Publication Details

Kelly, M. T. Spectra of Birds, 2014–15. Gallery of Modern Art. 11 July - 11 October. Brisbane: Queensland Art Gallery, 2015.

Link to publisher version (URL)

Madeleine Kelly - Spectra of Birds


In ‘Spectra of Birds’ abstract images of birds spotted in West Wollongong are squeezed or trapped into the rectilinear architecture of empty Tetra Paks. The resulting expressionist distortions – angular in shape as determined by the cartons – are half bird, half cultural object suggesting the continual commodification of nature, a world gradually destroying itself, and the transformation of rubbish. In capitulating to the cartons’ open spouts, the birds embody the phantasmatic property of everyday materials replete with associative meanings of myth and consumerism. Two modes of identity birds/cartons and art/consumer material are sustained simultaneously in a single object. From an art-historical perspective, the planes of colour recall the work of colour field painter Ellsworth Kelly who attributes his minimal colour abstractions and the titles of his works to bird watching as a young boy with his grandmother. Yet in contrast to the restraint of formalist colour field painting, these birds might be said to return abstraction to its counterpart in nature, producing affects whereby the different permutations of colour and combinations of form embrace diversity, visual analogy and the aesthetic quality of these remarkable animals. The category depends on the intersection of birds that are seen and are therefore made, but their squashed states also suggest a crisis – those endangered, betrayed or disappeared.