Lynn Aldrich in 'It Passes Like a Thought' | Beall Center for Art + Technology, University of California Irvine

It Passes like a Thought

Lynn Aldrich, Juan Fontanive, Ian Ingram, Richard Ross, Susan Silton, Victoria Vesna, and Anne Walsh

Opening Reception: Saturday, March 3, 2018, 2-5pm
On view through: Saturday, May 26, 2018
Holiday Closures: March 26-April 1, 2018

Curated by David Familian 

When an individual [bird] is seen gliding through the woods and close to the observer, it passes like a thought... trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone. –– John James Audubon 

Perhaps there is no better metaphor for the fleeting world around us than birds. Before we had various technologies and methods to capture birds visually or to record their song, we only had our memories and our imaginations to represent their ephemeral presence. Considering that there are more than 9,000 avian species, it is not surprising that many ornithologists, linguists, musicologists, and countless amateurs spend their lives watching and listening to birds. 

It Passes like a Thought includes seven contemporary artists who explore our obsessions with birds through various media. Some artists in this exhibition engage with birdsong, or more specifically, how we mimic or manipulate their sounds—looking for a response or a connection by creating a feedback loop with nature. Other artists are more interested in the visual diversity of birds, as well as how they are archived, classified, and preserved. 

Victoria Vesna, Susan Silton, and Anne Walsh explore the imitation of birdsong or simulated language between disparate species. Through their respective linguistic interests, these artists draw moving conclusions about the nature of communication and its universal purpose across all genera. Lynn Aldrich and Juan Fontanive focus largely on the animal’s capacity for flight; Aldrich creates a faux birdwatching experience of isolated bird wings while Fontanive mechanizes the hypnotic quality of their rapid movements. Ian Ingram draws an unlikely parallel between birds and humans by addressing technology’s ability to simultaneously disrupt and emulate certain animate behaviors, while Richard Ross documents our uniquely human need to taxonomize the world around us in order to understand it; in both cases, an eerie allusion to human contributions to avian extinction and endangerment is palpable. 

Each artist in It Passes like a Thought represents the unique ways that birds enter our consciousness. They imitate their sublime sound, attempt to translate avian language, and/or represent their stunning likenesses, flight, and habitats. Perhaps we watch and listen to birds so intently and universally as a way to remind ourselves that we must protect them. Birds are the ultimate memento mori: a reminder of vulnerability of the world around us.