As a former biologist and scientific illustrator, my work in sound, sculpture, video, painting asks: Can a “good scientist” exist outside and inside an experiment simultaneously? Can sensations of wonder, the strange, or the marvelous, though unquantifiable, generate valid forms of data? Can stances based in the presumption that an observer is detached from the observed provide convincing evidence that all life on Earth is interdependent?

Such paradoxes pervade my work in all its forms, with the urgency to express them magnifying as the tenuous condition of Earth's ecology becomes increasingly evident. At this critical socioecological moment, those who practice both art and science may be uniquely positioned to suggest that objectivity and subjectivity harmonize and serve equally vital functions.

BIRDS WITH WORDS (rubber stamp on vintage book images) invites viewers to consider what constitutes the real, the possible, the wondrous. How are aspects of our shared human experience defined, who gets to define them, and what makes them meaningful? When an observer enters into an active, dynamic relationship with the observed (as in states of inspiration), how does perception shift?

There are no wrong answers. However, to quote Harvard biologist Richard Levins’ 1996 article “When Science Fails Us”:

“I propose the hypothesis that all theories are wrong which promote, justify or tolerate injustice. The wrongness may be in the data, its interpretation or its application, but if we search for that wrongness we will also be led to truth.”

The images are from nature writer Neltje Blanchan's 1897 book Bird Neighbors: An Introductory Acquaintance with One Hundred and Fifty of Our Common Birds. The book contains 52 color plates made by photographing taxidermied birds in prepared vignettes. The artist who prepared the illustrations is not credited. Neltje Blanchan was one of the bestselling women naturalists of the day.

All images 6x8. Rubber stamp text added 2024.