2024 > The language of birds

A new body of work exploring the deficits of language in describing a world understood through observation. In Abrahamic lore, The language of birds represents access to a divine, esoteric form of communication shared by angels and birds alike. In earthly terms, language offers our best tool to carry the most meaning with the least weight and our relationship to the world cannot be understood without it. Like all relationships, language is transactional and we necessarily lose in order to gain.

Each bird, native to this continent and often deeply familiar in sight and sound sits atop a stack of fifty A4 notebooks, a Doric nod to the Birders task. Each carved and painted, wrought in wood with nods of plastic, glass and bronze, shifts of shape and sheen enough to signpost an entire species. Meeting at eye level, the birds are titled through a brief description of their voice, extracted from The Complete Guide to Australian Birds by George Adams (2018). An apt reflection that encapsulates a familiar call; Rollicking Laughing Chorus to describe the Kookaburra; Complex flute-like carrolling, the Magpie. Brief, poetic and perfectly suited to the familiar ear, but if that were the only descriptor, what deficit lies between those few words and the complexity of birdsong? Imagine trying to describe human language in four words.

We understand the world through witnessing it’s passage and collecting knowledge to be shared through language whether visual, written, spoken or sung. To communicate is to build on the experience of others. As human beings, it’s one of our immense advantages, yet we must recognise the limitations and work magic in the shortfall.

The language of birds