Q&A with artist Juan Ford

Published on 20 November 2016

Artist Juan Ford

Please tell us about the work you will be exhibiting as part of Birds: Flight paths in Australian art exhibition at MPRG. How did you come up with the idea?
This idea is an extension upon a work I originally exhibited at the National Gallery of Victoria in 2013–14, for Melbourne Now. I then also made another version of it for the Nakanojo Biennale in Japan in 2015, and this will be the 3rd iteration. I was thinking about the sheer numbers of us that have existed through history, and how there are probably more people alive today than have ever existed before. It’s a strange thought to contemplate but it’s likely true. I chose to symbolise these beings in another form, birds. When a participant places a bird on the wall, they consciously (or not) identify with it. The birds build up lightly at first, then escalate to eventually black out the sky.

What have you found interesting about the way audiences have engaged and responded with this work? What insights has it given you into human behaviour?
It has been fascinating to learn how people have interacted with the work. When the wall is largely uncovered, people tend to make beautiful little arrangements. As it fills up, people seek to claim their own space. The moment the wings cross over and no space is left, the dynamic changes again and becomes chaotic. I think it tends to reflect how we think of ourselves in the environment, and with one another. We seek company if lonely, but when too many of us are in one space, the bucolic dynamic changes to a defensive one. When too many of us are in one place, the seeds of conflict are sewn.

Back in June you had a residency at the Mornington Peninsula Shire’s Police Point Artist in Residence cottage. How did you find this experience and how did it inspire or influence your work at all?
It was a tremendous experience, but confronting and lonely. It’s an incredible place of great historic interest and natural beauty, and it is quite harsh in winter. Fortunately the heating was very good! I wrote and drew a lot and I am slowly processing my time there. Perhaps in a few months’ time it will bear fruit. It always seems to work that way for me. Experiences return to me in art like a distant echo.

Watch this video of Juan Ford and the MPRG install team putting up the background print of Arthurs Seat on the Mornington Peninsula, looking out across Port Phillip Bay.

WATCH SHORT VIDEO NOW: Juan Ford - Birds: Flight paths in Australian art from MPRG on Vimeo.