Relational nests are social healing spaces that establish new relationships among living beings and places.

Art can bring people together, outside of their realities, to participate in creating a narrative or relational experience.

In the spring of 2021, I participated onsite in the TELL-US artist residency at the Ecovillage of Torri Superiore near Ventimiglia, Italy, to create a permanent outdoor installation in the public spaces of the community. The project’s premise was to engage the community, build upon their resources, and to activate place and dialogue between art, craftsmanship, and architectural history of the medieval village.

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Marguerite Kahrl, Planning installation of Relational Nests, Torri Superiore, 2021 (photo: Elisabetta Zavoli).

After conducting site and material research, observing species present, and interviewing the residents, I reinterpreted traditional terracotta pots made to capture birds and eggs. My typological objects, called Relational Nests, provide a haven from predators and harsh conditions. We installed twenty ceramic sculptures in the ecovillage, reflecting the architectural and environmental context within the collective spaces of the village. In a short time, the nests were adopted by both the community and the birds. Migratory birds now visit over seventy-five percent of the nests. My artistic research, the practice of participatory design, permaculture, experience testing, and observation strongly influenced my project.

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Marguerite Kahrl, Building Relational Nests onsite at Torri Superiore, 2021 (photo: Elisabetta Zavoli).

The different types of nests have decorative, educational, and functional value and call attention to the need to provide shelter for migrating species. They support bird and bat populations, promoting insect control and a more vibrant ecosystem.

The social sculptures involved community collaboration as a restorative gesture. They point to our relationship with each other and the ecosystem surrounding us.

The “Relational Nests” are complemented by a series of portraits where the objects become instruments to consider the surrounding ecology and relationships within it in new or different ways. Portraits include residents, neighbors, visitors, and volunteers at Torri Superiore involved in the project.

The ecovillage community became custodians of the intervention. A series of portraits show the Relational Nests cared for by those involved in the project. By paying attention to something, it becomes part of ourselves.

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Marguerite Kahrl, Relational Nests, terracotta and colored slips, Torri Superiore. Portraits of Stefano, Daniel, and Meret, 2021 (all photos: Marguerite Kahrl).

Marguerite is a visual artist and permaculture designer whose practice includes engaging in collaborative practices, studio work, prototypes, and taking on different roles to activate a new culture of living. Her art making is a socio-political activity to foster alternative understandings of ecology, culture, and new community models. She is based in Italy and Maine. See also: TELL_US 2021 / A conversation with: Marguerite Kahrl. For a recent interview with Ernest Gibba, touching upon community, see “Eat what you grow, grow what you eat: Interview with Ernest Gibba and Marguerite Kahrl.” Here is a short video of Kahrl in her studio tracing migration paths for birds and people.

MAJ editors’ note: The project which Kahrl co-founded to support migrating immigrants is Permaculture for Refugees.


Image at top: Marguerite Kahrl, Relational nests: Torri Superiore (Passer italiae), Terracotta, colored slips, 2021 (photo: Marguerite Kahrl).