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White Box Like Objects

Kathryn Ryan for Barbara Campbell's 1001 Night's Cast

Performance #933 from SYDNEY at 8:10PM, 9 JANUARY 2008

I am lost. If you find me please call... and then there is a number. This is what I say, or a least this is what the words around me say. I don’t speak, or squawk. For that matter I’m not really myself at all, I am just a picture of another bird. Still, it is a life, and it is mine for the moment. This me—the me in the picture—is not lost at all. I stare out at the passing traffic aware that I am stuck to the trunk of a tree. Some would say I’m only particles of ink knitted together, a clever replica of colour and feather, a mirror of expression, but this doesn’t bother me. I may appear to have a fixed hold on life, but I still amplify with a look, fade in sun, and spoil with rain. It is true I grow old; I will disappear. Anything could happen to me. It is possible that my tree could catch fire and I will explode like the phoenix, sending flakes of ash into the air.


A Selection of Bird Stories (2011)

Kathryn Ryan

The Studio

The studio is troubled by myna birds, curious and alert to their surroundings. They explore the space, comfortable indoors. Their presence causes conflict and some people think the studio is no place for a bird. Others are just concerned about the pigeons. The pigeons, a lovely, gentle, green grass bird, lack the miner's cunning and get lost in the rafters as they try to escape. Their anxiety causes disruption and mess. They don't realise they are inside.

Travelling Earth

The birds have found a new way to travel. Like us they need no longer use their limbs. Waiting for  a train on the platform, one on the opposite side arrives. The doors open, a bird approaches, hops on, and leaves. The machine is a moving land, a flying earth. Is it uncanny for them to see the sky pass without moving their wings?

Worker Birds

We have put the crows to work. In the first stage of training they collect nuts. They can use these nuts to pay for more nuts (There is a machine with nuts in it, this is a vending machine for crows). One nut equals a handful of other nuts. They learn quickly. Soon we do away with nuts, and now they collect tokens. Tokens equal nuts. The possibilities are endless apparently, and someone suggest that maybe rubbish could equal nuts. Then they could work for us.

Roof and Floor

The birds are making their nests. We wear hats, or empty ice cream containers. The birds are zealous in their making, sometimes they take our hair—hair nests for bird eggs. We are part of a home. I wonder what it is like for my hair to be a wall, a floor, a bed—for an extremity to house the outside instead of the inside. My hair is out there, living another life. Still, we guard against their swooping— the bird's world is strange, and we dislike the pain of being dispossessed of our own coverage— of losing our roof.


Hard conker nuts are dropped near traffic lights. The cars work their way over them, smashing their shells and revealing their fruit. We wait for the lights to change and the cars to stop. The birds wait too. On the beep we cross and the birds pick up their harvest.

Red Cardinal

A red cardinal sits on the shelf. When you look out the window and see a cardinal it means inspiration is here. This cardinal is old and comes from Japan. His shoulder is worn. This is the first cardinal I have seen that is not in a book, I pay two dollars and now it is mine. It sits on my shelf at home, willing inspiration. But after a while it doesn't fit in. It's red is too red. It's too house bound. It's become part of the shelf. 

False Injury

Across the road a bird is injured. So I've been told—and it certainly looks to be true. It huddles in the corner of a doorway and wont move. It's Saturday, only a trickle of people about the city. Unfortunately, it seems the responsibility is mine. I call Wires, but they don't help city pigeons, although maybe if I can put the bird in a box they will come. I go back and get a box and a towel. I carefully usher the bird into the box and feel satisfied that I am doing a good deed, even if it is only helping a city pigeon that I felt guilted into helping. I look at the bird in the box, and after a bit, it flies away.


On the way to the shopping centre I notice all the birds occupying the sport's field are facing the same direction. What force aligns them?

Wing Walk

Walking through the bush I find a large black and orange glossy feather. A couple of steps further I find another one, followed by another one, and then—three together! I rejoice at my luck. A few steps on I find a wing. I turn back not wanting to find the bird.

Bird Collective

This lady must of loved birds. There are Austrian birds and Hungarian birds, German birds and birds made in Taiwan. Birds with broken beaks and legs and wings, and brilliant painted colours applied expertly by hand. Birds worth a hundred dollars, and birds worth two. Plates and teacups with birds of paradise, and books on birds and God.

Big Bird eats Small Bird

The caged bird flies around the house. It jumps cushions, rides shoulders, and climbs curtains. The door is open and the bird fails to realise the outside's not inside—it just looks like green furniture. Just as the small bird makes for the tall looking tree-lamp the big bird swoops, catching the smaller in its mouth and thinking it a strange delicacy.

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