Install this theme

Images from my performance STRANGE BIRD for the Bienal Internacional de Curitiba (Curitiba, Brazil, September 1, 2013). I began by walking through the city of Curitiba to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. I then interacted with the architecture, placing small yellow balls of clay on the railing of the spiral ramp. In each ball of clay stood a single pinhão (Brazilian pine nut). Photos by Adriana Beltrame


reoccurring themes

STRANGE BIRD embraces several reoccurring themes that are often present in my performance works. Below are some examples of past performances - images and ideas that will also be reflected in my new piece.



I’m interested in dysmorphia (a preoccupation with an imagined or trivial defect in appearance) and am fascinated by ways in which objects can misshape and transform the human figure. I am influenced by the work of Pat Oleszko, Rebecca Horn, and Oskar Schlemmer. These wearable sculptures are often transformative, changing in structure or appearance within the performance. 



A symbol or character that represents a product (like Tony the Tiger or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man ) or an organization (like a sports team). For me, these funny characters reference materialism (Capitalism) - often used to indoctrinate children. Through humor and visual seduction, we are drawn to these entities and, by default, the products and organizations that they represent. I turn this idea on its ear by creating sculptural costumes that are, at first, amusing or alluring but, in fact, are abstract, strange, or grotesque - mascots of my ideas and imagination. In the image above, Kattywampus, I commissioned a mascot manufacturer make a replica of my own head - a mascot of me.


> Birds: Ravens

My legal name is Rabensdorf but I have been using the name Joseph Ravens for nearly 20 years. I am drawn to mythology and folklore surrounding this black bird and identify strongly with various characteristics, especially insatiability. References to the bird often appear in my work, usually in the form of black feathers. I was delighted to discover that the Araucaria tree (my initial inspiration for STRANGE BIRD) has a symbiotic relationship with the gralha-azul which is in the same family of birds as the raven.



> Expelling objects from the body

Only a short time ago I realized that in much of my work I am expelling something from my body. I often produce objects from my mouth, my anus, or compartments within my sculptural costumes. For me, these objects represent creation and the creative impulse. I produce these things, often involuntarily, and, in wonderment, examine them in an attempt to understand what they are and where they came from. This is similar to my art making process -  these abstract things emerge from my subconscious and then I try to figure out what they are, where they came from, and what they mean.


> Public Performance

I have a strong interest in inserting abstract images and actions into the public sphere. Almost activist, I believe that interruption and intervention of the quotidian has the potential to build tolerance, provoke thought, and spark imagination - expanding the viewers consciousness and awareness of art and their every day environment.



> Black circle: the Hole (Hunger)

A black circle is often present in my performances. Representing a sort of existential hollowness and insatiability (a spiritual void), this symbol is a direct reference to my never-ending hunger to find pattern and purpose within an imposing and random universe. 

I must give the warmest THANKS and PRAISE to LISA SIMPSON (Agent Costura) for her assistance with constructing the costume I will use in the performance, STRANGE BIRD. She is an artist and a clothing designer with a shop, GARAGE, in Curitiba. She makes performances with an amplified sewing machine as a musical instrument. I really could not have made this costume without her. Her advice and skills were invaluable and her friendship is priceless. Next week she moves to Berlin and she’s been assisting with installing work for the Biennial, and yet she carved out time to help me. Gratitude doesn’t begin to describe my feelings. The images above are from the construction of the costume for STRANGE BIRD. 

My performance, STRANGE BIRD, has two phases. I first begin by walking through the city to the Oscar Niemeyer Museum. The distance is 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles). My ROUTE will begin at the Largo da Ordem, the Historic Center of Curitiba - the oldest part of the city. I’m very interested in going from the old (Largo da Ordem) to the new (Museum of the Eye), as if I am traveling through time from the past to the present. I will begin at the Trough Largo Order around 3:30PM on SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 1, 2013 -arriving at the Museum between 4 and 4:15PM to begin my action on the spiral ramp. 

The rear entrance ramp in the back of the OSCAR NIEMEYER MUSEUM is the site for my performance, STRANGE BIRD. Around 4PM on Sunday, September 1, I will arrive at the site and begin placing pinhão (Brazilian pine nuts) stuck into little balls of yellow clay along the railing of the ramp. This is a new idea, conceived the other day when I learned that the Gralha-azul (Azure Jay) pounds these seeds into the ground with his beak - actually planting them and propagating the Araucaria (Brazilian Pine). Yellow is a featured color in the architecture, the base of the “eye” and in tiles and designs throught the building. I chose this site (the ramp) when I arrived in Curitiba. Knowing I wanted to interact and respond to the architecture, this ramp called out to me as the place to be. Also, it is very near to where people line-up to enter the museum. I understand that it will be a long line, so I will be visible to those who wait.

