Chicken Karma Project
On The Canadian Prairie
A long time ago, on a little farm on the Canadian Prairie, I became part of a killing machine.
We had just moved onto The Farm and there was a nice new barn. I’m not sure who decided to raise chickens that summer – something about a sibling’s scheme to get money to go to University that fall.
The first batch of 250 chicks was exciting. The second batch of 250 soon after was surprising – they must have gone on sale. Too many. They outgrew the barn quickly – what a mess!
I’m not sure how it happened, but when it came time, my Dad and I were the only ones out at the kill zone. We got more efficient every time we had another kill. We’d knock them down and quickly wrap twine around their feet so we could carry as many as we could lift out to the kill zone. The killing itself was quick and horrible. As was the rest of the nasty process of plucking and gutting.
Day after Day
We didn’t raise chickens again.
“Chicken Gets a Backbone”
Years later, in 2002, I was working at my studio table and noticed that a memory strip and a nearby bit of tin looked like two parts of a bird. The head was a couple of pieces of scrap tin my Dad used to show me how to use rivets. I put them together to make “Chicken Gets A Backbone” – shown here overlooking the kill zone (highlighted in red) from The Farm. It is a sort of emotional self-portrait.
Righting a Wrong
People liked “Chicken Gets a Backbone” so I made more and sold or gave away most of them. I didn’t keep good track of what I now call the 1st Flock. Unlike the first bird, their heads and bodies could be moved and were clumsily adjustable.
I redesigned them so they could be easily locked into various poses and replaced the tin heads with read/write heads from hard drives. I started to think of them as karmic erasers for all the chickens I killed back on The Farm and the Chicken Karma Project was born.
Bird Anatomy 101
Comb – wire, heat-shrink tubing, right-end wire terminal
Head – read/write head from computer hard drive
Neck – tripod leg, heat-shrink tubing, right-end wire terminals
Body – RAM strip (Random Access Memory), acrylic paints, printed circuit membrane (where used)
Feathers – connector + ribbon cable, pruned, styled, often painted
Legs – flexible tabletop camera tripod, heat-shrink wrapped metal connector
Band – signature, date, Flock #, Bird #
Second Flock and Beyond
That 2010 batch became the 2nd Flock, 19 birds complete with leg band identifiers, adjustable with thumbscrews at three points. Several flew to friends, a few were in a show at The Harrison in Indianapolis March 2-30, 2012.
I added adjustable head gear and recently finished the 5th Flock.
Some will be available for sale soon on this site.
The chickens have been adopted in the USA, Canada, and Germany.
Too Soft to be a Farmer
Thankfully I have had to do only mercy killings since that summer – a wounded bird on the side of the road, pets. Obviously too soft to be a farmer, but I can make birds that are ever-changing sculptures. These ones are a lot of fun and, most importantly, don’t die.
I’m not a religious person, but that’s still good karma.
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