Louisiana Van Onna

– Language Flight 2023

In Language Flight Louisiana van Onna targets the universal language of nature by examining the naming of birds. Van Onna specifically focuses on bird names such as golden oriole (wielewaal) and cuckoo (koekoek) which, in Dutch, offer a phonetic description of the sound these birds make, which is also known as onomatopoeia, the use of words that sound like what they are describing. In this work Van Onna examines how these birds have different names in different languages because language impacts how you hear things. She wonders how the sound of these birds can be described in such a way as to come up with a universal name that works in every language.

Her preparatory visits, during which she appreciated the sound of silence interrupted by birdsong and the occasional conversation, reminded Van Onna of her youth in a small village on the Dutch-Flemish border. To birds borders are inconsequential: their call is identical on both sides. But the name we give them based on the sound they produce does vary according to the language of the land.

Together with the inhabitants and visitors, Van Onna goes in search of new universal names for songbirds based on what they sound like. She specifically focuses on the European turtle dove, whose “turr-turr-turr” is described by Guido Quaghebeur of Natuurpunt Vlaanderen as “the sound of the start of spring”. With an installation that uses photography, video and town signs Van Onna documents her quest to overcome language barriers and make these birds universal.

Inhabitants describe the sound of the European turtle dove in a playful documenting video. In addition, the accompanying photographic installation gives visitors the chance to consciously listen to the sounds the golden oriole, the European turtle dove and the cuckoo make and subsequently propose a name for them. At the conclusion of the festival Van Onna will collect all answers and reveal a name sign with the new name of each of the portrayed birds.

Besides this video and installation you can read the different bird names in Dutch and French on six town signs along the arterial roads that connect Watou with the French border.

1995, NL

Louisiana van Onna (22-01-1995, Amsterdam) makes the invisible visible. Her work shows subjects from nature and science that often remain hidden due to their abstract nature. Think of visualising gravity, exposing the navigation skills of the Arctic Tern or investigating extinct species. Urgent example is the Gentian Blue.
For instance, she previously investigated the life cycle and iconic status of the Gentian Blue with the project The Butterfly Defect (2021). This blue butterfly has been seriously threatened for some time due to, among other things, increasing nitrogen decline. However, there is little awareness about this, even though its name is strongly anchored in the collective memory. Think of the naming of streets, squares and schools, etc.
As a research-based photographer, she uses a combination of playfully constructed and documentary visual language with the aim of starting a conversation, conveying her fascination to the viewer and activating our collective memory.

With her photographic research projects, Van Onna zooms in on the relationship between humans and biodiversity. She sees her work as a way to restore the interconnectedness between humans and nature and visualise the effects of climate change. Collaborations with scientists and biologists give her work a layering of factual information and personal wonder.
Van Onna studied at the Academy of Visual Arts The Hague from 2015 to 2019 at the Photography Department, after which she collaborated with institutions such as Het Museon Den Haag, Ecomare Texel, De Vlinderstichting, MIAP / Future of Nature Collective, Art Rotterdam and Fotodok Utrecht.

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