MARTIN HEALY – ‘THE AUGURS I II AND III’
Martin Healy uses our relationship to and symbolic representation of raptors as a metaphor for a fundamentally flawed view of nature
The Augurs I, II and III, photographic prints from Martin Healy’s multimedia body of work The Augury.
Healy works mostly in photography and video in the context of installations. Often he bases a project on a source text. Here he cites JA Baker’s classic of nature writing, The Peregrine, first published in 1967, as a reference. His show’s title, The Augury, refers to the practice of predicting the future by interpreting the flight of a bird. His Augurs are disdainful peregrines who turn away from us or are, quoting Baker: “a tremor at the edge of vision.” Or, ominously, in sculptural form, an evocation of the peregrine/augur as an Ozymandian head (“Half Sunk, a shattered visage lies…”). A monument to the human destruction of the natural world? And perhaps the self-destruction of humanity itself.
Where can I see it?
The Augury is at the Butler Gallery, Kilkenny Castle, until December 16th, butlergallery.com.
Is it a typical work by the artist?
In a way it is. Healy’s work ranges far and wide, but underlying patterns and obsessions come through. Baker’s book stands apart from volumes that might seem like close relations, notably TH White’s The Goshawk and Helen MacDonald’s H Is for Hawk.
The difference is that Baker had no interest in falconry, no wish to possess and train a bird of prey. In his obsessive tracking of the bird, he wants to apprehend its consciousness in all its non-human strangeness. He spends many cold, uncomfortable hours waiting in vain for a glimpse of the bird, which is elsewhere, unknowable. His book records winter 1962-1963, when peregrines, poisoned by DDT and perhaps other chemicals, were rapidly disappearing. Peregrine populations have since recovered, but their precarious situation at the time certainly coloured Baker’s mindset.
As with Baker, in his work Healy recoils from the conventional pattern whereby the role of the raptor, or some other natural agent, lies in comforting or healing the human protagonist, or in being co-opted as symbolic in some way of human power or strength. The root of the problem as they see it is the morally convenient formulation that humans were created in God’s image and granted dominion over nature.
In retrospect Healy’s unease with this unsatisfactory idea surfaces in some way in almost everything he has done. A gulf of incomprehension, an inability to grasp what is going on in nature and recognise our position as part of nature, general hubris and self-sabotage, all recur. But Healy does not begin with, say, a conservationist message and figure out a means of conveying it. He is drawn to stories – to urban myths way back in Looking for Jodie and Here Be Monsters – and motifs that work as metaphors for basic human misunderstanding or failure. In terms of motifs, he first used raptors in The Sleep of Reason in 2006, drawing on Goya’s celebrated etching. The sleep of reason, to complete Goya’s title, produces monsters.