Andy & Peter Holden: A Filial History of Nest Building

Mar 12 2024

David meets the Father and Son team muddling the minds of both Artists and Naturalists

David Oakes

David Oakes


Andy & Peter Holden


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About this episode:

At the launch of his latest video installation at the Tate St Ives, artist Andy Holden meets with David Oakes to discuss the creativity present within the bird world. But, whilst exploring avian aesthetics, Andy’s artwork – “A Natural History of Nest Building” – also explores the roles of nature versus nurture at an additional level. This exhibition, one exploring how and why Birds learn to create nest structures, is created by a father and son team; the son an artist, and the father a famous ornithologist. Which begs question: was this film, one about creating homes, nurturing eggs, and fledging one’s young, really just about birds? In this ornithological deep dive, Andy and Peter Holden discuss approaching a shared passion from opposite directions. You’ll hear about the super-stimulus associated with the gaping beak of the infanticide-committing cuckoo, the individual spin that different birds of the same species place upon their own personal nests, and the complicated legacy of the mysterious egg-stealing Jordain Society.

Andy Holden is a multi-faceted artist who has exhibited at the Tate Britain, has had music aired on BBC 6 Music, and has created everything from human-sized bower-bird bowers, to enormous knitted rocks based upon a piece of pyramid which he stole as a boy. His father, Peter Holden MBE, worked for the RSPB for almost 40 years to boost their youth engagement. He was most notably instrumental in developing their “Big Garden Birdwatch” – the UK’s first ‘citizen science’ project, which has been running now for 45 years, and counted around 190 million birds.

David's thoughts:

Prior to discovering Andy and Peter’s “Natural Selection” videos, I was made aware of Andy’s bronzes – the Wakefield “Auguries”; gleaming totems for nature, capturing the increasingly un-capturable – the precious songs of vanishing birds. Every aspect of these sculptures sung to me (excuse the pun). You will hear Andy discuss them in the second half of this episode, and he clearly demonstrates the potency of his artistic messaging. Crisply presented in brass; songs of 5 birds are (most likely) immortalised far beyond their potential biological existence. It’s tragic and beautiful. A piece of artwork that could convert people to a more conservationist agenda.

This podcast has always tried to probe the overlap between science and art, between the natural and the human. Also, where possible, to see how this overlap can be used to reinforce and reconstruct the natural world. Andy and Peter’s numerous avian themed collaborations epitomise that, and I cannot recommend more fervently a trip to Wakefield, or a trip down to St Ives or the Kröller Müller, to see their work for yourself.



Andy Holden:
Twitter –
Wiki –

Current Exhibitions:
“A Natural History of Nest Building” @ The Tate St Ives –
“The Auguries: Last Call”
“The Wood for the Trees” @ The Kröller Müller –

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