Collection

Songbirds
Pae White

2001

Pae White
b.
1963
Title:
Songbirds
Production date:
2001
Accession No:
2003/13
Measurements:
Varied (see notes under measurement reading)
Media:
Paper and string

Collection Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

American artist Pae White was the international artist in residence at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in 2002. White is well known for her room-sized paper mobiles, and her exhibition at the Gallery, Ghost Towns, featured four mobile works including the monumental Songbirds. Consisting of colourful paper discs suspended on fine threads from the ceiling, Songbirds is a shimmering cascade of colour which twists and flutters in response to the viewer’s movements. Hanging at over two metres in height and filling the gallery in a sweeping curve, this wheeling flock dwarfs the viewer.

White’s confetti-like sculpture takes pleasure in pure visual impact. As with the dappled flecks of colour in Impressionist or pointillist paintings by artists like Claude Monet or Georges Seurat, this work is perceived as a unified form from a distance. This perception, however, is exploded into a myriad of spinning discs as we step closer. Birds, insects and fish swarm and flock together as a defensive strategy. The tumultuous accumulation of bodies serves to dazzle and disorientate potential predators, effectively camouflaging each individual amongst the group. White’s Songbirds similarly dazzles through sheer numbers, dancing between a micro and macro focus.

Distance and movement are integral to the physical experience of the work, and are also part of the network of ideas that Songbirds draws from. Resembling a flock of brightly coloured birds on the wing, Songbirds addresses ideas of community and migration. The work itself, originally shown in Los Angeles, performed a migratory arc to come to rest in New Zealand. In our increasingly globalised world artists such as White often work internationally, and Songbirds evokes this dissolution of fixed national and communal identities. Like shifting accumulations of pixels, or a temporary formation of online identities flocking from one fashionable website to another, it is only ever static for a moment.