Humans’ impact on urban wildlife a focus for Austin artist


Like visual artists have for centuries, Calder Kamin finds much inspiration in the natural world.

But it’s urban wildlife and the tricky dance of cohabitation humans and animals perform that intrigues the Austin artist most.

With that in mind, she’s created sculptural installations of wild animals made entirely of brightly colored plastic bags and also graphic advertisement-like illustrations that playfully but powerfully emphasize ecology.

Two of Kamin’s ongoing public-oriented projects are included in “The Mother Art” at Art Science Gallery, a group exhibit that spotlights animal kingdom architecture from spider webs to bird nests to coral reefs. (The exhibit’s title takes its cue from Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous quote that “architecture is the mother art.”)

Her Synanthrope Stations offer a housing solution, of sorts, for cardinals, finches, sparrows and starlings among other common urban-dwelling birds, who frequently use refuse to build their nests. (Synanthropic animals are wild species that live within, and even benefit from, human habitats.)

Kamin crafts whimsical ceramic containers, with hollow pods with multiple openings or simply ceramic lattice. Once filled with plastic bag bits, cardboard, string and other nest-appropriate refuse in bird-friendly sizes, the containers can then be suspended from tree limbs or eaves — avian home improvement supply stops.

Several of Kamin’s Synanthrope Stations hang from the eaves outside Art Science Gallery.

And the gallery windows sport several bird decals from Kamin’s Impact Proof project.

Birds lack the ability to recognize most types of glass. And window strikes are among the most significant threats to the urban bird population, with some avian awareness groups estimating that 1 billion birds are killed annually.

Adding an image to a window signals to the bird that there is an obstruction in its flight path. Kamin created a series of strike-deterrent window decals using her own vivid, graphic style to render colorful images of birds including cardinals, mockingbirds and Monk parakeets.

Kamin began her Impact Proof project in 2013 when she lived in Kansas City.

“On the walk to my downtown studio one day, I noticed a kestrel (a small falcon) lying on the ground after it collided with a bus stop shelter,” says Kamin. “I tried to rescue it with the help of the local nature center, but the bird did not survive her injuries.”

Since then she’s taken Impact Proof to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Arkansas, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Beach Museum of Art in Kansas, not only installing decals on museum windows but also hosting stencil-making workshops and creating a survey of local bird species for the public to document and share with the Audubon Society’s crowdsourcing site ebird.org.

“For years, my work was about just replicating the animals that enchanted me,” says Kamin. “But Impact Proof and the Synanthrope Stations set the turning point in my practice. Not only did I want to create sculpture and installations that would help animals but that also educated the public about the ways humans impact biodiversity and the co-evolution taking place between humans and animals.”

Now, all of Kamin’s projects include some sort of educational component, typically a public program. On June 27, she’ll lead a mini-workshop in decal-making at Art Science Gallery.

And in the spirit of sharing, Kamin offers her program lesson plans as well as downloadable bird stencil patterns on her website, calderkamin.com.

“Growing up in Austin, I always admired the natural world,” she says. “Now I use my creativity as a tool to share with the public my discoveries and observations of urban wildlife. My mission is to inspire the next generation to be more thoughtful of animals.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Homepage