Rachel Berwick

1997- present (ongoing project)

Dimensions: 10'H X 10' Diameter
Materials:  two live parrots, polypropylene, plants, water fountain, sound, lights, shadows

Project Venues:                  
1996 Real Art Ways, Harford, CT
1997-98 Wooster Gardens, New York, New York
2000 Serpentine Gallery, London
2001 Istanbul Bienal, Turkey
2004 Mercosul Bienal de Porto Alegre, Brazil 

In 1799, the German naturalist Alexander Von Humboldt, embarked on a journey through Venezuela to trace the
Orinoco River to its source. During his travels Von Humboldt was said to have acquired a parrot from a Carib Indian tribe which, some days before his arrival, had attacked and eliminated a neighboring tribe, the Maypure’.  During the attack, the Carib tribe had taken parrots which the Maypure’ people had kept as pets.  Von Humboldt noted that the parrots were speaking words, not in the language of the tribe he was visiting, but in the language of the recently destroyed Maypure’: thus the parrots were the only living ‘speakers’ of the Maypure’ language.  They were, in fact the sole conduit through which an entire tribe’s existence could be traced.  Von Humboldt phonetically recorded the bird’s vocabulary; these notes constitute the only trace of the lost tribe...

For this installation I trained two Amazon parrots to speak Maypure’. The parrots live within a sculptural aviary and are only seen in shadow through its translucent walls. The birds chatter at will, incorporating the language with a multitude of sounds generated by them and their environment.

While it was first exhibited in 1997,  "may-por-é" has continued to evolve as I have worked with additional parrots, one pair in Turkey for the Istanbul Biennial in 2001, and another pair in Brazil for the Mercosul Bienal de Porto Alegre in 2004.  For these two venues younger parrots learned from my first two parrots.  I trained them largely through the use of recordings of my birds.  Volunteers who were on site conducted lessons with the young birds and additional lessons were transmitted via the Internet. There are now a total of six Maypure' speaking parrots.

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may-por-e - detail