In Bird Island, Tracy McMenemy continues her ongoing exploration of abandoned places as sites of inspiration. These dark spaces, forgotten or unnoticed by society are a source of creativity and attraction for McMenemy. Drawn to the tension they create, she attempts to challenge the conventional notions of aesthetic beauty.
Bird Island is a collection of images taken on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay. While some images read as tranquil landscapes: a lone seagull resting atop a tin roof; others hint at more troubled moments: the “Yard Privileges” sign for prisoners, forcing the viewer into a fixed context and location. The iconic Golden Gate Bridge, for example, spans across “Bird Island #9” while in the foreground, a jagged chain link fence scales the perimeter. It is this push and pull between what the island is now and reminders of what it once was that provides intrigue and unease in each piece.
McMenemy strategically tears away fragments of the photograph underpainting, in this case, leaving a semblance of a flock of birds in flight. Birds were, for many years, the only creatures that could come and go as they pleased. For the artist, the island “pivots on the fulcrum of a dynamic dichotomy, represented as the contrast between beauty and ruin and between freedom and containment”. The stripped away flecks of canvas imitating birds in flight could not echo McMenemy’s statement more.