This project was first presented and exhibited at the Birds and Language conference/exhibition, hosted online by the University of Sydney, School of Literature, Arts and Media, August 18th-19th 2021.
Jessica Laraine Williams, Dr. Roger Alsop, Alex Last, Dr. Mathew Berg
Unseeing elegy of the tetrachromats (2021) is an artwork featuring recorded performance, sound and visuals composed for an endemic Australian bird: the crimson rosella (Platycercus elegans). Whilst the crimson rosella attracts much popular adulaton for its vibrant plumage of primarily red and blue, the complexity of its auditory and visual lexicon is still emerging in the empirical record. We recognise and speculate on curious facets within these ecological patterns: these include the rosella’s higher temporal acuity of vision (also known as flicker fusion frequency, or how quickly birds can see and navigate their world) and their ability to see into the ultraviolet wave band of light (tetrachromacy, being the condition of colour vision in four dimensions). Temporal acuity rates are known to vary between bird species themselves, eliciting the notion that such variances might be analogous to a ‘secret code’ of signaling intra-species; invisible to predatory birds, for example, but perceptible between birds of the same species. Whilst UV- reflective markings on bird plumage are typically narrated through their mechanism in courtship and fitness signalling, we also contemplate a visual encounter with a colour that remains absent in our human sensorium. This has implications for radical care and empathy with our cohabiting animal aesthetes, an elegy for the unseeing narrowness of human-centric visions.