We have pink hair, we love birds, and there are more of us than you think. Our tattoos belie our habit of crouching in bushes clutching binoculars and stifling cries of joy when we add to our "life list" of sighted species. Mary McCarthy's vastly underrated novel Birds of America is our constant companion. So we were excited when author Michelle Tea's "Pigeon Manifesto" (her contribution to a reading in May) alerted us to the fact that there are plenty of weirdo birders on the loose. Pigeons are punk rock, Tea argued, as tough as concrete and possessing a gritty allure (kind of like us!). She challenged listeners not to fall prey to knee-jerk pigeon hatred. People despise them because they're survivors, she said, enduring society's evil eye -- and trays of foot-melting liquid set out by sadists.
Hopefully, "Urban Birds," an art exhibit curated by Erin Dengerink Madarang, has a similar feel to Tea's essay. Madarang put the show together as a response, according to press materials, to "the number of Bay Area artists ... who are obsessed with birds." Again, we feel validated. We are not alone. It's a groundswell.
By emphasizing the city environment instead of a pastoral setting, Madarang and the artists she includes avoid the sentimental traps one might expect from bird-related art. Noel Franklin's large-scale paintings are a good example: She uses metal, blood, glass, and coffee to illustrate the old Native American story of the crow stealing fire from the sun with "triumphant thick black birds." Other pieces include Ami Tallman's parodies of birdwatchers' guidebook art; a crazy, ceiling-encompassing installation by Renee Dolores and Emily Sevier; and tons more, from the mythical to the taxidermied. Thomas Kinkade's pansy robins had better watch their feathered butts.