Andy Holden

Lecture on Birdsong (Kettle’s Yard)


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Andy Holden born 1982
Screenprint on paper
Image: 391 × 512 mm
Presented by the artist 2018. The Artangel Collection at Tate.


This screenprint features the musical notation or score sheet taken from a transcription of Bobolink (a North American bird) song which was found by the artist in a book on bird song written at the beginning of the twentieth century. The screenprint was made for the artist’s Lecture on Bird Song, performed in collaboration with his father Peter Holden, which took place at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge in June 2011 as part of his solo exhibition Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time. The print was exhibited in the first room, The Dan Cox Library for the Unfinished Concept of Thingly Time, an installation that went on to be shown at Cubitt in London in 2012 and Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge in 2015. The ‘library’ contains fragments of many sculptures and documentation of Holden’s performances, as well as custom-made furniture that housed all of the books once belonging to Dan Cox, Holden’s collaborator who died in 2011. Bird song was here used as a way of thinking about how the different works in the exhibition all communicated with each other. This featured live piano accompaniment by Johnny Parry, another long-term collaborator.

Screenprinted posters for one-off performances have been part of Andy Holden’s practice since he graduated from Goldsmiths College, London in 2004. For every stand-alone performance, a poster was made in an edition of approximately twenty, with the artist’s proofs being used to promote each event in the venue in which it would take place. Six of these posters are in Tate’s collection (Tate P20977–82). The posters were exhibited as a set at Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge in 2011 and as part of Holden’s Artangel exhibition Natural Selection at the former Newington Library in south-east London in 2017. The images for the screenprints were collected between 2010 and 2012 from various images from the artist’s father Peter Holden’s extensive collection of ornithology books. Tate’s copy of this particular poster is an artist’s proof aside from the edition of twenty.

In 2017 Holden made a three-part video, A Natural History of Nest Building 2017 (Tate T15535), based on his performances carried out with his father over a five-year period. The video employs a pedagogical model to investigate how birds make nests. Divided into three chapters, Nest Type, Nest Site and Material, it concludes with a post-script on the bowerbird, the only animal to make a structure that is for display only. The film is narrated by Andy Holden and his father, the ornithologist Peter Holden. Standing on the left and right of a central screen which shows examples of different nest types, Holden and his father adopt different positions on the significance of the bird’s nest. Holden examines the nests as sculptural objects with poetic affect, while his father discusses them through the traditional lens of ornithology and theories of evolution. A sense of the performative and of a carefully rehearsed two-person play is present in the dialogue of the film, which is presented together with filmed sequences that draw on the tradition of natural history television programmes. The use of green-screen presentation enabled father and son to move with subtle irony through details which include a discussion about the creative process and the suggestion that comparisons can be made between nest building and making art.

Further reading
Artangel website, Andy Holden / Peter Holden: Natural Selection,, accessed 12 September 2018.
Darian Leader, ‘Laws of Motion’, Frieze, no.188, June–August 2017, pp.150–3.

Clarrie Wallis
September 2018

Does this text contain inaccurate information or language that you feel we should improve or change? We would like to hear from you.

You might like

In the shop