Hundreds of Birds Killed
Soundscape with brass installation
Hundreds of Birds Killed is a multi-part installation comprised of cast-brass objects and maps and a recorded reading of lives and properties lost to seasonal monsoons from the year 1939. A copy of India Weather Review from that year–an annual report made by the British to monitor the loss of lives and properties due to natural causes–serves as the starting point for this work. Obsessive in its detailing of these losses along with barometric readings and wind force, the report reveals the link between natural and fiscal storms.
While human casualties are elided, “hundreds of birds killed” stand out as a repeated term that bodes not only ecological crisis but its entanglement with capital. Traditionally, farmers predicted monsoons by observing the blue streaked perti wha bird and how high nests are built. The colonizers, however, preferred to record the wind and waves on top of Manora Island’s observatory. The death of the birds, then, warns of a rift with the land and its rhythm which precedes disasters.
If the report frames disaster in terms of liability and devaluation, the brass objects perform a different action on value. Here, the monsoon was never a great randomizer to be tamed or preempted. Rather, the clusters of boots, spoons, cattle ensnared in twigs, like wreckages after a storm, point to death and debt as being always already uneven. Made mostly from toys found in the second-hand markets in Karachi, they fuse and layer up in ways that suggest fossilization (turning into stone) and alchemy (turning into gold). Pop imageries of sofas, electric fans, and airplanes, their démodé and kitschy way of life now coated in brass, lend themselves to a sub-terranean economy of recycling debris and refuse of not just the storm but the market.
The other cast-brass component is the seventy-six tiles that make up maps of cities impacted by the storms. These are produced through lengthy processes of transfer: roads, railways, and waterways are graphed using imaging software, laser-cut into plexiglass, and cast in brass by a local foundry of third-generation casters in Golimar, North Karachi.