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New York City is part of the Atlantic Flyway, a major bird migration route that swoops along the Atlantic Coast all the way from the Arctic to the Caribbean Sea. Commuting birds, like many New Yorkers, enjoy the respite of Central Park, but have few other options for food and rest in concrete-heavy Manhattan. Artist Anina Gerchick’s “Birdlink” is envisioned as a year-round living sculpture for local and migrating birds in these urban areas.
“The original idea was to have this in the densest urban areas possible so that it would really fill in a gap, especially since birds tend to fly over the Atlantic Flyway, see Central Park, land there, and then have to move north or south from that point,” Gerchick told Hyperallergic. “It’s been shown that they really do need places to rest and get more sustenance, so the idea was to provide some pockets — even if they’re small — to make a corridor. We ended up having the opportunity to build it on Governors Island, which is a very different place, but a perfect place to launch it.”
This summer’s prototype on Governors Island was part of New York City Audubon’s Nature Center and involved a nine-foot-tall plant wall installed outside one of the island’s former military homes. Its native plants, donated by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation, were each rooted in separate containers that were supported by a bamboo structure. As the summer rains caused the plants to flourish, blueberries, purpletop tridens, black-eyed susans, and other flora attracted birds and bumblebees. The spiraling form of “Birdlink” is constructed from repurposed and affordable materials so as to be visually engaging while also feasible to deploy at multiple sites.
“I have been a painter all my life, and at some point I just found that my concerns had a lot to do with the city, the urban environment, and the environmental issues around climate change,” Gerchick stated. So she got a master’s degree in landscape architecture at City College of New York, and expanded her practice into public art that concentrates on ecological issues.
“Birdlink” is in a new phase in Williamsburg’s East River State Park. Its second iteration opened on October 6, timed with fall migration. It is on the Brooklyn waterfront through May 2019 as part of the park’s outreach to both human and bird visitors. In the winter, its modular design will allow for certain plants to be brought down and covered during their dormancy; pods, seeds, and other bird favorites will remain as an avian resource. Then in spring, the plants will again be reconfigured for the next migration season.
“The idea is that it could go into various places and it would have to accommodate each site on its own terms,” Gerchick explained. “People who I’ve talked to who are experts on birds say that even to have a small offering of native habitat, birds come to it.”
Following its installation in East River State Park, “Birdlink” is planned to pop up in 2020 in Sara D. Roosevelt Park on the Lower East Side, a much denser urban setting than the first two locations, and thus a more necessary site for birds. Similar to environmentally-minded design projects such as the Berlin-based Green City Solutions’s CityTree, a 13-foot wall of moss intended to be a self-sustaining air cleaner, and Studio Roosegaarde’s smog-eating bicycle, “Birdlink” is as much about raising awareness as it is about solving an ecological problem.
“I think that the issue of birds is just a really good one to lead people into thinking about environmental issues,” Gerchick said. “We can relate to them, and a lot of people like them, and there are political issues [related] to them, too. For instance, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act is having its 100th anniversary this year, and at the same time that treaty has been under attack by the Trump administration. So there are really big legislative problems that we have to be aware of and help to defend. Birds can open up into culture and politics and the environment.”