Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg connects to Toledo, OH’s birds

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) and Superblue present Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg – Machine Auguries: Toledo at the Toledo Museum of Art, April 29-November 26, 2023. 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 Alexandra Daisy 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. Toledo hosts the annual Biggest Week in American Birding festival every May bringing tens of thousands of birders to the area which acts as a high traffic funnel for migratory birds due to its location on the shores of Lake Erie.

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.

Alexandra Daisy 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,” Jessica S. Hong, TMA’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said. “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.”

Alexandra Daisy 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.”

About the Artist

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.

Admission to the special exhibition is $10. For more information call 419-255-8000 or 800-644-6862.

Toledo Museum of Art

The Toledo Museum of Art is a nonprofit arts institution funded through individual donations, foundation grants, corporate sponsorships and investments.

Admission to the Museum is always free, but visitors are required to register at the Information Desks upon arrival. The Museum is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. and 11 a.m.–8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. The Museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and on certain holidays.

The Museum is located at 2445 Monroe St. at Scottwood Avenue, just west of the downtown business district and one block off I-75, with exit designations posted. For general information, visitors can call 419-255-8000 or 800-644-6862 or visit toledomuseum.org.

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