Forgotten Songs is a striking visual and audio sculpture located at Angel Place in Sydney, Australia.
The sculpture combines the jarring image of bird cages suspended above the walkway with recordings of 50 native birds that formerly inhabited the Sydney area.
It provides an eloquent object lesson concerning the changes humans have wrought in their thirst for development, and encourages the observer to consider their own place in the birds’ former habitat.
It Takes a Village
Forgotten Songs was conceptualized by artist Michael Thomas Hill to draw attention to the many species of birds who have lost their homes due to habitat destruction since the arrival of European settlers in 1788. The resulting artwork was fully realized through the efforts of a team of scientists, artists, programmers, designers. Dr. Richard Major, the senior research scientist on the project, analyzed the habitat, soil, and water availability in the area to determine which birds would likely have existed in the area prior to European settlement. He further determined which of the birds were diurnal and which nocturnal, so that the sculpture could be programmed to play the songs of the birds that are active at a given time of day. Actual audio recordings of the birds were procured in the field by Fred van Gessel.
In addition to Hill’s artistry, van Gessel’s recordings, and Dr. Major’s research, the final product can be attributed to Lightwell (Audio System Design and Programming), Freeman Ryan Design (Graphic Design), and Aspect Studio (Landscape Architecture). The result is a haunting and ghostly composition of bird songs and imagery to remind us of birds who no longer grace the trees of central Sydney.
A Call To Action
According to the Australian Department of Environment and Energy, 50 species and 81 subspecies of Australian birds are currently endangered, including 8 species and 14 subspecies that are categorized as extinct. The primary cause of animal endangerment and extinction worldwide is loss of habitat due to human development. Forgotten Songs is meant to recall the beauty of the habitat that has been lost, and to remind the observer that we must all work together to take action before it is too late.
“Forgotten Songs”. City of Sydney City Art. https://www.cityartsydney.com.au/artwork/forgotten-songs/. Accessed 25 August 2019.
“Numbers of Living Species in Australia and the World”. Australian Department of The Environment and Energy. https://www.environment.gov.au/science/abrs/publications/other/numbers-living-species/discussion-chordates. Accessed 25 August 2019.