If the first thing that comes to mind when you come across Myfanwy MacLeod's installation The Birds is, well, The Birds, you'll be forgiven. Alfred Hitchcock's film was indeed very much on the artist's radar when she created the work of public art for the development that served as Vancouver's Olympic Village. MacLeod's birds may just be a couple of sparrows, but they are huge and intimidating and a bit creepy, as was her intention.
"I think it boils down to wanting to make something sublime for the plaza - that is something beautiful, but frightening at the same time," MacLeod explains about the installation (the first to be approved under the city's Olympic public art program and the last, as it turns out, to be installed). The 4.5-metre-high male and female sparrows dominate the waterfront plaza in the Southeast False Creek development, perched between two glass-walled high-end condominium buildings. (The site has its official opening Saturday, although nobody lives there yet.)
MacLeod studied film at Concordia University and the Hitchcock classic is particularly beloved by the London, Ont.-born, Vancouver-based artist - even though she got a D on the exam. She's seen it more than a dozen times and can recount scenes in great detail (the playground scene is a favourite).
The human-versus-nature power reversal explored in the film excites her, and is echoed in this installation. "We have a very kind of romantic relationship to nature and I'm interested in playing with that romantic notion and kind of inverting it, sort of like how the birds attack in the film," she said recently, standing next to one of her gigantic sparrows. "And the scale of [the installation]has that similar effect, where our relationship to the birds has changed. Because normally when you're on the plaza, you see little birds and you're this giant thing. Here it's the opposite: You're the small thing in relationship to the giant birds."
MacLeod's birds are also a nod to sustainability (this is touted as a green development), the area's history as a shipyard (sailors traditionally received a sparrow tattoo after completing a 5,000-mile voyage), and they're an ode to immigration, a by-product of MacLeod's recent fascination with alien species. The house sparrow is not native to North America, but was introduced to New York in the 1850s as a form of pest control, and to satisfy cultural nostalgia for homesick Europeans. The birds were alien, exotic. They're now ubiquitous. Part of the everyday landscape. Barely noticed.
Vancouver's Olympic Village opens to the public for the first time Saturday at 10 a.m.