Location and Context
As a visual phenomenon the context and location of the Listen Bird is often questioned by the viewer. The Listen Bird is known to have made its first appearance on the streets of Whyte Avenue in Edmonton. The image of a bird commanding you to listen may be sighted across Canada. As the creator of the Listen Bird remains anonymous, there is no way to officially track the graffiti, or to ask what the author’s true intention is.
Locations for the Listen Bird vary greatly and we are unable to say specifically that you are meant to “listen” to. Several of the images are located directly on the busy street of Whyte Avenue. The Listen Bird can be found on side-streets, painted on electrical boxes, dumpsters and telephone booths as seen in the included video. The Listen Bird is not limited to an exterior context. It may be found in restaurants such Dewey’s and the Sugarbowl. There could also be an paradox here of stating the word Listen, when you are really being told to Look. To look at your surroundings, to pay attention to the graffiti and it’s underlying messages.
Audience and Availabilty
As the Listen Bird is a ubiquitous symbol in Edmonton it seems difficult to specify its exact audience. It is a public piece, found in pedestrian areas, the foot-traffic-heavy areas of Edmonton: Whyte Avenue, Jasper Avenue, the LRT route, Chinatown and the University. These areas are host to a population primarily composed of students, young professionals, and the homeless. Why has the Listen Bird’s creator chosen such locations and audience? The most likely answer is in the availability of the locations where the images appear. It is likely that its creator is not looking for a target audience so much as a public forum by which to create social awareness. The Listen Bird is essentially omnipresent high-end graffiti where its multiple recreations, stylized appearance and potential meanings may be considered more artistic than say, amateur tagging. It was highly prevalent in the early 2000s and its presence has declined greatly in recent years due to the City of Edmonton’s Graffiti Management Program (GMP). A program started to eliminate graffiti completely starting with the elimination of current art and the prevention of future tags. The Listen Birds wide availability creates a diverse audience whose varying viewpoints render the already ambiguous graffiti subjective.
The Listen Bird, being the creation of an anonymous artist, has no obvious or clearly defined meaning. It has been perceived by some as an ad campaign by either Listen Records, or Blackbyrd Music, which has a black bird as a shop logo. Both owners, however, have denied being involved with the Listen Bird at any capacity.
The Listen Bird can interpreted as a subversive message regarding urban sprawl and the lost connection between people and nature, the bird’s statement of “Listen” is then a sort of request (or demand) for people to stop and “listen” to what remains of the natural world around them. In this interpretation, the use of a bird can be seen as a result of the fact that they, being separate from urban civilization, have still been able to thrive in this context, being one of the few remaining bastions of the nature and wildlife within cities.
One must also consider the fact that, because of the simplicity and anonymous nature of the Listen Bird, it is completely reproducible by anyone. The scope of differing styles that the bird, and even just the accompanying phrase “listen”, have been presented in implies the presence of multiple artists. The prevalence of the bird throughout Edmonton and Canada can be attributed to a kind of underground commodification, wherein those that lack the creativity or conviction to bring artistic merit to their vandalism can merely do a crude recreation of an already popular concept. It could be argued that the sole reason the Listen Bird holds artistic merit is because of how common it is.
To gaze at the Listen Bird creates a complex relationship between the subject (spectator) and the object (image). Who is the Listen Bird speaking to? What does the Listen Bird represent? Who created the Listen Bird? Who is the Listen Bird for? The image itself forces the subject to question themselves and search for purpose as a response to viewing the image before them. The spectator views the Listen Bird, and the Listen Bird reflects a hidden, complex significance back on to the spectator, thus producing endless connotative meanings.
The questions asked by the Listen Bird are simple at first, but subjective to each spectator as they view the bird and its message - listen. The response to the viewing of the Listen Bird is subjective to each spectator. Several factors contextualize the image and produce different significance onto the spectator. Where is the Listen Bird? How are you viewing it? Are you alone? Are you taking the image for what it is in its simplicity and rejecting the reply, which begs you to ask yourself, what am I listening to?
The relationship between the Gaze and the Listen Bird is thought provoking and objectifying to the viewer. The spectator, is forced to question her or his self and look beyond a simple image for connotative meanings and symbols. You do not simply look at the Listen Bird without reaction. You respond to the Listen Bird, and allow yourself to be subject to a deeper, connotative meaning. Though the authorial intent is unknown, the image is viewed subjectively and therefore each viewer creates her or his own meaning.
Jessica Bilodeau, Olivia Bond, Lisa Amerongen & Tim Mikula