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The Birds Are Here: Public Art Lands on Lakeshore State Park

June 24, 2021  |  Topics: featured artist

Giant plastic birds in bold, unnatural colors have appeared on one of the lawns at Lakeshore State Park. In a first for the park, they are a temporary public art installation on view until August 1. The birds are meant to represent swallows, a species chosen to symbolize “…journey and freedom” and, because they build nests on people’s houses, to suggest “the idea of cohabitation with humans.” That’s according to the artist collective, Cracking Art, that is behind the sculptures.

European-based Cracking Art has been around since 1993. The plastic swallows in Lakeshore State Park may look like nothing more than a fun place for kids to romp around in—the day that I went plenty of them were doing just that, climbing all over them and jumping off. However, Cracking Art’s website reveals that the collective has a very serious motivation indeed, nothing less than trying to “radically change the history of art through a strong social and environmental commitment.”

The group’s name, Cracking Art, refers to catalytic cracking, which is “the term for the chemical reaction that occurs when converting crude oil into plastic, the moment when the natural becomes artificial.” Plastic, the epitome of all things artificial, is derived from oil, which occurs naturally in the earth before being processed. The swallows (as well as other animals that have been created in other contexts) are made from “regenerated” or recycled plastic. The name of the installation is REbirth, which “suggests the relationship between humans and nature has been disrupted, while recognizing the irony of making plastic [birds] from a precious liquid that used to be living creatures.”

My grandson, seen here with my wife, Lynn, wasn’t as comfortable with climbing as some of other kids, but was otherwise thrilled with the enormity of the birds.

The explanations of the art work don’t mention anything about invasive species, which seems to me a missed opportunity. While swallows are not invasive, giant plastic ones are far from native to the park–or anywhere really. And in another (I assume coincidental) irony, the flowers in the foreground of this photo are invasive and called ‘bird’s-foot’ trefoil.

Lakeshore State Park, of course, is home to actual living birds. As I walked the length of the park to see the installation I saw many of them, including this red-winged blackbird perched precariously on a stalk of last year’s tall grass, the towers facing Milwaukee’s lakefront looming behind.

Unlike the flightless sculptures, which perforce (and per intention) put up with all manner of indignities in the service of humanity, this one took off as soon as I got near.

For more information about REbirth, go to the Black Box Fund website.

For more information about Lakeshore State Park, go to the Friends of Lakeshore State Park website.

Eddee Daniel is a board member of Preserve Our Parks. Friends of Lakeshore State Park is a partner organization to A Wealth of Nature.