Every year, an estimated 1 billion birds migrate north and south along the Pacific Flyway, a veritable freeway of avian life, bridging hemispheres from the Arctic to Patagonia. Along the way, the Fraser River Estuary provides essential resting areas for these winged travelers, and supports the largest overwintering population of birds in all of Canada. The City of Richmond is situated on this estuary and its residents, airborne and terrestrial, roost together within this magnificent and fragile ecosystem. They share the same space and atmosphere.
To express this, we began with the silhouette of the Great Blue Heron. As the most majestic of the Pacific Flyway’s airborne, this bird is known for its uncanny ability to stand very still and then take flight with a magnificent flowing wingspan. The heron also builds remarkable nests to coddle their offspring, making it an ideal symbol of protected habitation.
In selecting this symbol we discovered that the heron’s graceful form has inspired artists from western, eastern and indigenous traditions for over a millennia, expressed in many media and scales. So, not only does it share the same geographic and oxygenated situation as Richmond residents, but also has positive associations amongst various cultures, with a persona of patient quietude, dynamism and dedication to it’s young.
The central idea for the artwork was to create a symbolic roosting space for this creature within the plaza of the ATMOSPHERE Development to remind us that our lives are entwined with other species, even within the synthetic built environment.
However, this heron is somewhat abstracted. Its silhouette has been traced, then rotated 16 times to form a giant, rounded container. A few details provide hints as to the origin of the form… birds-feet support all 16 legs, and a large golden egg is suspended within. The effect of this suggests that this is not only a big bird, or a vase, but also a protective nest of something very important. That important thing is life itself.
The egg is an essential symbol in the mythologies of most cultures. It is a universal message of origin, birth and the future. It can be found again and again conveying a message of optimism, fecundity and completeness. In this case of this artwork, our egg is suspended in mid air….airborne. Hopefully, it’s presence in the plaza will lead to enjoyable musings and questions. Some will ask ‘what came first, the bird or the egg’? or “how did they get the egg inside?’ Others may ask what is ‘airborne’ in the artwork…is it the egg, the bird, or the flowing atmosphere within the open sculpture…the air we all share.