Project Background

We are living through the “Sixth Extinction” where loss of species and biodiversity is occurring at an alarming rate. Across cultures and continents, birds have been seen as “message bearers,” able to communicate the future, announce changes in weather and warn of coming disaster. Seen by many to be barometers of environmental health, almost a third of all bird species will have disappeared by the end of this century. Declining bird populations in practically all habitat types signal profound changes over our entire planet.

Birding the Future is an interdisciplinary art project that poses three questions in response to this crisis: What does it mean that we can only see and hear extinct species through technology? What might happen as the messages of birds are increasingly being silenced? How can traditional ecological knowledge be combined with technological advances to surpass what any one way of knowing can offer?

Birding the Future explores these issues and current extinction rates by specifically focusing on the warning abilities of birds. The installation invites visitors to listen to endangered and extinct bird calls and to view visionary avian landscapes through video and stereoscopic cards.

Calls of endangered birds particular to the region installed are extracted to create Morse code messages, underlining technological reproduction as the only means to hear certain species. These messages are combined with unmodified calls of extinct birds, which act as a memory of the past and point to a future of less biodiversity. Over the duration of the exhibition the bird calls are computer manipulated in real-time via a Pure Data (Pd) control algorithm to project the rate of extinction for the end of the century by decreasing the density and diversity of bird calls.

A series of stereoscopic cards offer a loose narration through the soundscape. Similar to the function of technology in the soundscape, the stereoscope becomes the visual tool to see what is now extinct. Popular from the mid-nineteenth century through the early twentieth century, the stereoscope has been chosen as the viewing instrument for its potential to heighten perceptual awareness and provide a historical link to human impact on the environment. Textual and visual analysis including poetry, data and composite photographs highlight regional specificities while simultaneously mapping global commonalities.

Read more in our Leonardo article