November 17, 2018

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This show is for the birds

Electronic-media artist Erika Lincoln's works on exhibit at the WAG are designed to tune visitors into the living world around them

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2011 (2783 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THERE’S a flock of European starlings that lives in Wolseley, near Advance Electronics.

They often congregate in a huge pine tree in artist Erika Lincoln's back lane.

About four years ago, Lincoln started paying close attention to the birds' songs. She came to believe that they had incorporated urban electronic noise into their calls: frequent car-alarm testing from the Advance parking lot, traffic sounds, and the beeping street-crossing signal at Portage Avenue and Valour Road.

"Suddenly I just made the connection, that the birds are actually making those sounds in their song repertoires," she says. "I started doing research about it. They're part of that bird family of mimics (like mynah birds). They are known to do cellphone rings. They'll meow like a cat. There's a bird in Australia called a lyrebird... that will pick up construction sounds, like a chainsaw."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2011 (2783 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Electronic-media artist Erika Lincoln’s works on exhibit at the WAG are designed to tune visitors into the living world around them.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Electronic-media artist Erika Lincoln’s works on exhibit at the WAG are designed to tune visitors into the living world around them.

THERE’S a flock of European starlings that lives in Wolseley, near Advance Electronics.

They often congregate in a huge pine tree in artist Erika Lincoln's back lane.

About four years ago, Lincoln started paying close attention to the birds' songs. She came to believe that they had incorporated urban electronic noise into their calls: frequent car-alarm testing from the Advance parking lot, traffic sounds, and the beeping street-crossing signal at Portage Avenue and Valour Road.

"Suddenly I just made the connection, that the birds are actually making those sounds in their song repertoires," she says. "I started doing research about it. They're part of that bird family of mimics (like mynah birds). They are known to do cellphone rings. They'll meow like a cat. There's a bird in Australia called a lyrebird... that will pick up construction sounds, like a chainsaw."

Lincoln, 41, is an electronic-media artist who makes kinetic sculptures and audience-responsive installations. As a kid, she recalls, she used to take apart typewriters, radios and tape recorders to see how they worked. At one point, she aspired to be an industrial designer. But she became a University of Manitoba fine arts grad whose work has been shown in numerous Canadian and European galleries and festivals.

Lincoln's observation of the starlings led to Erika Lincoln: The Singing Condition, her first solo show at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The four-work exhibition is on view until June 12.

WAG contemporary-art curator Mary Reid says the show reflects on "bird culture" and how it appears to adapt to technology. Though it's not meant to have an overt message, it stirs visitors to be more attuned to the living things around them, Reid says.

The first work, Singing Condition I, is a flock of 20 electronic/mechanical birds built from microphone stands and computer circuitry, with wooden clamps for beaks. A computer program created by Lincoln causes a motor on each bird to operate the beak, making it "sing" intermittently. The realistic "songs" are made by the squeaks of the clamps' springs and the whirr of the small motors.

So, in a kind of mirroring of the starlings' imitated human-made sounds, Lincoln imitates bird-made sounds using machinery.

She made the second work, Singing Condition II, after noticing how urban birds weave litter and found materials into their nests. "They use anything — cigarette wrappers, plastic bags, yarn, dog hair," she says.

 

Lincoln has rigged up wool-winding machines with sensors that react to visitors' movements. The sensors trigger basket-like frameworks to spin, winding string into "nests" that incorporate plastic strips. "Again, it's a human intervention into an animal process," she says.

For the work Relational Transmissions, Lincoln built a 15-foot "communications tower." Inspired by birds' tendencies to nest on human-made structures — particularly African social weaver birds, which nest communally on telephone poles — she made a huge, shaggy nest out of woven white-plastic tarpaulin.

Inside it are speakers and a computer, playing random sound files that Lincoln recorded. The sounds are processed to sound just like avian chirps, tweets, squawks and whistles, but they're actually the completely unnatural sounds of car alarms and traffic.

"I went to Advance with a microphone and asked the guys in the shop if they could set off a couple of car alarms," she says, laughing.

The fourth component, Mechatronic Magpie, is a collection of knitted tubes that hang from the ceiling. Each is wittily stuffed with a collection of electronic junk, such as digital alarm clocks, joysticks, DVDs, an answering machine, headphones from airplanes and an iPod.

Lincoln says a lot of the stuff reflects her own "magpie madness," her tendency to hoard technological trash. She also imagined what a magpie would collect if it only had an electronic dump to raid.

The artist hopes to use solar power to drive her next project. When it's mentioned that she seems like the kind of builder/inventor who would excel in a robot-wars competition, she says she was actually chosen to participate in the 2005 ArtBots festival in Dublin.

"It was about using robotics in a different way," she says. "I made a giant kinetic tree."

alison.mayes@freepress.mb.ca

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