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When the Act of Making Creates a Refuge
Editorial by: Sherif Goubran

The Nest was an outdoor community-art structure by artist and landscape designer Claire Bédat in 1998. The project was installed outside the Roundhouse Community Centre in the heart of downtown Vancouver at False Creek North [1]. The piece was part of the SongBird Project which launched the same year in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The SongBird project, which took place from 1998 to 2002, put in focus the engendered fear and the sense of powerlessness around environmental problems and aimed at presenting alternative futures. The project was led by Vancouver artists and scholars, Beth Carruthers and Nelson Gray. Rooted in the belief of the power of our emotional connection to nature to change behaviour, the project linked art, science and communities to capture the imagination and engage the heart and mind – aiming at exposing the “nature within the city and the city within nature” relationships [4]. As a representation of the project, songbirds presented a strong cultural metaphor and their declining population were indicative of the challenges related to ecosystem stability in Vancouver and other urban areas [2].

Within this context, The Nest celebrated the “human’s connection to Home, Community, and Songbirds” [3]. As a community art project, the public was given a chance to participate in the completion of the artwork by bringing organic materials they wished to incorporate into the final piece. The structure created using waste cuttings from a botanical garden took almost a year to construct [1]. The materiality of the nest brings a strong reference to fields, gardens, landscape and farms. The Nest “withstood snow, heavy rain, winter squalls – as well as the protests of neighbours in high-end condos and a scandalized Parks Board” [1]. It also served as a refuge, if not a home, for animals, children and adults – an analogy to the function of a real bird’s nest [1]. In this project, the initial sketches, the final piece along with the engagement of the participants converged to deliver a vibrant call for biodiversity preservation, which still resonates with the memory of the work.

“Most often Ideas are brought to life through theoretical concept, but rarely through physical action” the artist clarifies [2]. She continues by highlighting that the act of making the structure required mirroring and experiencing the birds’ dedication in their nest building. “I was participating in the making of a shelter, a refuge, the house of my body. […] [I] feel that piecemeal incrementations such as this are essential in bringing us back to nature, the house of our soul” [2]. Many described the interior of the Nest has having a sweet smell that made it feel like home.

With the goal of raising awareness on the importance of preserving biodiversity on earth, the project activated the public’s emotional connection to nature. The presence of the art piece and the objects it displayed stood as an index to the “act of making” which brought it to life. The Nest crystalizes how “making” could enable us to use our body and senses shape and are shaped by our environment, to experience the struggles of other creatures, and ultimately to understand our place and links with nature. Through artmaking, a structure can become the means for change, for empowerment, and for rebuilding connections.

Today, the memory of The Nest is only recited by the artist, and the SongBird Project curators. The artist articulates how making The Nest brought her back to nature and the natural and the writing highlight the poetic analogies of the structure. However, one has to wonder if the public who watched Bédat at work shared the artist’s emotions and experienced the same ecological revelation.


[1] “The Nest.” SongBird Project. The Society for Arts & Ecology in Practice. Accessed November 28, 2019. http://www.songbirdproject.ca/nest.html.

[2] Schaefer, Valentin, and Leanne Paris. Songbirds in the City: a Celebration. New Westminster, B.C.: Douglas College Centre for Environmental Studies and Urban Ecology, 1999. [p. 37-39]

[3] “Arts & Ecology In Practice – Creative Vision for Future Flourishing.” songBird Project. The Society for Arts & Ecology in Practice. Accessed November 28, 2019. http://www.songbirdproject.ca/index.html.

[4] Carruthers, Beth. “A Conversation & Brief Survey Of The Terrain (Part 1 Of A 2 Part Series).” Ecoart In Canada. Women Eco Artists Dialog, May 31, 2013. https://directory.weadartists.org/ecoart-in-canada-a-conversation-and-brief-survey-of-the-terrain-2.

Project Title: The Nest (Songbird Project)
Claire Bédat
Place: Vancouver, BC

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