Letting fly with his creativity

Jerry Howlett’s Otago Polytechnic Art School graduating honours project involved making 50 black birds. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Jerry Howlett’s Otago Polytechnic Art School graduating honours project involved making 50 black birds. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
In its end-of-year Site show, Otago Polytechnic School of Art never fails to deliver scintillating, thought-provoking and imaginative works set to challenge what ‘‘art’’ is. Rebecca Fox discovers 2016 is no exception.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds may give a sense of Jerry Howlett's graduating honours project.

Howlett has spent the past year creating 50 black ''birds'', all similar but different when you look closely at them.

The inspiration? Not Hitchcock, although Howlett is a movie fan, but the idea of a dystopian, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction future.

''It's looking at genetic engineering run amok. With the advances we are having now, we could possibly create an intelligent species - it's a 'what if' scenario.''

In his exhibition, the birds, both standing and hanging, will ''feast'' on an oversized giant.

''It's very much tied to the human.''

He had pulled inspiration from Greek and Egyptian mythology including the myth of Prometheus.

''He gave man fire but in punishment the gods chained him to the rocks allowing giant vultures to come and eat his liver.

''These birds are mimicking that punishment.''

To create them, he used a basic mannequin to ensure all the birds were similar anatomically. He then added the wings, feathers and features.

The birds' features were sculptured from clay, giving each a unique character.

They were designed to be moulded into different shapes, whether to hang from the ceiling, crawl along the floor or be poised for flight.

Once arranged around the giant, some will be peaking out the wires from inside it.

''There is the element of the cyborg in them.''

Each has a USB port inserted into the backs of their necks: ''Power is knowledge. They are a highly intelligent species who can share knowledge between them,'' he said.

It had taken all year to develop and create the birds, but Howlett was working 16-hour days in the run-up to the exhibition to complete them all. It had been painstaking work.

He admits some of the inspiration did come from films.

''I've watched so many and wondered if I can create those effects. So from that point of view it was appealing.''

The former Logan Park High School pupil said he had always done art projects of some sort so never saw it as a ''subject'' to do at school.

However, once he left school, he realised he did not want to do any of the ''traditional'' tertiary subjects - ''I wanted to do art''.

His honours project was a departure for him and his first foray into the world of ''monsters''.

''I don't really know where that came from. I suppose the idea of the treatment of animals is where it started.''

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