Machine Auguries Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg

Can sound make us care more about nature?

Artist Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg talks to us about her machine learning installation inspired by birdsong, and why sound is a powerful tool in engaging people on the topic of the environment

For years, much of the discourse surrounding climate change, biodiversity and the environment has been illustrated by harrowing images: bulldozed forests, barren landscapes, displaced populations, destroyed habitats. It seems the prevailing tactic has been to shock us into action, yet as climate change statistics and natural disasters continue to intensify, it seems this hasn’t been enough to make the Western world change its behaviours.

Whether due to being deemed fearmongering, guilt-tripping, or simply ineffective, such images have gradually been replaced by new forms of communicating the gravity of society’s impact on the environment. Organisations like Extinction Rebellion have placed graphic design at the heart of their campaigning, while a growing number of visual artists are choosing to portray the immense beauty of the natural world in a bid to underline what we’re at risk of losing.

One such artist is Dr Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, whose practice revolves around exploring our relationship with technology and nature, and how the two domains are intricately interwoven. In recent years, she has co-edited MIT’s Journal of Science and Design, worked on programmes and commissions for the V&A and Design Museum, and held a residency at Somerset House. Last year saw her join up with the latter once again for its provocative exhibition 24/7, which investigated the emergence and implications of modern society’s non-stop lifestyle.

Ginsberg’s contribution to the exhibition was Machine Auguries, an audiovisual installation commissioned by Somerset House and A/D/O that seeks to demonstrate how human actions impact bird populations, which have been in decline over the last few decades.

Originally designed for Somerset House’s Chapel, the piece invites visitors to sit and experience the sound of early morning birdsong – known as the dawn chorus – surrounded by diffused colours evoking the soft morning light. The work is now on display at Fact in Liverpool as part of a new group exhibition called And Say The Animal Responded?, which features other audio installations including a “choir of whales and dolphins” and “a live colony of leafcutter ants turned scratch DJs”.