By Ilana DeBare
If you’re heading out for a day of birding at Point Reyes or Bolinas Lagoon in the next couple of months, consider adding an unusual stop.
A darkened room. Indoors. At the Bolinas Museum.
Through June 1, the museum is featuring an exhibit of over 100 bird photographs by Oakland artist Walter Kitundu. But this isn’t your standard series-of-framed-rectangles-on-a-wall.
The room is dark. You’re stepping tentatively along a wooden boardwalk, whose planks creak and buckle under your feet. All around, you hear the whirring of a dozen old-fashioned analog slide projectors. Every so often one of the projectors tosses up the image of a bird on a wall.
You see it — then it’s gone. And then there’s another one, on another wall.
And then that one is gone too.
The images are actually activated by your steps on the boardwalk. So each visit to the room is different. Each circle you make through the room is different.
Kitundu, a MacArthur genius grant recipient who has been photographing birds for seven years, designed the exhibit to simulate the serendipity of birding.
“I wanted to share my images of birds but I didn’t want them to just hang on walls,” Kitundu said Saturday during an opening reception for the show. “I wanted to convey being out there looking for birds — the element of chance, of opportunity, and of missed opportunity…. When you’re out birding, nature and the moment decides. I wanted to replicate that for people.”
Kitundu included some tricks. For instance, there’s one image that is activated as people leave the room — but it appears slowly, so if people are hurrying out without looking around, they’ll miss it. “The best thing is to move slowly and be observant,” Kitundu said.
The show is a weird combination of high- and low-tech. High-tech in that we’re talking about color photographs and slide projectors. But low-tech in that these are old analog projectors, which Kitundu rigged with wooden gears. He barely got the room set up in time for Saturday’s opening, and during the event, he stepped from projector to projector fixing little glitches.
“There are some interesting challenges in using outdated technology,” he said, “but as someone who works with record players I’m used to it.”
Yes, in another area of his artistic life, Kitundu is the inventor of the phonoharp, a musical instrument made from a phonograph turntable. And he’s currently working on a project for the Oakland Museum that will be a giant bird made out of wood, connected to a phonograph turntable. Turning a crank will produce music and make the bird’s wings flap.
Walter Kitundu’s “The Ceiling of Our Day” exhibit will be at the Bolinas Museum, 48 Wharf Road, through June 1, 2014. Admission to the museum is free. It s open on Fridays from 1 to 5 p.m., and weekends from 12 to 5 p.m. For information, see www.bolinasmuseum.org. For more of Walter Kitundu’s work, see his web site at www.kitundu.com or look for his bird mural in Terminal 2 of San Francisco International Airport.