Archive for February, 2011

Little Pecks

Day by Day, Ice Sculpture by Laila Ozols-Gillespie

As an interesting start to Valentines Day, one of my chickens, Hepatia, who is the smartest girl in the flock, decided to beak me with intent in the eye socket. This created a lovely, semi-black eye, and I am looking really sexy now, beak-chic. Hepatia is having hormone issues. Honest to goodness she is. All the other girls have started laying and she hasn’t. They were all born on the same day, June 1st 2010, I joke that I have 10 chickens because they are all Geminis. They should have all started to lay at the same general time. This little Welsummer is a late bloomer, my little teenager with feathers.

All the girls, when there were about to start laying eggs for the first time got really aggravated, ran around a lot, pecked and harassed their sisters, as though they were screaming “This isn’t right!” I guess Hepatia is a little more light sensitive than the other girls and hasn’t had enough for her to start laying, there being no direct sunlight in the yard. So she is in pullet purgatory for now.

Hepatia is the smartest hen of the lot, though she almost died in her first few days, refusing first to drink, then to eat. We share a special bond because of the extra nurturing and care she needed in her first weeks. I had to hold her little beak under water a lot, before she drank her first sips, it took hours and she could barely stand up. Then she didn’t want to eat. So even weak with hunger and thirst, she is still amazingly stubborn. Good luck to me to try and stop her attacks on my person.

As an addition to the hormone problem, she is pecking me because I left her for a month. This makes me an intruder to the flock, just as Tekla became a stranger to the flock because she was isolated with her injured wing for a time. At one point today Hepatia wheeled about at the run door and was about to level a full scale assault at me, she was going to defend her and her sisters turf! I know she is angry with me for abandoning her for so long. In my first days back she pecked my face and left me with two, inch long vertical gashes above my lip. This made me look like I was in a bar brawl. The girls had never done anything like this before, so I was shocked.

If I give any attention real or imaginary to her sisters, she attacks them with a swift jab of beak, so jealousy is in there somewhere too. To console her I have to pick her up for a few minutes, careful to keep her away from my face so she doesn’t strike me and this has been helping. I had been letting down my guard recently as she had stopped attacking her sisters and I, when given this special treatment. From her perspective I have a lot to answer for.

At this time I can’t give any extra attention to Tekla and Dazzle because of the retribution that would follow. I feel sorry for Tekla who still needs the added attention because her nervous tick still appears and now poor little Dazzle is the lowest on the pecking order and just gives out the cutest most mournfully sorrowful peeps. To treat them today, I gave them all ripe red cranberries from the freezer. They like pecking and eating ice, so little red pellets will be fun too. Happy Valentines Day!

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VSC Last Night Bonfire and Small Ice Sculptures

January, yes, January, what can I say, a new year, new beginnings and new irony. I had been writing a post on the art of futility and my ancient laptop computer decided to die. Presumed lost and unrecoverable was all my recent writing and photographs. So in the true essence of futility, as the computer might be salvageable, I started writing again, some great time later. This explains my recent lack of posts. Helpful to have no computer in some ways, as it gave me the freedom and time to work on the ice components for my Collaborative Destructive/ Cathartic/ Happening / Event at VSC. More information on that specific artwork will be revealed in later posts.

VSC was such a wonderful experience. I made so many new friends and everyone there was so lovely and supportive, the perfect art womb. We called it the snow globe since it snowed every single day, for more than two weeks and its perfect isolation, beauty and harmony was a magical thing for us. I had no idea what I would be working on specifically during the residency, only that it would involve ice. The cold weather, sometimes bitterly so, was the perfect foil for this planned exploratory ice work. The dazzling accumulations of snow, let me work and play with the many variables of frozen liquid and the super chilled evenings allowed my larger pieces time to set and harden. The last day of the residency it warmed past freezing and if this had happened earlier, all my work for the month would have been for naught.

