The nesting technique of the cheeky willy wagtail features in a captivating new book by a Monash University academic that prompts thought about whether some birds’ nests could be considered works of art.
As an amateur naturalist and nature lover, Dr Janine Burke, art historian and award-winning author, has spent years observing birds. Her latest book, Nest: The Art of Birds, is the story of her passion, which she will discuss in a presentation at the Melbourne Writers Festival (MWF) this week.
Nest explores birds’ homes, from the elegant and expertly constructed mudlark’s nest to the softly cushioned depths of a willy wagtail’s home. It is a personal and intimate book – part natural history, part folklore, part exploration of art and aesthetics, part memoir.
Dr Burke, a research fellow in the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies, likens the striped honey-eater’s nest to an exotic purse worthy of an empress, stitched by a surrealist seamstress.
“I have a fascination for observing birds and an admiration for their nesting habits,” Dr Burke said.
“I think we tend to take birds for granted, in the landscape or in our neighbourhoods. Yet when they’re gone it’s as though there’s a hole in the sky, in the air, an absence of beauty and grace.
“What are nests if not art created by nature? How can we account for those exquisite, painstakingly constructed creations that are decorated, or woven through with feathers, or studded with objects of a particular colour or sheen?”
Nest reveals both the art and the mystery found in nature and celebrates them with lyricism, insight and great affection.
An education partner of the MWF, Monash University will be represented by an array of authors, novelists, historians, poets and literary scholars including Dr Ali Alizadeh, who was commissioned to write a new poem for the Festival’s Bittersweet project; Professor Jenny Hocking, author of Gough Whitlam: His Time; and Professor Bruce Scates talking about his book On Dangerous Ground, which recreates the most dramatic moments of the Gallipoli campaign.
The Melbourne Writers Festival will run from 23 August – 2 September.
Dr Janine Burke will co-present the ‘On the Wing’ session, an exploration of the beauty and biology of birds, on 2 September at 11.30am.
Dr Burke will also be part of a presentation on the legacy of the Heide Museum of Modern Art on 2 September at 4pm.
For further information visit the Melbourne Writer’s Festival website.