Nick Jordan



Drawings & Paintings





Cartwright & Jordan



Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan

Alchemy Fellowship 2007/08, The Manchester Museum, University of Manchester

English Hawking and Fishing in The New World, 1620

During our Alchemy fellowship we researched subjects which combined cultural and natural themes or narratives, drawn from literature, visual art, film, music, and the Museum's own displays and specimens. From a historical and ecological perspective, we're were interested in seeking out the unusual, poetic, remarkable or absurd interrelations between human activity and the natural world, and together made a series of new work, which included films, texts, drawings, photographs, interventions and events.

"It is through myth, story-telling, art, metaphor and play that we make overall sense of our place in the world. Given that language and imagination are what define our species, it is through these that we make our most truly human, and therefore most authentically ecological engagements with the world." - Richard Mabey

Birds of America: Passenger Pigeon

John James Audubon,
wild pioneer

the last passenger pigeon

Passenger Pigeon shoot
- note dense flock

The now fabled Passenger Pigeon is an emblem of mankind's troubled relationship with the natural world. The bird's fate embodies how, in a short span of time, our relative position with a species can dramatically shift, at both an ecological and cultural level.

Extinct since 1913, with the death of the last bird, Martha, in Cincinnati Zoo, the North American Passenger Pigeon was at one time the most abundant bird on the planet, with single flocks estimated to number over a billion birds. Prolifically and brazenly hunted for food, feathers and hog-feed, Passenger Pigeon numbers declined sharply in the late 19th century, when their sudden paucity became a cause for public speculation and concern.

The Manchester Museum has a Passenger Pigeon currently on display, with a further two skin specimens and a dozen eggs in storage. We looked at mankind's role in the pigeon’s complete obliteration, and its evocative description and depiction by the artist and naturalist John James Audubon (1785 -1851). Audubon is renowned for his magnum opus, The Birds of America, in which he illustrated every North American bird, life-size, in a double-elephant folio. The University of Manchester library holds a rare complete set of Audubon's original book, purchased in 1891, and letters which relate to Audubon's frustrating visit to a dank and gloomy Manchester in 1827, in search of wealthy subscribers.

In November 2007 we travelled through Kentucky, the home state of Audubon, to seek out locations recalled in his journals; in particular that of the phantasmogorical account of the flight, and subsequent slaughter, of the flocks of Passenger Pigeons in the woods by the Ohio River. We also visited Reelfoot, Tennessee, an area of cypress swampland created by the 1811 New Madrid earthquake, which Audubon described while riding through the barrens of Kentucky.

We worked with musicians to arrange a rare performance of 'Coro', a little known piece by the maverick Bohemian composer, fellow immigrant, woodsman and acquaintance of Audubon's, Anthony Philip Heinrich. 'Coro' is adapted from Heinrich's epic oratorio, Legiones columbarum americanarum sylvestrium, and describes the overwhelming effect of the arrival and departure of a vast flock of passenger pigeons, to the amazement of a huntsman and a passing traveller.

Our research also led us to the La Forêt de la Double, Périgord, to document French huntsmen shooting migrating wood pigeons. With nets, pullies and stool pigeons "les chasseurs" use similar methods to the 19th century pigeon hunters in the backwoods of Kentucky.

Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan
Where Is That Vanished Bird?, photomontage, 2007

Our interest in John James Audubon's description of vast flocks of Passenger Pigeons, and other texts accompanying Birds of America, formed the basis of two new films West Point and New Madrid. The first two parts of a trilogy of video works, the films explore the territory between cultural & ecological history, the past & present, and the human activities that alter and shape the diminished natural world:


West Point
the hunting of the Passenger Pigeon

23:50 mins. Cartwright & Jordan, 2008

New Madrid
the earthquake of 1812

06:40 mins. Cartwright & Jordan, 2008

Click here for a slideshow of our trip, from Louisville, Kentucky, down to the confluence of the Ohio & Mississippi rivers.

Trees of Britain: Oak

William Cowper,
pastoral poet

Oak herbarium sheet,
The Manchester Museum

The Parliament Oak
by Major Henry Rooke, 1790

Since publication of our collaborative book Alien Invaders: a guide to non-native species of the Britisher Isles, we have been researching an archetypal, native species, with historic roots in the our cultural, natural and spiritual landscape: the British Oak. Through the University's library, our research has been inspired by Jacob George Strutt's (1790-1864) 'Sylva Britannica', Hayman Rooke's (1722-1806) 'Descriptions & Sketches of Some Remarkable Oaks' and William Cowper's (1731-1800) epic unfinished poem Yardley Oak. Battling with bouts of delirium and melancholy, Cowper was a forerunner of Romanticism in England. Yardley Oak is a descriptive and meditative fusion of the personal with the public. Disturbed by increasing land enclosure and commercialization, the twisted and ancient oak is presented by Cowper as a totemic monument to a shared English identity, through which the inevitability of time's dissolution and decay is brought home to roost.

Our interest in and use of the oak tree is formed around notions of ideology, Nationhood, history, myth, symbolism - the ways in which we project human characteristics upon flora and fauna - how nature is put to work to represent human interest. In this context, the oak is fundamentally intertwined with British history and notions of nationhood, together with landownership, bucolic and pastoral ideals - cultural tropes that still resonate in the national consciousness and which, alongside the incredible beauty and material complexity of the oak tree, have provided us with plenty of material to work with.


MoNO - The Museum of Native Oaks
Janurary 19 to April 27, 2008
The Manchester Museum, The University of Manchester


Some details on our new collaborative film:
Descriptions and Sketches of Some Remarkable Oaks


Details of our Fieldtrip to Bradgate Park


Sylva Britannica
Ongoing series of oak tree drawings by Nick Jordan


The Oven Bird

There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.

Robert Frost (1874–1963)
Mountain Interval, 1920