Art is usually made to be appreciated by humans, but an installation at a community centre in Vancouver is designed to also be viewed by birds.
Seeing Spots went up at the West Point Grey Community Centre on Wednesday (March 4). During an evening workshop, kids helped artists Geneviève Raiche-Savoie and Jesse Garbe place almost 4,000 vinyl stickers—each a dot measuring 0.75 inches in diameter—on the windows of the main office.
Beforehand, Raiche-Savoie and Garbe told the Georgia Straight that birds have been flying into the centre’s windows. The dots, which come in 11 different colours, will help deter these bird-building collisions, which often result in death.
“We’re playing with the idea that art can be usable by humans but also by animals,” Raiche-Savoie, a communication designer who teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design and Langara College, said.
Raiche-Savoie and Garbe compose the Department of Bird Safety, an artist collective that engages the public on challenges facing birds in the urban environment. They’re also members of the City of Vancouver’s bird advisory committee and the artists-in-residence at the Queen Elizabeth Park field house.
According to Garbe, Seeing Spots draws inspiration from English artist Damien Hirst’s famous spot paintings and the bird-collision-reducing markers available from Feather Friendly. The title of the installation refers to what people might see if they hit their heads on a window.
Garbe, who’s a painter, noted birds see an illusion of depth in transparent or reflective glass.
“What we’re trying to do is what modernist painters have done for at least 50, 60 years now, if not more: try and draw attention to the surface through colour and flatness,” Garbe said. “So we’re trying to bring birds into a modernist paradigm of vision.”
Raiche-Savoie pointed out that the dots in Seeing Spots are spaced two inches apart because that’s the maximum distance necessary for them to be effective as a deterrent. She hopes the installation will raise awareness of bird-building collisions among those who see it.
“You realize there has to be a deterrent for the birds to see the window,” Raiche-Savoie said. “Otherwise, they will hit it. So I think it makes people aware of that problem.”
In January, city council approved the Vancouver bird strategy.
The policy document notes over 250 species of resident, migratory, and over-wintering birds are regularly found in Metro Vancouver.
“An estimated 16-42 million birds collide with clear and reflective glass on buildings and structures of all sizes each year in Canada. Of the top ranking sources of mortality, bird collisions with buildings is a threat for which there are well-documented solutions and for which Vancouver can play a clear role by implementing Bird Friendly Building Design Guidelines,” the strategy states.
“Although bird collisions are known to occur in Vancouver, the extent of the problem is not known, as a monitoring program to assess bird collisions and evaluate buildings does not currently exist. A monitoring program is needed in Vancouver to learn more about the problem of bird collisions in our city.”
Intended for use by planners, architects, designers, builders, and homeowners, the city’s voluntary Bird Friendly Building Design Guidelines note that glass is “effectively invisible to birds”, which crash into windows because “they are trying to fly into the habitats they see beyond or reflected by the glass”.
According to the guidelines, birds are most likely to fly into windows “up to mature tree height, or up to the fourth floor of a building, whichever is highest”.
One way to increase the visibility of glass, the guidelines say, is to do the following: “Apply visual markers to the exterior of glass surfaces (markers on the interior surface of glass are less effective). Gaps between markers should be no greater than 5 cm vertically or 10 cm horizontally.”