green, grey or dull silver project 2007-2008

This Australia Council Inter Arts program funded project ran from April 2007 to November 2008 with fieldwork taking place in the Kimberley between August and December 2007 and October 2008. The residency was at the SymbioticA art and science laboratory at The University of Western Australia.

The residency researched aspects of the collection of objects by male great bowerbirds and the vocalisations performed as part of their mating displays. The great bowerbird is found across the tropical savannas of northern Australian. In common with related bowerbird species the male great bowerbird builds an avenue of twigs and collects stones, bones, shells and human-made objects that it places in piles at each end of the avenue. The two heaps and the avenue in between thus make up the bower.

The primary function of the bower is as a display space for the male to exhibit its evolutionary fitness to the female. The male performs for the female by posturing and dancing and by taking up the collected objects in its beak and waving them at the female. The male makes a variety of noises including mimicry as part of this performance. The female visits a number of bowers before choosing a mate. She watches the performance from the safety of the avenue and when she has made her selection the two birds mate in the avenue.

Each species of bowerbirds has specific colours and shape criteria for the objects that the male collects. For the great bowerbird green, grey or white objects are preferred. Different types of objects are grouped in specific areas of the bower and the male spends time each day arranging and rearranging his collection, renovating his bower, and even stealing from or wrecking the bowers of his rivals.

The art project revolved around interacting with birds at the bowers. There were three discrete but concurrent conceptual approaches in Green, grey or dull silver The first was to approach it by adopting an aesthetic standpoint of ‘interacting’ or ‘have a conversation’ with bowerbirds. The second was undertake the process of science (as faithfully as possible) with a view to adding a small but accurate contribution to the knowledge of science. The third perspective was to undertake the process of science and use this performative experience as a material for artworks.

(see also relevant blog entries)


This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body

This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

SymbioticA - Centre of Excellence in Biological Arts