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Jean Albus
 Installation  |  Photographs   
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Into the Within

I've been attracted to magpie nests since I moved to rural Montana. I hadn't realized the massive clots of sticks stopping up the middle of gnarly trees in deserted landscapes, or perched in pretty trees in yards of town, belonged to magpies. I wanted a nest; I even knew the one I wanted. Last October, I used a magpie nest in an installation piece. I was able to cut down the one I coveted in our neighbors pasture. Later, I entertained a hazy idea about a lot of magpie nests in another installation. So, the initial attraction wasn't the magpie herself, just to the nest. All nests are fascinating to me--so beautiful, built purely by instinct. But I did discover that the magpie's speech is symbolic of communication and creative expression. She builds her nest in the thickest V of trees, symbolizing paths into the spirit realm. Specifically, she asks us to keep an open mind in matters of the spirit. Her flamboyant plumage is her message not to hide ourselves away, but to display our brilliance, beauty and grace. These and other oddities in her behavior are symbolic of illusion and perception. The magpie's message is that not all things are what they appear to be, that we shouldn't set our judgements in stone. Further, this aspect of the magpie is a message that we do not have to be bound to perceptions---we may want to consider departing from our habitual behaviors.

Thickets, I have always loved. To this day I like crawling into them just to see what's there, or to sit and feel safe, like a wild animal, watching. Winter makes them even more magnetic. Their leafless beauty calls to me. Their subdued colors wow me and calm me at the same time. I like hearing them clack in the wind and cold. I decided to make a thicket. Cutting the branches was a perfect way to experience winter--out there with my dog in the beautiful landscape, thinking about life, about hard work and about creating something that might approach my experiences so I can share them.

Spending time in them brought home the fact that those enticingly dense thickets weren't created in a few short months. The urge to build one is temporarily satisfied! I have a deeper appreciation for the fact that there is hidden beauty in this world, that there always will be. I like knowing it exists whether I am there to witness it or not, poetically, metaphorically, and physically---not just in the physical landscape, but in the interior landscape of my own personal wilderness. For many years now, I've used dresses to express feelings about myself, about memory, about time. The flowers were collected from the outskirts of cemeteries in Carbon County were I live in south central Montana.

Media Materials collected by Jean Albus:
Eleven magpie nests
Willow branches
Cottonwood branches
Chokecherry branches
Hornet nests
Various other bird nests
Flowers collected from the outskirts of county cemeteries
leaves mixed with goose feathers
ceramic animals bones
Materials collected by Norman Broomhall:
Lanterns used for lighting in thicket
photo transfers to glass blocks
acrylic transfers to glass