Andy Holden and Peter Holden

Artangel
Former Newington Library, 155 Walworth Road
September 10, 2017–November 26, 2017

Andy Holden and Peter Holden, How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature (detail), 2017, mixed media, dimensions variable.

Andy Holden has collaborated with his father, Peter Holden, a notable ornithologist, on an exhibition that explores their fascination with birds. Inhabiting two levels of a disused library, “Natural Selection” includes video installations, archival material, found objects, and printed works. On the first floor, the scent of wood fills the space: Pieces of bark are scattered in piles across the floor, mimicking a woodland pathway. Nearby, three video screens display A Natural History of Nest Building (all works cited, 2017), in which the Holdens knowledgeably describe the mechanics and idiosyncrasies of bird behavior. We’re told of the devious cuckoo, whose first act as a newly hatched chick—from a nest usurped by its cunning mother—is to push out another bird’s eggs. We see the artistic weaver bird construct its home by intricately looping and knotting different plant fibers. There are comical and endearing moments, such as Andy passing a nest to his dad, who appears on the adjacent screen, to receive it.

How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature is laid out in the adjoining room. A mass of porcelain eggs in various sizes, colored and speckled like candies, is spread across the floor in an array of tubs and tins, just asking to be pilfered. In the basement is a second video installation, The Opposite of Time, where an animated crow voiced by Andy guides us through the social history of egg collecting, which has been illegal in Great Britain since 1954. It’s a story of fixation and tenacity, with “eggers” going to astonishing lengths to find their treasure.The Holdens, inveterate storytellers, reveal sundry avian and human histories by probing this peculiar aspect of British culture.

Grace Beaumont