Brigitte Cornand’s The Red Birds Riffs on Art, Life, Womanhood


Some visual artists are blessed with the ability to speak compellingly about their life and work, their insight serving as a forceful adjunct to their art. Others, when given the opportunity, indulge in a bloated stream of prattle that’s either too academic, too abstract, or too precious to communicate many concrete ideas to a receptive listener. It’s the latter tendency that predominates in Brigitte Cornand’s Red Birds, a short video project in which the filmmaker sets off brief conversations with Louise Bourgeois, Carolee Schneemann, and a dozen other female artists with homemade footage of 14 varieties of bird, each species serving as a thematically apposite onscreen avatar for one of the film’s subjects. No comprehensive consideration of the creative process, Cornand’s video unfolds as a series of modest riffs on the intersections of art, life, and womanhood, as the subjects reflect on their upbringing, the difficulty of forming a personal identity, and what it means to be a female artist. But for every lucid recollection of having to overcome parental resistance and forge one’s own path, there are whole reams of stale talk about the “spirituality” of nature, a catalog of stilted phraseology, and Kiki Smith’s gaseous discussions of her gender-flipping, chronology-shuffling readings of the Bible.