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These Birds Are Forever

This short film was projected on the Beinecke Rare Books & Manuscript Library during the projection installation LUX: Ideas Through Light which paired designers and researchers together. The resulting collaborations presented cutting-edge research at Yale to a new audience. In collaboration with Andrew Sternad. You can watch an interview about the making of this film here, and you can see a version of the film projected on the Beinecke here.

Row after row of files are stacked to the ceiling. A faint chemical smell permeates the gleaming white space. Fluorescent lights buzz overhead. A drawer slides open, and the room comes to life.

The bird collection in the Yale Peabody Museum’s Division of Vertebrate Zoology is a stunning archive. Brilliant color is everywhere, belying the room’s sterility. Within each drawer lies an endless landscape inviting exploration.  A mystifying patch of iridescent blue, a vivid pink stripe, or a fragment of a single feather can each be arenas for playing out the forces of beauty, ornament, and desire. Elements of selection and choice are everywhere.

To visit this collection is to slip in and out of time. You have to wash your hands afterward to rid traces of arsenic from the collection’s oldest specimens. You can pick up a bird that has been extinct for 100 years – if you can stand to meet its unblinking gaze from cotton-stuffed eyes. These birds are forever.

Special thanks to Dr. Richard Prum, William Robertson Coe Professor of Ornithology, Ecology and Evolutionary and Biology, Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.

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