H I L L A R Y W A G N E R
2018 - 2020
Bird Closet was an art collective based in the rural village of Bethel in Appalachian Ohio. Formed in the spring of 2018, Bird Closet developed organically from the relationships established as part of SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing, a two-year process of serial socially engaged research facilitated by artists Francesca Fiore and Hillary Wagner in collaboration with members of the Bethel community.
Supportive, inclusive, and democratically governed, Bird Closet was created and cultivated by more than 23 participants ranging in age from 16 to 38. Participants inhabited self-selected bird alter egos and donned bird masks of their own creation as a means of evoking an alternate universe in which the birds were free to pursue radical joy and creative and social projects that seemed untenable in the world as it exists. Far from escapist, the works of Bird Closet sought to imagine new possible futures for the village of Bethel and inspire similar explorations by other residents of the area and beyond.
At the core of Bird Closet’s work were collages, which reconfigured language and imagery extracted from publicly available historical documents and other relevant literature as a way of voicing a collective desire for new forms of community, new modes of social imagination, and new images of Bethel. Select collages were published in Bird Closet’s zine, Fraxinus, issues of which were covertly disseminated in the village. Bird Closet’s public interventions also included a series of three collagic billboards in the summer of 2018, which playfully announced the collective’s presence and greeted drivers entering the village with poetic and ephemeral provocations. The billboards, collages, bird masks, and issues of Fraxinus all subsequently became the subject of Bird Closet’s self-titled exhibition at Mount Vernon Nazarene University's Schnormeier Gallery in Mount Vernon, OH, in September of 2018.
Hillary Wagner and Francesca Fiore presented on Bird Closet’s work at Project Anywhere’s biennial conference, Anywhere & Elsewhere (2018) (watch the video here starting at 15:55) and the collective produced a text for the conference publication, Anywhere iii.
Bird Closet participants, past and present:
Barn Swallow / Blue Heron / Blue Jay / Calliope Hummingbird / Cardinal / Chickadee / Coal Tit / Common Starling / Crow / Double Crested Cormorant / Duck / Goldfinch / Great Horned Owl / House Sparrow / Indigo Bunting / Nighthawk / Parula Warbler / Pileated Woodpecker / Plover / Raven / Rufous Hummingbird / Tufted Titmouse / Typical Owl / Red-Winged Blackbird
To learn more about Bird Closet please see birdcloset.com
Bird Closet evolved organically out of the work of SOIL SERIES: A Social Drawing