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The Song of the Finch


Inspired by the writing and research of Charles Darwin, The Song of the Finch (2009) is part of a larger body of work concerned with language, evolution, and mimesis and the relationship between innate knowledge and learned behaviours.  The foundations for Darwin’s evolutionary ideas were largely developed during the 5-year journey he spent as a young naturalist aboard a ship called the HMS Beagle, beginning in 1831.  During the time the ship spent in the Galapagos Islands, Darwin collected finch specimens, which he sent back to England for analysis.  The variation among these specimens, particularly with relation to changes in beak size across diverse ecological niches, significantly contributed to the development of Darwin’s evolutionary theories (the Galapagos finches have since been coined ‘Darwin’s finches’).


Today, finches continue to play a significant role in contemporary evolutionary studies, particularly in research into so-called language ‘genes’.  In reference to understanding complex cognitive processes in humans, parallels have long been drawn using comparisons with specific non-human organisms that share similar genes, including fruit flies, mice, E. coli, and zebra finches.  The Song of the Finch series specifically engagesdebates surrounding the discovery of the FOXP2 gene, believed to be linked to development of language in humans.  Research has found that the mutation of this gene in zebra finches alters the ability of young fledglings to learn and imitate adult song.  Similarly, when this gene is altered in humans, it affects language and cognitive development, specifically resulting in an oral-motor speech disorder known as ‘apraxia.’ 

The Song of the Finch

screenprint on paper

varied edition of 18

29.5” x 44”


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