I am drawn to the imagery of Francis of Assisi’s Sermon to the Birds, of a robed figure explaining faith to birds, to this vision of crazed fervour and devotion that has been projected across centuries, to the idea of instituting reformation through the details, of changing the world by looking to our smallest creatures. I like the gilded pictures of medieval chickens. Stripped back, removed from its biblical context, the Sermon to the Birds is a tale of democracy, respect and love. It’s the simple observation that birds need the earth as much as we do.
There two major accounts of the Sermon. The first, an Italian interpretation, describes the birds as peaceful devotees, listening closely, taking faith seriously. It highlights the depth of Francis’s dedication as a model. The second, an English construal, seizures Francis’s birds, reimagines them as birds of evil repute, birds of prey, crows, kites, magpies, and transforms the parable into a political critique of Rome, identifying the city with the Babylon of the Apocalypse. We adapt our strongest parables in times of need. And this body of work is another are another translation, layered with a history of past translations. Combining peace and apocalypse, I reimagine the setting and characters once again to reform a meaning.
In a time of destructive change, after a season of fire, after the death of a billion of our creatures and now a virus, I present an idealistic world, I share my innocent world. The tawny frogmouths, magpies, currawongs, crows, butcher birds, cat birds that I spot from my veranda; my arthritic, opiated 14-year-old dog; three skittish ducks and the endless antics of five chooks who roam my home, laying eggs and excreting in random order and disorder. I paint the creatures in my life into landscapes of dreamy hues. They’re seemingly utopian narratives that dream of a peaceful world but are marked by a nod to the apocalyptic summer we lived through, the apocalyptic times ahead. They understand the world but want a different one; they offer another one. - Hilary Herrmann 2020