Birding the Future: Norwegian sonic artist’s birdsong in DC
Christine Foster Meloni
Norwegian artist Frank Ekeberg is a participant in “Turf and Terrain,” the 2016 Arts in Foggy Bottom Outdoor Sculpture Biennial in Washington, D.C. He and Krista Caballero collaborated on the multimedia installation Birding the Future, an interdisciplinary work that aims to increase awareness of the extinction of birds.
Ekeberg worked on the sound and Caballero the images, and they collaborated equally on all other aspects of the work including the original concept and the scientific research upon which it is based.
Ekeberg is primarily interested in sonic art and uses natural sound almost exclusively as his source material. Visitors to this installation can hear recordings of authentic calls of endangered and extinct bird species. They can also view avian landscapes through a set of stereoscopic cards.
As visitors approach the installation, they will hear birdcalls and may wonder where the birds are. Ekeberg provides the answer:
“The sound actually comes from a number of loudspeakers that are hidden in the installation area. The sound consists of calls of globally extinct birds as well as of endangered birds in the region where the work is presented. The level and distribution of the speakers are balanced to integrate as much as possible with the local surroundings so that the audience has to listen carefully to distinguish the sounds of the installation from those that occur naturally in the area. In the process they hopefully gain increased awareness of the local birds that have their homes in and around the installation area.”
He goes on to point out that “the work also incorporates a rendering of the projected extinction rate for birds in the region, so that the density and diversity of the bird calls that are played back is gradually reduced throughout the day. This is to give a sense of the loss when birds go extinct.”
Visitors will find stereoscopic cards and a stereoscope inside the installation. After selecting one of the six cards and inserting it into the stereoscope, their eyes will take a few moments to adjust. Then an image with distinct foreground, background, and middle ground elements will appear as a three dimensional visual scene. With a little bit of practice, Ekeberg says, one will see the 3D effect almost immediately.
This stereoscopic technique was developed in the early 1800s and is a way of combining a pair of 2D images in the brain to enhance the illusion of depth.
Curator Danielle O’Steen heard about Birding the Future when Ekeberg and Caballero, with whom she had worked in the past, were showing it in Dubai after a previous showing in Australia. O’Steen was very excited and says that she “loved the idea of bringing it to Washington to continue its international reach.” She explains why she wanted it in her exhibit:
“This version of Birding the Future marks the first edition for the U.S. and the Mid-Atlantic. It fits very well into the premise of Turf and Terrain, which aims to expand the landscape of Foggy Bottom by tapping into forgotten histories and overlooked aspects of the neighborhood, including its wildlife. Since the work is both physical object and sound, it complicates our assumptions of what outdoor sculpture should be. This is another ambition of the exhibition, as several works use interactive art and new media in public space.”
What does Ekeberg want visitors to take away from Birding the Future? He expresses his hope that: “they will have learned something new about birds in their region and about issues they are facing, and see the importance in protecting the birds and the ecosystems they are part of, not only because of the birds themselves, but also because we humans depend on and benefit enormously from the work of birds and other species. Protecting the health of all species is crucial for our survival as well.
“One in eight of the world’s bird species are considered globally threatened, and 2% of all bird species are in imminent danger of extinction—of disappearing forever. The state of the world’s birds continues to worsen, including rapidly declining population numbers of common birds, those that are currently not categorized as endangered. Most of the threats to birds are related to human activities. In North America about a third of the birds are threatened with extinction, and a similar percentage is true for Norway. It is a very serious situation worldwide.
“When the birds are in danger, humans also suffer. The state of the birds is a particularly good indication of the health of the environment overall, and the focus on birds is a way to show that everything connects to everything else. So the inspiration is really a concern about environmental issues in general, and birds are a very important component of that.”
Ekeberg has an undergraduate degree in music from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway, an MFA in electronic music from Mills College in Oakland, Calif., and a PhD in electroacoustic music composition from City University in London, UK. His work has been featured in festivals, exhibitions, and concerts in more than 30 countries around the world and can be found in many public and private museums and libraries.
He spends most of his time on art and related research, dividing his time between Trondheim and Scottsdale, Ariz. His collaborator Krista Caballero is currently the Associate Director of the Design Cultures & Creativity program at the University of Maryland in College Park.
This year’s biennial presents the works of 14 local, national, and international artists in front of private homes throughout the Foggy Bottom Historic District between 24th and 26th Streets NW and H and K Streets NW (located close to the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station at 23rd and I Streets NW). The exhibition is free and open to the public. The closing day is Saturday, October 22.
Many thanks to artist Frank Ekeberg, curator Danielle O’Steen, and public relations consultant Melissa Beattie for their valuable assistance with this article.
This article originally appeared in the Aug. 26, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.