REGULAR visitors to a Sheffield park were in for a surprise this week when they found themselves confronted with the sight of three giant birds’ nests.
But the trio of 8ft structures in Weston Park were in fact entirely man-made interactive art pieces erected to mark the launch of Sheffield’s newest festival, the Festival of the Mind.
The nests, created by a team of three artists working with three scientists from Sheffield University, were scaled-up reproductions of the structures that male bowerbirds - found predominantly in Australia – build in the wild to attract a mate.
Just as in nature, the hut-like nests were decorated with trinkets and smothered with the juice of elderberries to appeal to all the senses.
The installation was the brainchild of the professor of zoology Tim Birkhead and Sheffield-based contemporary artist Paul Evans.
Prof Birkhead said: “This is a great way to show the public just how amazing nature can be. Not many people know about bowerbirds and even fewer can believe that birds can build such sophisticated structures.
“Science might seem dull on paper, but it is quite remarkable and this is a great way of getting it out of the textbooks and into people’s imaginations.”
Mr Evans said: “The aim is to think about how parts of nature relate to human perception of aesthetics.
“There are some things in nature that are purely functional that we perceive as beautiful, but also there also creatures like the bowerbirds who are drawn to aesthetic.
“We’re interested in those parallels of evolution.”
Park visitors also had a hand in the creations, with children helping to decorate branches.
The installation is just the first of a series of crossovers between academics and artists as part of the Animal Magic: The Wisdom of Birds project, which also features a dawn chorus of Twitter haiku by local poets and a wallpaper of mutating starlings that has been installed in various locations around the University.
The project forms part of the first Festival of the Mind, a collaborative cultural showcase featuring performances, talks, exhibitions and activities across the city.
Yesterday saw students in Barker’s Pool in Sheffield city centre re-enact a famous 17th-century experiment by Otto von Guericke to demonstrate the effects of atmospheric pressure.
The festival runs until Sunday, September 30. For full details, see http://festivalofthemind.group.shef.ac.uk/