The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and Superblue will present Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg – Machine Auguries: Toledo at the Toledo Museum of Art, April 29-Nov. 26. The installation marks the artist’s first solo presentation in the United States and her largest indoor installation to date.
The site-specific, immersive installation simulates a natural dawn chorus, the daily call and response performed by birds in the spring and summer to defend their territory and call for mates. In Ginsberg’s artwork, the natural dawn chorus is slowly taken over by artificial birds, whose calls are generated using machine learning. Drawing on the significance of the region’s location on spring migration flyways, Machine Auguries: Toledo reflects on the decline of bird populations caused by human action.
The installation features the growing light of an artificial dawn and foregrounds our current environment where habitat destruction, climate change and the effects of noise and light pollution are disrupting the dawn chorus. Birds — critical to functioning ecosystems — are being forced to sing earlier, longer, louder or at higher pitches, ultimately threatening their populations as only the species that adapt can survive. Ginsberg trained a generative adversarial network (GAN) — two neural networks that work in a “call and response” and are sometimes used to create lifelike but fake images. She used tens of thousands of field recordings from the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and documented different bird species iconic to the Toledo region, including the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and the gray catbird (Dumetella carolinensis).
A suspended lighting array spanning the gallery transports viewers from the deep blue of the Toledo predawn through to the pinks and golds of the sunrise. Visitors sit together in a clearing under the artificial sky and listen to a solo call and response between a real and synthetic bird. Over time, those calls grow into the crescendo of the dawn chorus.
During the days of the machine learning process, the artificial birds become increasingly lifelike. They incrementally improve as their calls grow in fidelity, mimicking how many bird species develop their song by learning from each other in the wild. In Machine Auguries: Toledo, the machine learns from the disappearing birds. Machine Auguries was the first artwork to use GAN with sound when it was originally commissioned with a UK chorus by Somerset House, London, for the exhibition 24/7.
“Habitat loss and climate change have put many species, including birds, at great risk,” said Jessica S. Hong, TMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art. “The dawn chorus naturally peaks 30 minutes before and after the sun rises in spring and early summer. Along with habitat loss, birds are now also forced to compete with light and noise pollution to not only communicate but continue the survival of their species. Machine Auguries: Toledo encourages visitors to reflect on the deep interconnection between humans and the natural world.”
Superblue’s senior curator Kathleen Forde noted, “Ginsberg's practice encourages us to deeply consider not only the intertwined issues related to nature, technology and loss but also our human impact upon them. Superblue’s partnership with the esteemed Toledo Museum of Art allows us to bring Ginsberg’s site-specific work to life in the very landscape that inspired its light and sound composition.”
Northwest Ohio is on the spring migration flyway for many species and has an active birding community. Toledo is home to The Biggest Week in American Birding festival, which will be held May 5-14. Ginsberg consulted with a number of birding specialists in the creation of Machine Auguries: Toledo, including Toledo MetroParks and Black Swamp Bird Observatory to record the songs of different species during Toledo’s birding season in 2022. The artist also worked with birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman and the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
“Taking the time to slow down and listen to the beauty of Toledo’s dawn chorus reminds us of the urgency with which we must protect the life around us,” Ginsberg said. “Listening to an artificial dawn chorus in the gallery, I hope that visitors will be reminded of the importance of protecting the sublime nature outside that we share before it is lost. Bringing Machine Auguries: Toledo to life has allowed me to learn more about the incredible and desperately important biodiversity in Toledo and the northwest Ohio region.”
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg (b.1982, UK) is an artist who critically examines our fraught relationships with nature and technology. Through artworks, writing and curatorial projects, Ginsberg’s work explores subjects as diverse as artificial intelligence, biodiversity, evolution and synthetic biology as she investigates the human impulse to better the world.
Ginsberg exhibits internationally including at MoMA (New York), Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Museum of China (Beijing), the Centre Pompidou (Paris) and the Royal Academy (London). Her work is held in private and museum permanent collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum (New York), Therme Art (Berlin) and ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). More information about the artist is available at daisyginsberg.com.
Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg – Machine Auguries: Toledo is organized by Superblue and Jessica S. Hong, the Toledo Museum of Art’s curator of modern and contemporary art. The installation is sponsored locally by presenting sponsors Susan and Tom Palmer, the Rita B. Kern Foundation and the Trumbull Family. Additional support provided by Dana Incorporated, Taylor Cadillac and the Ohio Arts Council.
Admission to the special exhibition is $10. For more information call 419-255-8000 or 800-644-6862, visit toledomuseum.org or follow @toledomuseum, @daisyginsberg and @superblue.art. Tag the museum and artist using #MachineAuguriesToledo and #alexandradaisyginsberg.