Maggie Higgins paints swans to suggest that you are the sum of your best and worst actions
'I think what the swans symbolize for me was the duality of the self'
In the dead of night, in a waking dream, multimedia artist Maggie Higgins had a vision.
She saw two swans: one white, one black. Their slender elongated necks tangled hopelessly together. They appeared to be constricting, possibly even choking one another. To her, the entanglement looked simultaneously loving and aggressive. Higgins rushed out of bed to sketch the image, to give form to the revelation before it faded from consciousness. On the back of the sketch she wrote, "I am both the best and worst of my actions." The swans, she says, symbolize the duality of the self.
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It was that original sketch that led to the creation of her current series of work, Black Flock. While researching for this project, Higgins discovered that black swans had once functioned as a metaphor for the unthinkable. In 1697, the Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh spotted one in the wilderness of Western Australia, and suddenly what had once been considered unthinkable was very real to him. Today, the symbol of the black swan has come to represent the idea of an outlier or anomaly. In Black Flock, Higgins uses this symbol to explore what it means to be both your best and worst self.
In this video by filmmaker Matthew Brown with the help of Zoë Boyd, you meet Higgins as she creates her new series Black Flock. You follow her to the New Brunswick Museum where she sketches bird specimens, and then meet her dog Goose, a retired greyhound racer. Higgins says that It is thanks to her art practice and her relationship with her dog Goose that she is able to reflect on what it means to treat an animal as another being, and not simply as a thing.
"I might be a black swan when I do something that's ego-driven or I do something that will be against my ethical code. And then a white swan self would be acting as my ideal self, which is taking in an animal from a race track, giving it love, treating it with as much humanity as I'd treat another person." Animals, Higgins concludes, can tell us a lot about our own humanity.
Follow Maggie Higgins here.