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Tipping Point Edition

Installation views of Elizabeth Turk, Tipping Point —Echoes of Extinction, at Hirschl & Adler Modern, New York, October 1 – November 20, 2020 / Photograph © Eric W. Baumgartner

Is it possible to use one sense to explain or label another? Yes, although it often has a slight surrealist effect, like when we describe the flavor of root beer as tasting like the smell of Ben-Gay ointment. We know what we mean but hearing a description like that requires some mental gymnastics for a listener.

A more understandable example of dual or cross sensory experience is the combination of sight and sound. When you look at a photo of your favorite band or singer in concert, don’t you ‘hear’ the music just by looking at their expressions and postures? But if you had no memory or experience of their sound, they’d just be shadows on paper.

Something like this is what happens when animals become extinct. There may be specimens, documented images from fieldwork, and the occasional recording; but without a sensory connection people seem to dismiss this significant loss to local and global ecosystems. What does it matter, they think, there are plenty of animals out there.

It takes an artist like Elizabeth Turk and her new exhibit Tipping Point: Echoes of Extinction at Hirschl & Adler Modern to bridge that gap between knowledge and comprehension, and make people understand that these living things did matter and continue to do so after they’re gone. Using recordings of animals that are either extinct, a near relative of an extinct species, or endangered, and transmuting the horizontal marks of the sound waves into disks of wood, metal, or ABS filament that are stacked into columns, Turk turns their voices into modern-day stele, monuments to the loss of the planet’s biodiversity.