance and exit of the bower and the more unique objects are placed in the middle of the bower – so the placement is certainly not random, but strategic. The more one observes the bowers the more they reveal, and yet the mystery surrounds these bowers grows and deepens. It is as if certain objects are clearly either liked or disliked; as if there is a continuous discussion or an agreement among the birds regarding the relative value of objects. One wonders whether these birds gather somewhere to identify and classify ornaments as fascinating, attractive or unattractive. Or do these birds share and steal by sight, observing that one bower has this and another? There must be a hierarchy of value. Are they influenced by each other, is there an instinctive market or sense of fashion and trends? The characteristics of the consumer and of consumerism become apparent.
Fieldwork suggests that some Bowerbirds collect certain objects for their own bower on the basis of jealousy.
In a sense Bowerbirds are playboys of the forest – performers, artists and architects from nature concerned with attracting mates for reproduction. Being attractive for sex, the behaviour of Bowerbirds raises interesting questions about the characteristics needed to be so regarded as desirable: it awakens our thoughts as we find ourselves in our daily routines: what do we collect and what do we do, how do we strive in our modern lives for money, for new cars, for new things to impress others and boost our ego and self-image. I think the bower is an ideal example and reference from nature through which we can mirror our own lives.
The project attempts to show that there is a language right before our eyes that we as human beings cannot access – similar to seeing hieroglyphs of the first time. But it leaves us with traces and a sense of communication between animals. And yet there is this connection, perhaps a broken link, of man-made objects. It provides some clue: analysis and deconstruction are the only tools we have.
Bowers leave us with what is perhaps the essence – documenting numerous bowers, analyzing them and making deductions, prompted this question: does the act of obsessively collecting beautiful things (whether cars, jewellery or clothing) lead us to the core of attraction? Do the things we collect and our self-image project another message or meaning to the world? Is it necessary to collect?
These photographs depict a structure of and for attraction; scrutinizing the photograph/bower can render us mindful and heedful of ourselves and our way of living. The bower is a reflective structure.