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“Hopelessly Hopeful”, alias the last recording of Kauai Oo, 2020

Winner of the Sustainability Art Prize 2020

Sculpture with an audio element.

This work consists of two elements: a large scale sculpture and an audio element. The bird’s nest is placed upside down and suspended from the ceiling, allowing the viewer to walk beneath. The sound piece is featuring the original recording of a Kauai Oo bird singing (provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornel Lab of Ornithology, New York)  and a voiceover by Dr Jack Kelleher. The text for the narration is loosely based on the real conversation described by an ornithologist named Jim Jacobi who was with a group when they heard the last surviving Kauai Oo begin to sing. Jacobi later described the encounter to Ben Shattuck in The Rumpus (an online magazine). I described the encounter from the bird’s point of view and recorded my friend Jack Kelleher reading it. I combined and edited the recordings.

Kauai is one of the Hawaiian islands which used to be a home for a small honeyeater bird called Kauai Oo. This bird, well known for his distinctive voice and attractive black and yellow feathers, is now extinct. Ornithologists desperately tried to protect the last pair living on the island, but after a devastating hurricane in 1982 the female disappeared. Oos mated for life and sang in duets, the gaps left in a solo Oo’s song are noticeable in the recording used within the artwork. This recording was captured by three ornithologists who came back to the island in 1986 and unexpectedly spotted the last Kauai Oo there. Jim Jacoby described how he clicked his tape recorder when he spotted the bird and heard it singing.  He was very excited about his finding and later on that day he shared the news with his colleagues. He played the recording to them when suddenly the bird came back. At first, they couldn’t believe their luck but it soon dawned on them that the bird came back because he thought he heard another Kauai Oo. The last male Kauai Oo died soon afterwards

Just like the bird hoped, for a moment, that he wasn’t alone I hope that species extinction in future will only be caused through natural processes, rather than intentionally through the actions of mankind.

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