Sachsenhausen river bank, opposite Portikus.

A project within the framework of the EUROPEAN CULTURAL DAYS of the ECB – France 2012

Portikus has been located for six years now on the Maininsel, a small island in the river Main, sharing this exceptional site with a protected bird sanctuary. Many artists have addressed the specificity of the isolated island within the urban fabric of the city of Frankfurt. This time an artist has been invited to create a work especially for this outside space. French-Moroccan artist Latifa Echakhch has developed an intervention on the island, which, while not being accessible to visitors, is visible from the banks of the river.

The Portikus island is an exceptional spot for witnessing the changing seasons and the subsequent behavior of urban wildlife. In spring and summer, the foliage of the trees disguises the cityscape, creating a tropical-like forest that becomes home to various birds and animals. Come autumn and winter, the scenery changes dramatically, creating a melodramatic black and white silhouette of trees and branches. This is also the time when migrating birds temporarily populate the island. Arriving from northern Europe, the flocks “transit” in the treetops before flying on towards warmer southern territories. The only birds that return daily are crows. Just before sunset, they gather in swarms and circle around the island and the high-roofed Portikus building, eventually landing on the branches of the tree tops.

Reflecting on ideas of absence inherent in migration, Latifa Echakhch – having herself a diverse cultural heritage – made a sculptural work that to an extent repopulates the island over the winter months. During a site visit, the artist was immediately drawn to the time of year when the island is stripped bare, when life is withdrawn and the site functions as a place of refuge. With the expertise of the renowned Research Institute Senckenberg, the island’s biotope was mapped. Based on these findings, Echakhch developed a project centering around the transient nature of life on the island and the fluctuation of migrating birds, and fabricated a number of kites in the shape of birds to be attached to the trees. The kites are made from plastic bin-bags, echoing the paradox of a nature reserve in an urban cityscape.

Commenting on aspects of solitude and rejection, the kites can either function as an invitation to the arriving birds, given their bird-like shape, or, alternatively, as a warning, due to their scale and materiality. Pointing towards the potential threat and cruelty of isolation, and at the same time suggesting an aesthetic stylization of violence, Latifa Echakhch borrows the title of Hitchcock’s seminal film The Birds for her installation on the island. While the kites appear to have been abandoned on the island as a result of an unknown threat – their owners vanished or chased away – they
also allow for narratives that lend to the gloomy island scenery a momentary air of innocence, like that of children playing.

Spring, and with it the beginning of the breeding season and the revitalization of the island, will mark the end of Echakhch’s installation. Until then, the work can be viewed from the Sachsenhausen river bank, adding to the tradition of Portikus to introduce contemporary art into the realm of the city.

With scientific support by the Senckenberg Research Institute.

Photos: Helena Schlichting