October 11 - August 2013

DodoLab’s Swift Project focused on the plight of the endangered chimney swift. The chimney swift is a small grey bird you can often see flitting through the evening skies of Guelph, catching insects. When increasing industry began to erase the hollow tree trunks it originally nested in, it found new homes in the masonry chimneys brought into the landscape by the same force that destroyed their original habitat. In the first component of the project, DodoLab raised awareness about the chimney swift through an campaign featuring swift iconography in Guelph’s downtown core, which was the focus of Musagetes’ 1mile2 initiative. The collective invited passersby to join them in completing a graphic of a large chimney in St. George’s Square by stencilling hundreds of the chimney swift’s iconic silhouette. The painted birds quickly filled the chimney and spilled out onto the sidewalks of downtown. DodoLab created a limited edition series of postcards featuring a bird’s eye view of Guelph,with the a narration about change and resilience as it might be told by the swifts themselves on the other side. These postcards, along with a collection of stencils, bookmarks, t-shirts and buttons, accompanied the intervention.

The second part of the project focused on small gestures of support for the swifts. DodoLab then convened a group of interested biologists, gardeners, makers, and activists at DIYode for a container gardening workshop. The group built small gardens in buckets containing plants that would attract beetles and other beneficial insects. Though biologists don’t yet know the exact reason for the drastic decline in the chimney swift population, one significant factor is undoubtedly the shrinking insect population. Not long ago, a summer drive would result in a windshield full of squished bugs. That this occurrence is so uncommon now is a bad sign that something is out of balance. Though a small gesture, these gardens will hopefully help feed vulnerable insectivores during tough times. Like emergency rations, they will provide tiny amounts of critical nutrition to get them through to what is hopefully a better future. The final component of the project was an early morning walk as part of the Musagetes Guelph Café, where participants distributed silhouettes of the swift, cut from seed paper.  Over the winter, the seeds will enter the earth, and in the spring, they will grow into flowers that will shelter and feed the insects that will eventually shelter and feed the swifts. More…

The case of the chimney swift is an opportunity to consider both the bird and broader issues within the Guelph community. This project initiates an inter-species dialogue about adaptation, displacement, and the unintended consequences of change. Change can be swift (with great speed), requiring a response that is swift (as in prompt) and that is equally swift (as in clever), a very rare and complex sequence of conditions. Musagetes believes that art and culture instrumental in building resilient communities. They can help us creatively adapt to constantly changing conditions.