Feathers are never far away in the work of Emily Valentine. What was a readily available material for the artist in her early career as a costume maker and jeweler has evolved to become an ongoing commentary about the status of birds in mankind’s insistent hierarchical categorization of life around us.
Many varieties of bird life are represented: some exotic, some native and some famously despised, in the form of the Indian Myna Bird. Some of the feathers have been obtained commercially by Valentine – dyed in brilliant but unnatural hues. Others have been painstakingly collected from creatures who have met with accidental deaths, and the Myna Bird feathers have been harvested by Valentine herself. A specialized trap, set in a friend’s large native garden, produced 130 birds in one year alone – a testament to the virile nature of this registered pest.
In her most recent work avian mechanics have become the focus of Valentine’s attention. Interested in the way that human invention has stolen its technology from the genius of nature, Valentine has brought the design of aeroplanes and rockets back to the source of their inspiration, rejoining them with the forms of birds.
Central to Valentine’s practice is an awareness of humankind’s double standards when it comes to the forms of life with which we share the world. The subject of animals as ‘pests’ is particularly complex. Valentine is intrigued by the notion of that which does and doesn’t belong: one considered good and the other to be eradicated. Who decides that the Myna Bird is a public enemy, and therefore fare game for trapping? Questions such as ‘why is only some life precious’ and ‘when is it acceptable to kill another living creature’ are raised readily.
Says Emily,”In my work I wish to discuss how attitudes to wearing animals and birds parts have changed. Is this just because of fashion, or has society become more caring of animals? I wish to stimulate the viewer with the uncomfortable nature of the feather, to question our callousness treatment of animals and birds, and ask how we sub-consciously classify animals â€“ pet or pest, valued or worthless, beautiful or plain and why.”
Emily recently concluded ‘Flying Flings’ at the Australian Coucil sponsored Craft Act