Nicky’s work investigates the contemporary relevance of ‘found’ artefacts, their archives and specific sites through collaborative art processes with people who have significant connections to a latent history. She is interested in how such artefacts, archives and sites carry both social and personal histories. This leads to a key question: what is our relationship to the past, and what is the value we ascribe to it? She has explored this through photography, bookworks, sound, and other forms of digital media. Dialogues with archivists, archaeologists, local community members, local history groups, and museum volunteers are instrumental in her practice. This means the collaborative process, and the physical site, shape the form of final artworks.

Photographs are often the starting point for a project, and their relationship to a present-day landscape. Therefore, living memory – before it becomes ‘history’ – is an important link to all her projects, which is why the recent past is of special interest. Since 2007, the use of oral reminiscence and exploration of non-invasive archaeological methods have become embedded in Nicky’s practice. While the final outcomes may take different forms (photographs for Beneath the Surface / Hidden Place, 2007-2010, projections and memory maps for Travelling the Archive, 2016, a physical model for Heritage Site, 2016), they share the themes of land and heritage, working with individuals and communities who have witnessed significant change. This means stories and memories of place, work and family life include an aspect of the ‘unmaking’ of place, whether through economic decline and/or regeneration. Her most recent work is currently on show in Before and After Coal: Images and Voices from Scotland’s Mining Communities, 2024, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. This exhibition is the result of an innovative collaboration between Nicky, the National Galleries and mining communities across Ayrshire, Fife and the Lothians. In 2021, a solo show Legacy at Street Level, Glasgow, looked back at over fifteen years of work.

Commissioned residencies and projects include Mineworkings, 2023-24, Going through the Mill, 2021-2022, The Decorators for Land Mark, 2019-2020, and Ghosting the Castle, 2017. Group exhibitions include Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation, Glasgow, 2020; Media Archaeology: Excavations, NEoN Digital Arts Festival, Dundee, 2017; Tall Tales, a UK national touring show, 2016; Family Ties; Reframing Memory, London, 2014; and Seduced by Art: Photography Past and Present, London & Madrid, 2012-13.

Published essays are featured in: Aerial Landscapes edited by Nicky Bird, Katherine Jackson, Onya McCausland and Joy Sleeman (Flat Time House, 2023); Collection Thinking: Within and Without Libraries, Archives and Museums edited by Jason Camlot, Martha Langford, Linda M. Morra (Routledge, 2022); Proximity and Distance in Northern Landscape Photography edited by Chris Goldie and Darcy White (Transcript Verlag, Bielefeld, 2020); Picturing the Family: Media, Narrative, Memory edited by Silke Arnold de Simine and Joanne Leal (Bloomsbury, London, 2018); Home/Land: Women, Citizenship, Photographies edited by Marion Arnold and Marsha Meskimmon (Liverpool University Press, 2016); True North: From Documentation to Rewriting History (Timespan, Helmsdale Heritage and Arts Society, 2016), and The Photograph and The Album: Histories, Practices, Futures edited by Jonathan Carson, Rosie Miller & Theresa Wilkie (MuseumsEtc, 2013).

Nicky has been a Reader in Contemporary Photographic Practice at the Glasgow School of Art, 2017-2022, and a co-coordinator of the GSA’s Reading Landscape research group, 2014-2022. Nicky also co-coordinates The Family Ties Network, a research group of artists, filmmakers and writers who explore memory, space, place and the family in photography and moving image. Network news can also be found on the FTN Facebook page.

TOP IMAGE: ‘Before and After Coal’ Walk and Talk with Nicky Bird and SPIN group at the National Galleries of Scotland (Portrait), March 2024. Photograph by and courtesy of Julie Duffy