Artist Jane Edden tells us how she created the artwork in her Avian Forms exhibition.
Where do you get the feathers from to make your artwork?
I only use feathers that are by-products of food – chicken, pheasant, guinea fowl, and pigeon – the feathers that would normally get thrown away.
Pigeons have the most beautiful feathers, but no one would think of them as beautiful – especially in London where they look a bit scruffy. Some pheasant neck feathers are that iridescent blue you get on butterflies – it is absolutely incredible, but these feathers just get plucked and thrown away when the birds are prepared for cooking.
Tell us about the process of making your Flying Jackets.
I get my feathers directly from the butchers before they are discarded, that way I can keep them in order and label them as I go. I can then recreate them as accurately as possible. I then freeze them to de-bug them in much the same way that museums freeze objects. So my freezer can sometimes be full of feathers.
The Flying Jackets are tiny. I only use the tip of the feathers. It is very intricate work so if I am sitting in my studio and anyone opens the door too fast and creates a gust, I get very frustrated!
I then make a little resin human form and start laying on a fringe of feathers from the bottom upwards. After that I use dental drills to drill the resin at the neck so you don’t ever see it. I try and create that perfect bird form, however, you can never lay the feathers on as beautifully as they are in nature – it is an impossibility.
How did you capture the Swan Arm photographs?
The Swam Arms are photographs of swans grooming from above. What I did was feed the swans so that they were all full and happy, and once they are full they start grooming. I would go every day so they got used to me, and then I would go and photograph them from above standing on a bridge.
But to me the Swan Arms look like a person putting on a coat – the way your arm twists around when you reach back to insert your arm into a sleeve. And when you see that arm in the photograph, you can’t see anything else.
I am interested in the human-bird cross over and also myths throughout history. There are so many examples of birds turning into humans and visa-versa across cultures, such as Swan Lake.
What about the Icarus Birds? How did those images get made?
I found a very skeletal bird which had died and fallen down my cousin’s chimney. I took the bird to the vets because they have a digital x-ray machine there. We then produced the digital images that I used by placing the bird skeleton in different positions.
I drew a lot of inspiration from the comparative anatomy drawings of Pierre Belon where he compares the human skeleton to that of a bird skeleton. I think it is very strange how human the bird skeleton looks – although they are more related to dinosaurs than humans.
I then added wires - linking the elbow to the foot as if it was going to pull the wing, which made it look even more human.
Cartilage doesn’t show up on x-rays very much so you get a slight shadow where the feathers would have been but not much more than that. So I added the feathers – which is where the artworks’ name Icarus Birds came in, because it gives the idea of strapping on feathers – a human able to fly.
See Avian Forms on display in the Natural History Gallery until the 9 October 2016.