Andy Holden / Peter Holden

Natural Selection

Former Newington Library, London SE17
NOW 10 September 2017 - 05 November 2017
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Father and son Andy Holden and Peter Holden take us on an ornithological journey: from the building of nests to the collecting of eggs.

★★★★★ The Observer

The exhibition is situated in the former Cuming Museum – a museum founded by a father and son – which was originally home to a collection of natural history and archaeological curiosities.

Natural Selection showcases several multi-screen films, a selection of archival material, and Andy Holden’s own collection of found nests. The exhibition will span two floors and capture the multi-sensory oeuvre of birds. ‘A Natural History of Nest Building’, situated on the ground floor, exposes the unscrupulous cuckoo; the artistry of the bowerbird; and the nest as an object in its own right. While, in the basement, ‘A Social History of Egg Collecting’ sheds light on this practice in a changing legal landscape, and the resultant criminal operations after 1954, through a video work 'The Opposite of Time' and an installation titled ‘How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature’.

Image: Film work A Natural History of Nest Building (2017) by Andy Holden & Peter Holden seen through a recreation of a bowerbird’s bower Untitled (Bower) (2017) by Andy Holden. Photograph: Marcus J. Leith

How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature

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Image: Detail of a sculptural installation of porcelain eggs: Andy Holden, How the Artist Was Led to the Study of Nature (2017). Photograph: Marcus J. Leith, September 2017

A Natural History of Nest Building

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Image: A collection of found and recreated birds nests: Andy Holden & Peter Holden, A Natural History of Nest Building (2017). Photograph: Marcus J. Leith

Super Normal Stimulus

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Image: Turned wood: Andy Holden & Geoffrey Leeson, Silent Spring (2017) in front of colour photographs by Peter Holden: Natural Selection (1982 / 2017), in turn, hung upon wallpaper: Andy Holden & Peter Holden, Super Normal Stimulus (2017). Photograph: Marcus J. Leith, September 2017

Writing: Helen Macdonald

on the forbidden wonder of birds’ nests and eggs
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One day when, quite by surprise, I discovered that if I held a falcon egg close to my mouth and made soft clucking noises, a chick that was ready to hatch would call back.

Helen MacDonald: the forbidden wonder of birds’ nests and eggs

When I was small, I decided I wanted to be a naturalist. And so I slowly amassed a nature collection, and arranged it across my bedroom sills and shelves as a visible display of all the small expertises I’d gathered from the pages of books. There were galls, feathers, seeds, pine cones, loose single wings of small tortoiseshell or peacock butterflies picked from spiders’ webs, the severed wings of dead birds, spread and pinned on to cardboard to dry, the skulls of small creatures, pellets – tawny owl, barn owl, kestrel – and old bird nests. One was a chaffinch nest I could balance in the palm of a hand, a thing of horsehair and moss, pale scabs of lichen and moulted pigeon feathers; another a song thrush nest woven of straw and soft twigs with a flaking inner cup moulded from clay. But those nests never felt as if they fitted with the rest of my beloved collection. It wasn’t that they conjured the passing of time, of birds flown, of life in death. Those intuitions are something you learn to feel much later in life. It was partly because they made me feel an emotion I couldn’t name, and mostly because I felt I shouldn’t possess them at all. Nests were all about eggs, and eggs were something I knew I shouldn’t ever collect. Even when I came across a white half-shell picked free of twigs by a pigeon and dropped on a lawn, a moral imperative stilled my hand. I could never bring myself to take it home...

Read more on the Guardian.

Video: Trailer

1 minute
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Video: Trailer for Andy Holden & Peter Holden, Natural Selection

After walking nearly all night, we reached the spot in the midst of a snow storm. And having tied a cord to his life preserver, my accomplice swam off, leaving the other end in the charge of a man on the shore. On the island, he tied the rope to a stone and climbed up the ruins, slipping about in six inches of snow.


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The show circles back in the end to the bowerbird, making its nest for fun, or love, a free invention in which no eggs will ever be laid. This bird, the Holdens agree, has a singular sensibility. For the father, this is a triumph of natural selection; for the son, it’s the essence of creativity. The bird has a concept of beauty that precedes and governs his creation. It is by definition an artist. – Laura Cumming, The Observer

Selected Press

For everything in this marvellous Artangel exhibition – a show of marvels in itself – turns upon the astonishing connections between ornithology and art, or more precisely between birds and their visions, whether their nests and even their eggs can be seen as expressive creations rather than just evolutionary imperatives. – Laura Cumming, The Observer, 10 September 2017.
It is especially appropriate that this glorious and multi-layered testament to father and son teamwork is housed in the former home of the Cuming Museum, whose collection of archaeology, anthropology and natural history was put together by Richard Cuming and his son Henry Syer Cuming in the 19th century. – Louisa Buck, The Art Newspaper, 11 September 2017
This is Andy’s typical modus operandi: starting small with something from his own life, then exploding it outward into a twisty nest of ideas. Sophistication is balanced by self-exposure, embarrassment even. – Skye Sherwin, Guardian

The Opposite of Time

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Image: Three screen video featuring an animated crow leading a social history of nest collecting: Andy Holden, The Opposite of Time (2017). Photograph: Marcus J. Leith

About the Artists

Andy Holden & Peter Holden
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Andy Holden

Andy Holden (b.1982) artist, musician and cartoon was born and now lives and works in Bedford, UK. Holden has worked collaboratively with his father Peter Holden, an orthologist, to produce lectures on birds and the recent Artangel project Natural Selection. He regularly performs and releases records with his band The Grubby Mitts and co-ran the record label Lost Toys Records.

His most recent solo exhibitions include ‘Laws of Motion in a Cartoon Landscape (II)’, Glasgow International (2016); ‘Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS’, Zabludowicz Collection, London (2013), Spike Island (2014); ‘Chewy Cosmos Thingly Time’, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge (2011); and ‘Art Now: Andy Holden’, Tate Britain (2010). 


Peter Holden

Peter Holden intended to become a professional ornithologist from the age of eight and joined the staff of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in 1969. Father of Andy Holden, Peter and Andy worked collaboratively to produce Natural Selection for Artangel in 2017, which was a comprehensive look at nests and egg collecting.

As one of the UK’s leading ornithologists and conversationalists, Holden worked for the RSPB for 45 years and built the Young Ornithologist Club into the largest wildlife club in the world. He was regularly featured as ‘the bird man’ on Blue Peter and wrote several books including the RSPB Handbook of British Birds, the RSPB Handbook of Garden Wildife and Birds: their Hidden World.


Images: (left) Andy Holden, aged one year old, Photograph: Peter Holden. This photograph was used in an advert for British Birds magazine, 1983; (top) Andy Holden with nest in front of a green screen during the production of Natural Selection, 2017. Photographs: Jazbo Gross; (bottom) Peter Holden in Andy Holden's old studio, 2017. Photograph: Andy Holden



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Who made this possible?


Commissioned by Artangel, Bristol Museum and Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery and Towner Art Gallery, with the support of the National Lottery through Arts Council England, Bristol Green Capital 2015, the Henry Moore Foundation and Artangel’s Guardian Angels.

Natural Selection is part of The Artangel Collection, an initiative to bring outstanding film and video works commissioned and produced by Artangel to galleries and museums across the UK. The Artangel Collection has been developed in partnership with Tate and is generously funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and The Foyle Foundation.

Artangel is generously supported using public funding by Arts Council England, and by the private patronage of The Artangel International CircleSpecial Angels and The Company of Angels.