Walter Hood ponders what corvids can teach us.
By Anjulie Rao
Crows, although they share a predilection for cleaning up human food waste alongside other urban avian “pests” such as pigeons, have a more mischievous reputation. The National Audubon Society cites their incredible intelligence and documented cases of birds using tools, holding grudges and performing funerals.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Walter Hood, creative director and founder of Hood design studio in Oakland, California, began noticing crows near his home. “I read a report that there was an increase in crows during COVID in some places because we’re home and there was an increase in litter,” he says. “I was amused by this idea of the garbage collector in the city and thinking, if I was doing something, how can I talk about the garbage collector?”
The opportunity to “do something” presented itself soon after, via an invitation from the Brooklyn Botanical Garden create a birdhouse for the garden For the birds exhibition, a garden-scale outdoor art exhibit that features birdhouses inspired by specific species. Now on view until October 23, the show includes more than 30 birdhouses.
For Hood, who chose to design a crow’s nest, the show was an opportunity to both explore the habits of crows and develop the scavenger. “Crows are great collectors,” says Hood. “In some places, where there is an abundance of a thing, they will collect it.” In Oakland, California, where Hood Design Studio is located, there is an abundance of Anchor Steam beer bottle caps from the local brewery.
His workshop therefore set up an amorphous mold and began a daily practice of weaving a jute rope into the mold, allowing the “nest” to slowly take shape. As they added rope, they interspersed bottle caps – similar to artist El Anatsui’s soda can pull tape tapestries – to create nest shapes that resembled those of crows: scrappy exteriors with a smooth interior, made using a steel base. The process was quite sculptural and required no drawing, Hood notes.
Unlike the more formal birdhouses included in the exhibit, Hood Design Studio crafted several nests, which are anchored into a gum tree using rebar and jute, maintaining a naturalistic quality. The nests invite viewers to reflect on how animal behavior—the actions and adaptations of our urban “pests”—reflects on humans.
“I was picking something up one day, and a crow landed on the sidewalk, and there was a bag of McDonald’s. And the crow was trying to get fries out of the bag. That says a lot about us, doesn’t it?” Hood.” They help us understand the context we live in and how healthy or unhealthy we are. For us, it was kind of an impulse. We landed on the bottle cap because that we were rummaging through the environment.
CORRECTION: The original version of this article, published in the October issue of AML, incorrectly identified Walter Hood as the landscape architect. The error has been corrected here.