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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 May, 2004, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
10 interpretations of a dead sparrow
Sparrow at the Tate
The heart of the sparrow pounds in its chest
A sparrow lying on its back in its death throes is the latest exhibit at the Tate Modern in London. On closer inspection, it is an animatronic model. Or is it? Here are 10 possible views.

1. This little bird is synonymous with the city, a "cockney sparrow" being a term for a lively, quick-witted person. At one time seen in abundance in towns and cities across the UK, it is now in serious decline. The artists Elmgreen and Dragset also link the sparrow to wider social issues, suggesting that the decline of the species is a metaphor for the decline of working class identity in modern Britain. (Tate spokesman on one of the multiple themes given by Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset)

2. One title is Summer In The World It's 4 O'Clock, which is about the fact that on this tiny scale we see this little bird struggling and there is nothing we can do about it - just like there is nothing we can do about anything that is happening across the world. (Tate curator Susan May)

3. Another title for the display is Just A Single Wrong Move, which "is about how all of us can be trapped after just one mistake". (Tate curator Susan May)

4. Blocking the View, the third title is meant to be ironic. (Tate curator Susan May)

5. Although we have to look at it in the context of art, the image does give us some concerns. People get distressed about birds trapped in tight spaces and we often give advice to people who see birds in those situations. So it's not taken lightly by many of our supporters and the joke doesn't really work. (RSPB spokesman Andre Farrar)

6. This is 'have-a-go' amateur philosophy worthy of French and Saunders. Nicholas Serota [the Tate director] smiled on someone who picked up a dead sparrow and failed to smile on people who actually applied themselves. (Institute of Contemporary Art chairman Ivan Massow)

7. In the 18th Century, Joseph Wright of Derby portrayed a scientific lecturer slowly depriving a white cockatoo of oxygen in his Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. This is an experiment on people - how we respond to the spectacle of a small, helpless, feathery creature apparently fluttering its last. Early results suggest it upsets and confuses Londoners a great deal. (Jonathan Jones, The Guardian)

8. It is art - the kind of art we need which appears to be tuned in to these anxious times. (Andrew Nairne, Director, Modern Art Oxford)

9. There's a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, 'tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all (Hamlet, Act V, scene ii)

10. You get used to artists doing this sort of stuff and you become de-sensitised. It's not real, so I don't care too much about it. (Steven Dorling, 19)

Some of your interpretations:

We wouldn't get upset at the sight of a dead sparrow in the street and yet it seems upsetting in this context. I think this highlights our hypocritical and over sentimental morals as well as our lack of individual control over what is happening in our society.
Rachel Smith, Britain

It is easy to become superficially absorbed in fathoming a meaning to the display, deep or otherwise. But perhaps the real effect demonstrated by this is how some people think we need to see death to understand life. Death, in all its terrible forms (of which we are reminded daily) is a universal constant whereas the way a life is led is infinitely variable. Should not this be the way to explore the gallery's theme: "the human condition is altered by the public or private environment"? Surely something positive might better be used to illustrate the human condition?
Kevin Leigh, England

The sparrow represents the murder by technology of the original. Due to human "progress" one day, we will have to create Virtual sparrows in order to remember them, just as we now do with the dinosaurs. (We reside in the 6th great extinction, where half of all species on earth could be gone in as early as 100 years)
Kristofer S., Ohio, US

I think the sparrow represents the artist themselves and the fact that he is on the back is down to him laughing his head off at us mugs
Boris, Peru

The sparrow represents the level of decay and boredom modern art has lowered to.
Martin, UK

This little happy bird was flying along quite the thing wondering about what to get for dinner and WHAM! Into the window. Deed. In town, slow down is the message here I think.
Grant Middleton, Glasgow

I think it represents hope. How something small and everyday (a dying bird) can one day produce something large and beneficial (an Arts Council Grant)
John, UK

I think it's an interpretation of freedom. The little guy saw some of his mates flying south for the winter, got excited, thought he could join his brothers and sisters. He took flight, dreaming of his new life, when reality made him come crashing down. Reality being he is a pet, and the window is his captor.
Darren Middleton, UK

"Not one [sparrow] will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father... So don't be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29,31) - A 2,000 year-old precedent for considering the significance of the death of one sparrow, and the implications for our own worth in the wider scheme of things.
Andrew Agerbak, Harrow, Greater London

I think this is to do with voyeurism, and not fulfilling our potential
Alex, GB

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'Dying' sparrow on show at Tate
12 May 04  |  Entertainment

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