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Ornithological Rubbernecking

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Denise Batchelor, Owl Caged, at Viewfinder Denise Batchelor, Owl Caged, at Viewfinder Denise Batchelor, Owl Caged, at Viewfinder

You would be amused by these slightly frenetic antics if you didn't suspect the poor thing was distressed at its captive life in a small cage. The solitary creature looks forlorn and abandoned, even after considering the possibility of one's own projection. Are you imagining the bird's emotional state?

Auckland

 

Denise Batchelor
Owl Caged

 

18 May 2011 - 31 May 2011

This is one of a series of videos that Siobhan Garrett of the Film Archives has organised to play on Viewfinder’s flat screen in the front window of the Auckland Central Public Library. It is running continuously.

Denise Batchelor’s film shows a young owl (older than a chick, but not quite an adult) looking out towards the camera through the vertical wire bars of a cage. The twitchy scrawny bird is quite restless and curious about the onlooker, turning its head to the left or the right so its eyes are vertical or even upside down. Constantly twisting its neck - bobbing and turning so its mangy head is like a yoyo - the creature’s big yellow eyes blink at you or look away to above your shoulders.

You would be amused by these slightly frenetic antics if you didn’t suspect the poor thing was distressed at its captive life in a small cage. The solitary creature looks forlorn and abandoned, even after considering the possibility of one’s own projection. Are you imagining the bird’s emotional state?

However, it is not as heartbreaking as seeing large mammals, known to be social animals, confined to cages and alone. For example seeing a wolf frustratedly pacing up and down behind bars is considerably more disturbing because its intelligence and commonality (with us) is obvious.

Are there ways of interpreting this film beyond that of a statement about human cruelty? Say political? Looking to the left, then to the right? Or some general dissertation about freedom.

No, not really. It really centres on a statement about us - with not much leeway. It’s a condemnation of a common human vice, but doesn’t really extend far beyond that. The owl remains fascinating to watch in its own right - it watching us watching it. Perhaps that is enough.

John Hurrell

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