Hannes Wingate

Bird Man

There is a human-sized bird’s nest in downtown Portland. This is the guy who built it.

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The piping trills of a spotted Towhee, with its piercing red eyes and white spots, echo in the afternoon sun as Hannes Wingate drags a giant branch and some old mattress springs across town. It’s downtown Portland and the Swedish artist has found the perfect tree to create his masterpiece.  

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“I’ve always been drawn to sticks,” explains Wingate, who’s responsible for the 30ft. high bird’s nest sitting in a tree adjacent to Portland’s Burnside Skatepark. While Wingate’s creations are structurally sound (up to 5 people can stand in his Portland nest) and architecturally beautiful, the artist claims he “doesn’t give a shit about architecture” and instead cares about “shepherding ideas through spaces.” The first episode in new Red Bull TV series “Diplo Presents: @Large Creators at Work” features Wingate and his creation. We caught up with him to talk about the show and get a glimpse into the impetus for making these unique installations. 

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Burnside Skatepark has a notoriously “locals only” vibe to it. What’s been the reaction to your project in that community?

The skate park was originally built unsanctioned by 3 guys who convinced the truck drivers delivering concrete to a nearby freeway interchange to dump the excess concrete under the Burnside Bridge. I was there one night around midnight to take some photos of the tree where I would build. There were some guys having a bonfire and one guy broke off from the group and came towards us saying, ‘Don’t you f*cking point that thing at us.’ When I explained that I was looking at the tree and building a human-sized nest, it stopped him in his tracks. We started chatting and then he sort of got it. And from then on I had no problems at all.

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Your art has an element of graffiti culture to it – it’s clandestine by nature, except it’s building structures instead of tagging them. What’s the risk in doing this type of art?

There are the physical risks of building and using the tools, but there are also the possible legal ramifications. And a lot of graffiti can be pulled off in a short amount of time. The risk with building something like this is that it takes more time than tagging so you have to develop strategies.

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What’s the point of going through all the trouble of creating illegal art? Is it about circumventing the system?

I don’t have to do it illegally. I’ve only done it illegally when I felt like it was meaningful and necessary. The nest represents a vision of the world.  And if I were to get in line and get an application to build, it would be like I’m placing myself and my ideas subordinate to the hierarchy. It is an important part of the message to say, ‘F*ck off, I don’t need to ask permission to do this.’

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What are your artistic dreams?

I’d like for the work to create a moment where people reevaluate their relationship with the natural world. I’d like for the nest to form a crack in the agreed upon reality of the world. I’d like people to literally take a step back and say ‘What the f*ck is going on?’

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Enter the bird’s nest on RedBull.TV April 22 for Hannes’ episode.