Budgie Butlins

Budgies kick back in their very own holiday camp at PS2

If you ever decked your pooch out in Prada or told people your moggy could say ‘mama’, then Catherine Roberts' installation at PS2 might be right up your alley. With miniaturized nesting box caravans, a swimming pool and recreational facilities, it is a Butlins holiday camp designed for the enjoyment of the common or garden household budgerigar.

‘I know the basic height of the budgie and its width,’ Roberts explains, making a very small door in one of the caravans. ‘All the little budgie doors are sized so that a budgie can go in there to nest. The caravans are wallpapered and they have windows and curtains. I don’t know why the budgies shouldn’t go in there.’

Luxurious, but Arts Council funded Budgie Butlins is more than just an extravagant boarding aviary for the budgies of jetsetters. It is a light-hearted but incisive commentary on the way humans interact with the natural world: taming, caging and anthropomorphizing it.

Roberts explains that part of her inspiration came from her interest in Victorian encasements, constructed exhibits of the natural world carefully staged with taxidermied animals and enclosed in glass. Budgie Butlins is a modern version of that, recreating a man-made environment rather than a natural one and using live animals. 40 live budgerigars in fact, donated for the month by the Northern Ireland Budgerigar, Zebra Finch and Foreign Bird Society.

Roberts has done her best to make sure that nothing goes wrong when the birds arrive. The paint used on the caravans is toxin-free, they have plenty of food and the appreciative audience have to watch from outside so as not to stress out the budgies.

The best way to judge a budgie's happiness with its environment, of course, is to gauge whether or not they put the nesting boxes to their stated use. Roberts giggles that she’d be delighted if that were to happen - although she doesn’t know what she’d do with the budgie chicks - but thinks that it’s unlikely. ‘This isn’t the breeding season,’ she explains. ‘It’s quite lucky really, that’s why the breeders were willing to lend me the budgies.’

Budgie Butlins is Roberts' first solo show. It has been percolating in her head for a few years now, but only started to take physical shape last year when she sent a proposal to PS2. ‘The space here is perfect for my installation,’ Roberts says. ‘I wanted to create a voyeuristic spectacle, an scene for passers-by to look in on. The two big glass windows help me do that.’

Roberts constructed the diorama with the help of a grant from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and now she hopes that PS2 will only be the first stop for her installation. ‘It involves a lot of responsibility with the birds, but I do want to tour with this exhibition. This is a starting point to see how it goes – how the budgies interact with the environment, it’s completely untested at the minute -  and if they are happy.’

Maybe she should be more worried about them being too happy. After three weeks swimming in the pool and sleeping in luxury caravans, the budgies might not want to go back home.

Budgie Butlins will be open at PS2 for Late Night Art on September 2 and the budgies will be released on September 9. The installation will be in place until September 25.