For a long time I’ve worked as a restorer of fossils, which gives me the opportunity to use some fossils for my art. Several works of mine relate to environmental issues, pollution, exploitation of the land, climate changes, forced migration.

Some time ago, I restored a fossil tree trunk from Arizona dating back to the Triassic (220 million years ago approx.). It is 7 meters long and weighs 2,200 kilos. The petrified wood is a spectacle of colours.

 The idea of a sound installation came to my mind when I remembered “Earlybird”, from Van Der Graaf Generator’s album Alt. On the inner cover of the cd there is a note on this particular track: “The earlybird you hear here is of course, not from rural Cornwall but the heart of Camden, the morning idyll shortly to be shattered not by frolicking swallows, but by groaning refuse trucks and the curses of itinerant blackheads.” I had met Peter Hammill before, so I decided to contact him and, through him, the other members of the band, Guy Evans and Hugh Banton. The three of them have willingly accepted to collaborate on the Earlybird Project. 


The main element of the installation- still a work in progress – is the fossil tree, to which I have attached 3 birdhouses that I made using exclusively stone with traces of fossils. Small loudspeakers have been placed inside each of them to replay “Earlybird”.

The installation is a huge still life representing a natural world that no longer exists. Everything in it is “artificial”: the trunk is no longer wood but stone, the birdhouses are petrified, too, and could never be used as real birdhouses, and the birdsong is a recorded music track. The trunk is also a fetish to which we give a great economic value. We devote much labour and care to its restoration, in sharp contrast to the careless relationship that we have with the trees (flora) and the birds (fauna) that live here and now.

Some videos will be also included. I’m currently checking with the film archive La Cineteca del Friuli the possibility of using 3 particularly significant excerpts from Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Offret (The Sacrifice). Also, I have made 6 more birdhouses, some of which have already been shipped in different parts of the world. The plan is to complete the installation with 6 videos: 3 shot in big cities and 3 shot in important parks – in Asia, Europe and America – with remains of fossil trees in the open air. 

A note about the recurrence of the number 3: I have chosen the “perfect number” (which is also the number of the members of the VdGG) for the high symbolic value it has in almost all civilizations, eras and religions: the cosmic totality of the Chinese (Heaven, Earth, Man), the divine triads in Christianity and Hinduism, and so on. Environmental destruction goes hand in hand with the contempt of our ancestors’ history and legacy.

The Earlybird Project should be first exhibited in Venice, a city built on stilts – houses “attached” to tree trunks – and which has a particularly delicate environmental balance.

Vladislav Shabalin