Alice Hargrave: The Canary in the Lake

Alice Hargrave: The Canary in the Lake

University Galleries of Illinois State University

Alice Hargrave. Left: Lake Tovel, Italy, Bathymetry, warming and decreased algal blooms, 2020. Right: Palette Lake, Wisconsin, USA, Bathymetry, water rising and loon loss, 2020. Pigment prints, 18 x 17 inches each. Courtesy of the artist. 

February 9, 2021
Alice Hargrave
The Canary in the Lake
March 4–May 16, 2021
Panel discussion, reading list, lesson plans, videos: March 4, 12–5pm, announced on website and social media
Virtual tour and workshop: March 13, 1–3pm, with Children’s Discovery Museum for ages 7–10
University Galleries of Illinois State University
Suite 103
11 Uptown Circle
Normal, Illinois 61761
United States

T +1 309 438 5487
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Virtual exhibition tours: March 4–May 15, contact to schedule

The Canary in the Lake premieres new photographic, video, and audio works by Chicago-based artist Alice Hargrave. The exhibition centers on two new series relating to birds and lakes that continue Hargrave’s research on climate change-related loss of biodiversity and habitat. The exhibition title references both new bodies of work and alludes to the “canary in the coal mine,” because lakes function as sentinels of climate change.

This exhibition premieres The Conference of the Lakes, After Farid Attar, Hargrave’s collaboration with Catherine O’Reilly, professor of geology at Illinois State University. O’Reilly’s research focuses on freshwater environments, with an interest in how lakes and rivers are impacted by human activities and climate change. The idea for this series began at University Galleries in 2017, following a panel discussion organized for Hargrave’s solo exhibition, Paradise Wavering. As an extension of Hargrave’s works that incorporate the wavelengths of the songs of endangered and extinct bird species, the artist began collaborating with O’Reilly to collect and revisualize climate-related data from lakes on all seven continents.

Hargrave utilized these data—much of it gathered through connections with GLEON (Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network)—to generate new patterns, which she combined with photographs, references to lake lore, and the surprisingly vast array of lake colors to create 20 self-described “lake portraits.” In the artist’s words, “those patterns create an image of something invisible, whether that be experiential or climate shifts that one can’t see.” For example, in Lake Baikal, Russia, warming, zooplankton data are layered into a vintage photograph of the Siberian lake, while Lake Tovel, Italy, clarity and red algae includes histograms of depth of visibility and color sampled from magenta algal blooms. These photographic prints on fabric soar ten feet into the air and are hung in a multi-layered installation to evoke a “conference,” in reference to Farid ud-Din Attar’s 1117 poem, “The Conference of the Birds.” Hargrave and O’Reilly similarly collaborated for Beyond the Blue, an accompanying installation of photographs pinned to the wall like specimens, and an audio work featuring sounds, voices, stories, and species from many of the lakes.

Hargrave’s other new project, Tracing Audubon—1832 / 2021 (last calls), is on view in an adjacent gallery. Consisting of an audio piece, framed photographs, and a wallpaper installation, the works were inspired by ornithologist and artist John James Audubon’s 1832 trip to the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas. During that visit, he observed and painted 22 birds to create his iconic “Birds of the Florida Keys” portfolio. Hargrave similarly completed an artist residency at the Studios at Key West, Florida, and traveled to the Dry Tortugas to re-imagine the original 22 species in that portfolio. Rather than making illustrations of the Roseate Spoonbill, Great Blue Heron, Anhinga, American Flamingo, and Great Egret, she uses images and sound to convey how it feels to search for the birds in their natural settings. She explains, there is “the mystery of finding them hidden in lush foliage,” and through her dense green-tinged landscapes, we experience a degree of that search. Roseate Spoonbill, calls—a pink wallpaper installation spanning 21.5 feet—fills the space with images of the soundwaves created by the bird’s call (rendered in the startlingly bright fuchsia of its own feathers), while a new audio work plays vocalizations of the original 22 avian species interspersed with field recordings of the most invasive species, ourselves.

Alice Hargrave: The Canary in the Lake is organized by Kendra Paitz, director and chief curator at University Galleries. This exhibition is supported by University Galleries’ grants from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Illinois Arts Council Agency, and Alice and Fannie Fell Trust. An exhibition catalogue is forthcoming, which is also supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. Additionally, Hargrave was awarded an Illinois Arts Council Agency Individual Artist Grant for this project.

This exhibition is free and open to the public. See University Galleries’ visit page to book a free reservation and view Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidelines. Contact gallery [​at​] to arrange a free virtual exhibition tour.  

Artist biography
Alice Hargrave’s work has been exhibited at Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven; Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, Minnesota; Newspace Center for Photography, Portland, Oregon; Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago; Filter Photo, Chicago; Chicago Cultural Center; Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, Colorado; and Lianzhou Photo Festival, Lianzhou, China; among many others. Her work is included in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; Joan Flasch Artists’ Book Collection at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago; Willis Tower, Chicago; and the Hyatt corporation. Hargrave has recently been awarded fellowships by the Illinois Arts Council Agency and Ragdale, and residencies by Flathead Lake Biological Station, Missoula, Montana; Studios at Key West, Key West, Florida; and Trout Lake Station of Limnology, Boulder Junction, Wisconsin. Her first monograph, Paradise Wavering, was published by Daylight Books in 2016. Hargrave lives in Chicago, where she teaches at Columbia College.

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February 9, 2021

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