5 SenSeS


by breaking down bird vocalizations or songs into elements similar to our own language, like letters or words into a kind of visual shorthand we may be better able to recognize them.  By having this kind of bird song literacy we can listen differently, perhaps recognizing our fellow birds by their distinct calls, in this way, we may be able to gain a deeper respect for the diversity of species.  It is my hope that by being able to connect to bird vocalization through a visual language that we will become more attuned to the sounds of songbirds in our environments, creating deeper engagement.



Anna’s Hummingbird (calypte anna)


Listen to a male Anna’s hummingbird call

Learn more about our local chatty hummingbirds








A Thought Experiment

what is art to us, what does it do for us, what is it’s purpose, and what would art be for animals? I think art for an animal like a cat or dog, who are domestic space dwellers and have lost many instincts and behaviours of their wild cousins, but retain some of the sensory skills, art would be something that arouses and delights.

My cat is a stone cold killer.


She would be delighted to hunt.

An exhibition that consisted of mice or rats running around would be her jam.

But that is not what this exhibition is about. It is meant to arouse but not necessarily satisfy her bloodthirst.

The exhibition consists of recently dead and also mostly decayed animals.  I have many dead animals in my freezer, they were found dead and I am preserving them in ziplock bags with tags. I really should keep track of the dates they were found and the place. One of them, a small songbird, was recently killed by my crazed cat.  This is something I discourage by only letting her out at night and letting her in very early in the morning.  In the hopes that she sticks to rats instead.  I have nothing against rats, but she is a cat.

The previously frozen dead birds would be placed into the gallery space beneath the false floor.  The false floor would have a number of holes that are just barely big enough to get a cat paw into.  There would be no explanation for non-feline visitors. Cats and dogs and other scavengers would get it, they would follow the scents, and try to get at the dead things, problem solving, how to manage it.

Humans would not be able to smell the animals in their now decomposing state. Not until the smell reaches the level a human can detect. By then the flies and other scavenging creatures would surely have taken notice.  Ants would come to take bits away. Flies might come to lay eggs and the whole exhibition would then be maggots and flies and dead stuff that people hate.  People just wouldn’t get it.

It would be a huge success with the animals, critics would not be as impressed since they have different markers of significant and they just can’t crash the umwelt of a cat.









North American catfishes (Ictaluridae) are nocturnal animals.  They avoid well-lighted habitats during the day and leave the dark sanctuaries at dusk to feed.  Catfishes have a keen sense of taste and smell, but poor vision.  Taste buds are densely packed on the barbels and mouth of the catfish, as well in the skin all over the body. The nares connect highly sensitive olfactory (i.e., smell) tissue with the aqueous environment.  Taste and smell assist in locating food, but catfish also use the sense of smell and taste to communicate among individuals.

Each dot represents chemosensory cells on the body of a catfish (Pough et al. 1989).


I was curious about how taste is so linked to smell and how taste could be deconstructed.  Taste as a basic function tells us whether something is edible or safe to eat.  What if we could taste through our skin? Arguably we ingest through our skin, directly into our bloodstream, but what if we could get a taste sensation through our skin that did not have a scent component to enhance it.  What if it was a skin sensation?

Could we taste a lemon though our skin? We could taste garlic by rubbing it on our skin and the taste would then register in our mouth approximately 30 minutes after application. But could we taste the tang of a lemon through our skin?

Using a lemon battery series I attempted to recreate the sense of the lemons tangy taste using low voltage electricity produced by the lemon. If I put the copper wire to my tongue I indeed do feel the electricity. But that is still tasting with tongue.  Using a slime made from flax seeds and salt I attempted to create an electro conductive gel that if enough voltage could be created with the lemons we could feel if we put our hands in the gel.


The lemons did not generate enough power to create that 9volt battery tingle, not even close, but a very faint ting was detectable if one put the copper ends on the tongue.  The salty electro conductive flax seed slime was effective as a digestive juices visual but not an actual conductor.  It was therefore given to a 5 year old as Happy Birthday Boogers.


Touch/ Sight

An attempt at collaboration with a hummingbird

What are the markers of significance for a hummingbird? What is important in a hummingbirds umwelt? What do they see or not see? What senses are prioritized? 


The Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna

our local hummingbird whose vocalizations can be heard almost all over the city, from downtown, over lagoons, to trees spaces everywhere.

I was particularly interested in their nest building.  I have not seen a hummingbird nest, they are built 6-20 feet off the ground on horizontal branches commonly in oak trees or vines, not usually conifers.  The nests are 1.5cm diameter and 1” high.  The female builds the nest by herself, building around her body with soft materials.  Down, fluff from plants such as dandelions,  moss, animal hair or down and spiders webs.  Spiders webs add elasticity to the nest so that it will stretch as her chicks grow.


This piece relates to both sight and touch.  The red detail represents a hummingbird sonogram, a visual representation of a bird vocalization.  This particular sonogram was recorded in 2012 in Upland’s Park.  The red is one of the sensory markers that attracts a hummingbird as it signifies sweet nectar.  The touch aspect relates to the textures of the nesting materials which are chosen for their softness and malleability.

I have scavenged nesting materials and will include them in a weaving. The weaving is small in scale and will have red detailing.  Red is attractive to hummingbirds as many of their preferred sweet nectars come from red flowers.  The size was important because large things likely carry little significance.  The nesting material will be loosely incorporated into the weaving to allow the hummingbird to remove the material.  I hope that it is not too late in the season for nest building.

Scavanged nesting materials include:

  • Local llama fibre
  • moss
  • tussah silk roving
  • human hair
  • cat hair
  • local cashmere
  • pony down and hair
  • lichen covered bark
  • feathers
  • local sheep fibre
  • dryer lint
  • grass clippings
  • beard hair
  • spider webs
  • bellybutton lint