Artist's Statement

Alice Hargrave

For Paradise Wavering / Last Calls  Hargrave layers her dense immersive natural environments with abstract patterned “portraits” of the most threatened and endangered birds of the world. They are constructed using Spectrogram recordings: sound files depicting sound wave patterns of actual bird calls. Hargrave photographs, layers, and tones the sound waves using the surprising vivid colors of eyes, talons, skin, and plumage of each particular species, contradicting the ubiquitous argument “why save that simple brown bird”. Reminiscent of hieroglyphics, these avian vocalizations speak to environmental concerns, giving loud visual voice to these species in peril.

Currently, the calls of extinct or threatened bird species are housed in library vaults due to the accelerating pace of climate change and habitat loss. Our ways of interacting and experiencing wildlife is now mediated through the use of technology. Hearing archival recordings of the very last mating calls of now extinct male birds summoning non-existent females is chilling. The incredible sense of loss, and the poignancy of a library containing this evidence of biodiversity past, is deeply moving to the artist, and inspired this project. 

Several differing site specific installations include sound, photographic murals / wallpapers, silk wall hangings, and semi-transparent scrims layered over landscapes where the birds once occupied in abundance. For example, in Biosphere / California Condor, research shows the Condor was once prevalent in tropical biospheres, so Hargrave symbolically returns the species to one of it’s nascent ecosystems. The sound component of the installation includes voices of researchers describing field conditions, dates, times, the occasional stray coyote or bear, and catalog numbers of each bird recording, calling attention to the fact that we are listening to an archive or mediated source rather than simply ambient bird song. By specifically using the archival sound recordings of Arthur A. Allen from the 1950’s, Hargrave pays homage to this pioneer and founder of The Cornell Ornithology Lab — with whom she collaborated to complete this body of work.