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Lecture: Infrastructure of a migratory bird

Technology and autonomy in more-than-human networks

What does it take to create a "wild animal"? While one might think "wildness" implies the absence of humans, in the age of the anthropocene and rapid climate change, the opposite is the case. It requires the development of an extensive, more-than-human-infrastructure. Our talk is based on artistic research into the ongoing rewilding project of the Northern bald ibis (Waldrapp), a large migratory bird, that has become extinct north of the alps in 1621 and are being released into the wild since 2013. The output of this research was rendered into a website which serves as a departure point of our talk.

We outline the heterogeneous elements that make up the infrastructure of the rewilding project and what kind of situations are being produced therein. The graph of "the infrastructure of a migratoy bird" shows relationships between social, technological, informational, and ecological elements which make up the anthropogenic ecosystem in which the bird is becoming wild again. The objective was to visualise and comprehend the intricate network of data, energy resources, and dependencies deeply enmeshed within the project's framework.

We will also focus on the types of data being produced and to what extent "acting" within this framework is informed to observation of movement data. One can trace the flow of information, observe how data is generated, processed and ultimately mediated. As a migratory bird that travels between 1600 and 4600km per year (from summer to winter habitats and back) this project could not be realized without intensive use of technology. This falls into two categories: assisted migration and location/movement tracking. As a social species, the birds have an instinct to migrate, but the concrete migration routes and destinations are socially learned. With the extinction, this social knowledge became extinct as well. This is a challenge and an opportunity for the project. On the one hand, the birds need to be trained the unnatural behaviour of following a light airplane, on the other hand, humans can guide them to specific areas where socio-environmental conditions are suitable for habitation. Currently, close to 85% of the more than 200 surviving rewilded birds are wearing a GPS/GSM tracker that enables near real-time monitoring of locations and movements. This data is used for monitoring the birds for signs of distress (injury, problems along the route, death etc), and for feeding an app (Animaltracker) that allows the interested public to track the birds and, to a limited degree, for behavioural research.

From this, a different notion of wilderness emerges. Here it denotes not the separation from human culture, but a degree of freedom and autonomy in making decisions. Technology, the real-time tracking and social media coverage, serves as a way to increase the autonomy of the bird, supporting them to survive outside captivity, yet within densely populated, deeply cultured environments. Technology's main purpose here is not surveillance but care, both directly by enabling biologists to help struggling animals in the wild, but also indirectly, by supporting a deeper, affective relationship of the population towards wild animals which are no longer anonymous, but known by name, each with its distinct history and personal character.


Day: 2023-12-28
Start time: 11:00
Duration: 00:40
Room: Saal Zuse
Track: Art & Beauty
Language: en



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