Visualizing Birdsong with Artist Alice Hargrave

Chicagoan Alice Hargrave translates birdsong audio recordings into vibrant visual works of art to raise awareness about species and habitat loss

  • By Jennifer Wehunt // Art by Alice Hargrave
  • Footprint
  • Dec 30, 2023

BACK IN 2013, when the Chicago artist Alice Hargrave started making avian-centered work, she got a lot of eye rolls. “I would lose people at the word ‘bird,’” she says. How times have changed. Hargrave calls today’s popular fascination with birds and birding a “zeitgeist” she’s happy to support through her art: visual representations of birdsong sound waves printed on paper, silk, tapestry—even wallpaper and clothing textiles. Hargrave’s subjects inspire her color palettes, often in surprising hues. In “Illinois Prairie” (above), featuring calls of several of the state’s endangered birds, she chose the olive in honor of the American bittern's green legs. “People might ask, ‘Why save that dumb brown bird?’ Well, that brown bird might have bright yellow eyes,” she says. “I use color as advocacy” to get people’s attention—and to raise conservation dollars. Hargrave donates a portion of the profits from her commercial collaborations to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, whose Macaulay Library is a frequent source for any bird audio she doesn’t record herself. “There’s only so much awareness can do in these days of critical species and habitat loss,” she says. “We need boots on the ground.”

See more on Instagram: @alicehargraveq.

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