expanded nonfiction project (film, sound piece, essay)

In the face of biodiversity loss, conservation efforts for avian and countless other species have turned to data. Much like human datasets, however, conservation datasets are an imperfect tool. They contain biases and misclassifications, are collected through harmful practices, and have the potential to distract from the systemic causes of the problems they are purported to solve. Salvaging Birds traces these logics of environmental datafication. Experimenting with a form Livio calls “expanded nonfiction,” it is a research-driven project consisting of a sound piece (commissioned and presented by Fermynwoods Contemporary Art in 2022), an essay (forthcoming in a volume from Amherst College Press), and a film currently in development. Speculatively queering bird datasets, the work weaves together text with custom AI-generated birdsong, animation, and music. In doing so, it complicates datafied approaches to conserving what and who is left of our world.  

Supported by:
  • CalTech-Huntington Art + Research Residency
  • Fermynwoods Contemporary Art (UK)
  • New Music USA Creator Development Fund
  • School of Communication Faculty Research Grant, American University
  • Environmental Futures (with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation)

  • “Salvaging Birds: Expanded Nonfiction about Brown birds, Queer Ecologies, and Data,” is a book chapter forthcoming in an edited volume from Amherst College Press (in press). 
  • Animation: Cassie McQuater
  • Score: JP Merz
  • With special thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, Erin Espelie, the Huntington Library, and Caltech.