Sunday is a free day at the museum and the first day of the Biennial, so I’m told there will be a large number of people there and much activity. I’m nervous and excited. I think I will begin by wandering around the grounds and handing people the pine nuts which they can eat if they so choose. 

The site of my performance, STRANGE BIRD, and home to the Bienal Internacional de Curitiba is the OSCAR NIEMEYER MUSEUM (Museu Oscar Niemeyer) also known as Museu do Olho or Museum of the Eye, due to the design of the building. Oscar Niemeyer was a Brazilian architect who is considered to be one of the key figures in the development of modern architecture. Niemeyer was best known for his design of Brasília, Brazil’s capital, as well as his collaboration with other architects on the United Nations Headquarters in New York City. His exploration of the aesthetic possibilities of reinforced concrete was highly influential on the architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

My performance will take place on the spiral ramp in the back of the building, seen in the foreground of the architectural model image, above.

CURITIBA is the capital and largest city of the Brazilian state, Paraná. The word “Curitiba” comes from the Tupi words kurí tyba, “many pine seeds” or “pine nut land” due to the large number of Araucaria pinecones in the region.

Already in love with the Araucaria, I was quickly enraptured by the oddly beautiful pine cone and the strange prehistoric looking seeds. Called pinhão  the pine nuts are edible after being boiled or roasted. Very important for native animals and widely used in folk medicine, indigenous cultures were consuming the pine nut long before European colonization.

Originally I wanted to work with the whole pinecone in tact. But this, too, is forbidden because it is protected by the government. Only the seeds are available and even these were hard to come by because of the time of year and due to low production this season. The Biennale acquired 20 kilos of seeds for me to use in performance. The single reddish seed pictured above is one from the stash they provided for me.

When Fernando Ribiero (performance curator for Biennal Internacional de Curitiba) invited me to present my work in Brazil, I did a quick web search about the city and stumbled upon images of the Araucaria and felt an immediate connection to this strange tree. Found only in this region, the tree reminded me of illistrations by Dr. Suess. I was inspired.

Araucaria, the Paraná pine, Brazilian pine or candelabra tree (pinheiro-do-paraná or pinheiro brasileiro), is a species in the conifer genus Araucaria. Although commonly referred to as a “pine”, it is not a true pine. Araucaria are large trees with a massive erect stem, reaching a height of 30–80 metres (98–260 ft).

A victim of unsustainable commercial logging, the critically endangered Araucaria is one of Brazil’s rarest trees. Almost prehistoric in appearance, It has a distinctive and majestic ornamental shape. The fruit is a dense “pine cone” with rows of tightly arranged scales. Araucaria wood is strong, hard, has excellent nail-holding ability and was used principally in framing, interior woodwork, and furniture.

My original idea included climbing this tree in performance. But, alas, it is forbidden. So the idea began to shift and as my research continued I began to discover that it wasn’t just the formal qualities of this tree that inspired me.

Two images of the Gralha-azul (Azure Jay, Blue Crow) with a Pinhão (Brazilian pine nut) in its beak. This bird and the Pinhão (along with the Araucaria tree) are the inspirations for my performance, STRANGE BIRD. 

The Azure Jay (Cyanocorax caeruleus, Brazilian: Gralha-azul) is a bird of the crow family Corvidae. It is the state bird of Paraná. Its feathers are intensely blue with a contrasting black head and upper chest. This bird builds its nest and lays its eggs in the Araucaria tree (Brazilian Pine, Paraná Pine). It feeds extensively on the nut-like seeds of Araucaria (Brazilian pine nut, Pinhao). As other corvids, Azure Jays are highly intelligent with varied and complex vocalizations. 

According to legend, the Gralha-azul has a divine mission to help spread the Araucaria and protect it from harm. There is a legend that a black raven slept on a pine branch and was awakened by the blows of an ax. Frightened, the black bird flew to the clouds. In heaven, he heard a voice asking him to return to the pine forests to protect the trees. The crow accepted the mission and, as a reward, was covered with blue feathers, except around the head, where it remained black. He then returned to the pine woods and began spreading the seed of Araucaria. This legend is actually a fact. The Gralha-azul has a habit of burying pine nuts, pounding them into the ground with his beak. Not content with this, the strange bird covers the buried nut with leaves, stones, or twigs as camouflage.

On a funny note. Some say that the bird is always stoned. So, though he may be hiding the seed for later (like a squirrel), he always forgets where it is. Thus the trees grow…

I’ve long been interested in folklore and mythology surrounding the Raven, especially in North American indigenous cultures where the bird is considered a trickster-creator. These South American legends correspond interestingly.