Super Kingdom: Mussolini Bird House, King's Wood
Photography: London Fieldworks 2009
SUPER KINGDOM can be viewed as a social engineering experiment for animals - a new community in the making referencing
despots' palaces, gated community developments such as Alphaville in Brazil and the fortified exclusivity afforded to the wealthy
and super-rich - all designed to keep urban reality at bay.
Super Kingdom, referencing both utopian imaginary and biological taxonomic hierarchy, is a sculptural installation of animal 'show homes' in a woodland environment based on the architecture of despots' palaces. It reflects both human and animal hierarchy as territorial relationship to landscape; is informed by changing habitat, the displacement of animals as a consequence of urban development and conservationist strategy, and global concerns about fluid populations and porous borders.
The project was initially inspired by reports of anomalous animal behaviour in nature as a response to shifting environmental cues, alluding to animals as bio-indicators signaling environmental change. As an environment changes, so does animal or human experience of it. This results in altered behavior, often expressed as movement towards a condition more conducive to survival. Alongside climate induced animal movement we are interested in the current practices of re-wilding and assisted migration where animals are re-introduced for the purpose of environmental management and strategically relocated to save species threatened by extinction. 'Assisted migration' or 'managed relocation' is controversial among the conservationist community, some of whom criticise the strategy as a form of 'ecological roulette'.
Considered as an enclave, King's Wood is an environment surrounded by encroaching urban development. Desire for new housing and increased local infrastructure is pitted against fears that the Stour Valley will be ecologically damaged by the unprecedented growth planned for nearby Ashford. This tract of land in Kent therefore reflects a wider global concern around land use, the erosion of urban-rural boundaries and need of provision for a fluid population displaced by changing environment, economic imperative, political and ideological conflict.
Drawing on edge cities or self sufficient off worlds and the collision of habitats and inequality that exist around them, we initiated a collaboration with London based Consarc architects to design 3 distinct animal habitats. The resulting Super Kingdom structures reference the off-worlds, the Architecture of Fear (as Tunde Agbola describes fortified lifestyles in Lagos), and the architecture of dictators' palaces. The key characteristics of the 'show homes' were taken from Mussolini's Palazzo della Civilta Italiana which has become known as the Colosseo Quadrato, Rome; Stalin's Palace of Science and Culture, Warsaw; Ceausescu's The People's House ("Casa Poporului") in Bucharest, now the Palace of the Parliament.
SUPER KINGDOM is a Stour Valley Arts commission supported by Arts Council England, Henry Moore Foundation, Arts and Humanities Research Council and London Southbank University in collaboration with Consarc architects, Webb Yates Engineers and Setsquare Staging Limited.