On a daily basis, I soaked both pairs of gloves and boots thoroughly with ice and color melt. My month long fight against frostbite came pretty close to failure a few times. I sustained the type of cold in my extremities that, even though your digits have been warmed up, they feel like painful shards of broken glass, which continue to hurt for an hour or so. The last day of the session I soaked my clothing fully and completely with color, ice and snow melt. I was a walking red-orange blob. This trailing color dripping occurred, after the creation of an abject sculpture garden in the back of the sculpture barn, where I had worked in my experimental outdoor ice laboratory for the month. Nearly rupturing a gut, I had heaved 60 pounds pieces of colored ice into various sculptural formations, through the knee-deep snow. I then assembled smaller multicolored ice pieces of various color densities and clarities, into further artworks, positioning them in the billowing mounds of snow. Finishing off the sculpture garden I made a few colored water paintings, on the landscape of snow banks.

During the last evening, a magnificent bonfire was held in the fire pit amidst this sculpture garden. During a fleeting period of blue sky and sharp sunshine, a resident who saw the sculptures from her studio window across the river, thought that the flame red pieces were the bonfire started early, so luminous and flickering in the light were they.

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New Chicken Coop and Run at MUD in Windsor Terrace

While I was in Vermont at VSC, my little flock of hens were lucky to have James assemble their new run. I had designed the components, again on the fly and we somehow got them built during the race to move. The pieces had never been formally attached together, so it was always a bit of a question as to weather it would work or not. Tekla was still being hen pecked mercilessly and the run had to be attached to the girls new tiny coop, before she sustained permanent physical and mental damage. Her previously sprained wing had made it impossible to keep her with the other birds, as they would attack an injured bird, even a fellow flock member. I tried a few times to let her into the run in Red Hook, but as soon as they saw the tensor bandage and duct tape, which they love to eat – really, they are small feathered goats – they started pecking her injured wing. So she had to live indoors in the basement, in the clear plastic storage container that was the first brooder, like a veritable Sleeping Beauty. Now she had been reintroduced and the grudging fight for readmittance into feathered society had begun.

Tekla had developed a nervous tick of shaking her head sharply and violently, an action that she quickly and continuously repeated, over the months of her exile from the flock. Only when I held her and spoke to her gently, while looking into her eye would she perk up and stop shaking her head. Thankfully this calm would last a few hours before the self-harm tick started up again. She became more human in her interactions and less bird like in some ways, as I became her flock. The many visitors to the flat helped her, for they looked and spoke to her and she felt accepted into this new social group, when her own peeps had rejected her. So the new run in Windsor Terrace had to be made pronto for her health and sanity.

When discussing things with the old apartment’s landlord in October about the “farm” in the yard, which he suddenly wanted us to remove completely and immediately, we stood in the basement by Tekla’s cardboard, invalid brooder. Tekla is a quiet, docile, friendly bird and you can see her happiness when she figures out a new command I have tried to teach her. She beams with the joy of “I’m doing this right!” The landlord and I spoke for some time and it was essential that she keep quiet. With my back to her I heard a quiet demand call, this grew louder and more insistent, completely out of character for her. She got louder and louder, not quieting even when I looked at her, when I could. From her perspective I was spending all my attention on a new, alien, non-flock member and she was showing her displeasure at being left out. She immediately quieted once he left.

During the first weekend after the blizzard of 22 inches of snow, that reduced New York into a winter version of a Mad Max film, as people like me walked miles in the cold evening light by the wide plowed road by the Gowanus Expressway, passing all manor of vehicles embedded in snow, to get home, the run had to be built. It had warmed briefly, so a bare patch of the paver tiles of the garden beside the coop could be cleared. The run components fit together without a hitch. The garden slopes a bit, so in one area the pieces did not fit together flush but it was patched neatly with wood scraps from the coop build.

James fashioned three multi-height perches from tree branches salvaged in September for this use, a ladder was made and the hatch to the coop was unlocked. The girls bustled out, approval, success! A piece of clear corrugated plastic was positioned over the area of the run door and a silver tarp was hurriedly placed overtop it all, just as snow started falling again. Unexpected blizzard number two had arrived.

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