collage 2021 22″h, 16″w
In the early nineteenth century, Titian Peale was considered the foremost bird illustrator in the United States. His star was subsequently eclipsed by John James Audubon, though Peale did help to reveal that the American condor “Falco washingtoniensis” featured the opening plates of Audubon’s Birds of America in 1827 was not an actual species but instead a composite of other birds, that is, a fake. Some 150 years later, when the wild population of the California condor, the world’s largest flying bird, had sunk to just 22 birds, conservationists moved ahead with a controversial breeding plan that called for all the condors to be captured, with the last free bird caught in 1987. I collaged a likeness of Audubon’s imagined condor into a mechanical bird that is partially made of graphs of its genetic components. The graph used for the tail feathers compares different condor chromosomes and finds correlations with locations of sequence variation and amounts of a genetic process called recombination that results in homozygosity. The inclusion of chromosomal information is inspired by the recent discovery of parthenogenesis—birth without any male genetic contribution—in three California condor chicks, which came at the perfect time for this work.