A Natural History of Nest Building

A Natural History of Nest Building is part of The Artangel Collection. It was initially presented at the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne in spring of 2018, before being exhibited at the Leeds art Gallery in Leeds.


  • Artist: Andy Holden & Peter Holden
  • Title: A Natural History of Nest Building
  • Date: 2017
  • Medium: Three screen video installation with four channel audio on custom built screen wall
  • Dimensions: 3 x video projections, 1.7m x 1.275m - 4:3 aspect ratio
  • Duration: 31 minutes
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The dialogue between father and son has its principal focus in a split-screen film where they give a brilliant two-headed lecture on nests, taking in, inter alia, the homicidal cuckoo... the massive airborne apartment blocks of the sociable weaver bird; and the mute swans that work together in pairs. For Andy, the swans’ nest measures the strength of their marriage. Knowledge from the father, poetry from the son: that seems to be the pattern. Except that Peter Holden opens your eyes to beauty too – to nests as exposed pockets, fragile cradles or invisible cities, as he refers to rookeries. — Laura Cumming, The Observer, 10 September 2017

A Natural History of Nest Building is a three-screen video installation in which father and son talk about different types of birds’ nests, nest sites and materials. Whilst they find common ground in their shared wonder at the ingenuity and skill of a wide variety of birds, from the chaffinch and the crow to tailorbirds and weavers, they sometimes diverge in what intrigues them most.

Peter’s approach is firmly grounded in Darwin’s theory of evolution and ‘natural selection’ (the title Darwin initially gave to the book eventually published as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection) whereas Andy is absorbed by the idea that nest building is a considered, creative act. As they look at the extraordinary diversity of nests that birds build, their conversation touches on instinct and learning, the importance of creative collaboration and the nature of parental influence.


Image: Andy Holden, A Natural History of Nest Building', 2017, (detail) at Towner Art Gallery, 2018. Photograph: Pete Jones

Previous Presentations

Since the launch of The Artangel Collection, A Natural History of Nest Building has been installed at