“A Bird to Overhear”

In this 25-minute video — https://vimeo.com/666753146 — artist Brece Honeycutt draws us into her journey of wonder at the world around us — and of woe for the lack of regard with which we treat it. “A Bird to Overhear” is an essay filled with Honeycutt’s own keen-eyed observations interspersed with lessons gleaned from scientists, poets, painters and, above all else, nature. We hear birds at the start of the video then, against a backdrop of silence, Honeycutt’s voice asks: “Are we listening? Are you listening? When did I start listening?”

I strongly encourage you at this point to quit reading what I have to say about it and watch the video yourself. Then, if you wish, return and feel free to add your review to mine.

—- —- —- —- —- A Bird to Overhear – Brece Honeycutt on Vimeo —- —- —- —- —-

In “Observation,” the second and longest segment of Honeycutt’s video-essay, we listen to the artist read a succession of short, detailed notations she has made over the course of years walking the patch of land that fills the screen. At first, the landscape is static, a sequence of stills, but, by “March 5th, red-winged blackbirds return,” a plant in the lower left corner trembles. From then on, each successive view shows the landscape animated by the breath of wind — pushing clouds, shaking leaves, waving fronds, swaying stems and branches. The quieter we are, the video seems to imply, the more alive the world becomes, a truth driven home by Honeycutt’s narrative string of scenes she’s seen:

“. . . three crows berating a red-tailed hawk on its perch above the marsh . . . female Baltimore oriole repeatedly taking long strands of dried grass for nest . . . crows and geese feasting in cornfield . . . fifty turkeys in a line walking down the mountain . . . “

These are but a sampling from Honeycutt’s list of observations. Each anchors us to a specific time and place with a particular cast of characters yet, in its aggregate, the list implies patterns that will repeat themselves in myriad variations to infinity, triggering a whole new level of wonder.

“Observation” is followed by “Entanglement,” where the images are of nests, refuges ingeniously camouflaged as random jumblings of twigs and other found objects, “these disparate parts that form a whole.”

“Silence” and “Overhear” complete the video-essay, sounding notes of mourning, warning and longing. In “Silence,” for example, Honeycutt runs through an alphabet of avian self-expression, from “chirping, cooing, chortling, chattering” to “vibrating, warbling, whistling, yakking.” It, too, is a list meant to stretch out to infinity. But it doesn’t. The widespread use of chemicals, the destruction of habitats cut it short. Honeycutt the also points to another way birds are being erased — a way that reminds us of the crucial role language plays in the way we humans observe the world.

For all the talk of birds the only time we hear any is at the beginning of the video. This proves an unexpected and brilliant choice. Had Honeycutt included recordings throughout, they would have acted as a panacea and I wouldn’t have, at video’s end, immediately searched for an introductory birdwatchers’ walk to join.

“A Bird to Overhear” owes its beauty and power as much to the genuineness of Honeycutt’s voice and the cadence of her delivery as to her deft interweaving of facts, observations and quotations. In quantum physics the act of observing an experiment changes it — we can only hope that this holds true at the macro scale for the world can only benefit from Honeycutt’s meticulous, respectful observation of nature.

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