artist and teach​er

mary beth magyar

This a 3 minute version of the longer film from To Build a Nest Rochester Art Center

​Film edited by Laura Nickel

Process as Progress

Susannah Magers, Curator


​A nest can be understood as a site of comfort: a representation of safety, stability, and a haven to return to for re-grouping, growing, or becoming. Acknowledging this idea, while pointing to the possibility that can come from discomfort as well, artist Mary Beth Magyar’s practice departs from the notion that regeneration emerges out of destruction, and that against the odds, we canalways rebuild.

An avid collector of dormant nests, which line the window frames of her studio, Magyar investigates their various sizes, shapes, structure, and materiality: what kind of bird made it? What informed the selection of branches, mud, or found objects, and their placement within the construction of the nest? For Magyar, the nest is also a symbol of life that exudes energy, and evidences a sense of purpose. Of particular interest to Magyar is how impressive the endeavor is to build in unexpected environments—noticing how, undaunted by risk, birds carefully craft their nests in some of the most unlikely or inhospitable places. Mimicking this avian adaptability, Magyar’s practice incorporates experimentation with scale, materiality, and presentation—being open to endless modification, no matter the conditions present or resources available—in her own words, “rebuilding or destroyingas necessary.”

The exhibition begins with an ending of sorts: The Beginning Starts With An Ending, 2016, is a 10 minute color looped video that documents the culmination of a massive, additive nest built by the artist, in a controlled burn. Built over many weeks by Magyar on a farm in neighboring Eyota, MN—and comprised of sticks, metal, and whatever she could find around the property—Magyar experienced multiple interactions, or interferences, with the natural environment during that process. This nest, despite its scraps of metal jutting out from all sides, proved an appropriate (if unexpected) nesting site: birds would sit on the nest as she built it, with one even attempting to build a nest within the sculpture itself. The process of building and burning the nest for Magyar served both cathartic and necessary functions: the fire became a catalyst for growth and moving forward from the loss of a dear friend and fellow artist. This work also speaks to the process of saying goodbye, and the intangible matter we accumulate and carry around with us: grief, memories, nostalgia, and of course, our sense of home.


​Accompanying the video are five nest sculptures made of hundreds of hand-made and fired ceramic sticks, stacked individually atop rebar bases, and three large-scale charcoal drawings of nests on paper. The nest sculptures embody an ephemeral grace, visually illustrating the tension, and balance, between strength and fragility through an unlikely material pairing. The delicate ceramic sticks, stacked and unanchored by anything to each other but gravity, are in stark contrast to the rough sturdiness of the rebar on which they rest. Varying in size and height, and placed within the middle of the gallery space between the video and a corner of three large, framed charcoal drawings of nests on paper, these nest sculptures encourage visitors to consider them from all angles and perspectives.


To Build A Nest October 6th, 2016-February 12, 2017