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Something Frightening Lurks in the Song of Birds
by Rikke Hansen

This paper takes its title from a quote from Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory in which he argues
for the centrality of the animal aesthetic to modern art. However, to the German philosopher,
non-human animals only have a sort of ‘absent presence’ that rubs on a wound caused by
the marginalisation of them within modern, Western societies. That is, they are not as such
directly representable in art; instead, they continue to haunt aesthetics from within, almost like
birdsong that is appreciated for its beauty but which nonetheless fills us with wonder because
it seems ‘other’ to us. Art has recently taken an animal turn with increasing numbers of artists
investigating the appearance of animal life in contemporary culture in far more direct ways than
Adorno ever imagined. In this presentation I look at some recent artworks that all address the
notion of the ‘animal voice’ through mimicry and appropriation, but also occasionally through
non-representation and misrecognition, from Rachel Berwick’s may-por-e, 1997-present, to Peter
Callesen’s Concert for Birds, 2005, to Bill Burns’ Bird Radio, 2007, and Marcus Coates’ Dawn Chorus,

Rikke Hansen is a writer and art critic, living and working in London. She writes for the UK-based
journal Art Monthly and has hosted the weekly programme Nature Calls: Animals in Visual Culture
on Resonance 104.4 FM: London’s Arts Radio Station. Her current research centres on the interface
between animal studies and late 20th century aesthetics.

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