Call For Papers
Guest editors: Madeleine Kelly and Jen Valender

The Journal

Unlikely is a trans-disciplinary journal, which opens unexpected spaces for artistic exchange and scholarly conversations across mediums, disciplines and continents. Unlikely supports the research community of practitioners, makers, and scholars working in the creative arts.

This international, peer-reviewed publication presents the opportunity for artists working in practice-led research to engage in conversation with a range of arts scholars on contemporary concerns. As an experiment in form, Unlikely engages its audience and contributors in a two-stage process of live event, presenting creative practitioners’ works, followed by peer-reviewed electronic publication.

Issue 8: Birds and Language

What is it to talk of birds and language? How might such a question provide the impetus and grounds for an interdisciplinary encounter between the natural sciences, the humanities, and the creative arts?

This issue responds to themes presented at the Birds and Language Conference hosted by the University of Sydney, its companion exhibition at Wollongong City Gallery, and beyond. Proposals may explore bird species, mimicry, display, the bird song/call dichotomy, or non-human animal music-like practices.

We are inviting submissions of:

  • Theoretical papers, essays and scholarly articles: 4000-6000 words.
  • Creative essays and non-traditional research, which may incorporate images, sound, video, multimedia, poetry, short fictional prose: 2000-3000 words.
  • Documentation of art pieces or performances with an accompanying scholarly commentary contextualising the work through the theme Birds and Language: 2000-3000 words.
  • Audio or multimedia pieces: max 10 minutes with supporting statement of up to 1000 words.
  • Interviews: 2000-3000 words.

Researchers in the humanities (particularly musicology), creative arts, science, and other relevant interdisciplinary fields are encouraged to apply. Final scholarly submissions should be in English, in MLA format, sent as a doc(x) file. Texts should be between 2000-6000 words including works cited.


Through visual analogies, birds may be metaphorically considered as part of a structured series, a complex syntax, or a poiesis of inter-iconic visual languages. Proposals may explore: particular bird species, mimicry, display, the bird song/call dichotomy, or non-human animal music-like practices.

Contributions might include, but are not limited to:

  • Anthropological zoosemiotics: how do birds and humans communicate with each other? What might we learn from such exchanges?
  • Questions of ethological zoosemiotics (animal behaviour).
  • Speculative approaches to understanding and presenting the colours and forms found on birds as a form of encoded knowledge.
  • Synchronous and sequential temporalities between birds and non-birds.
  • Understandings of systems that stress interdependence, and which model processes of interspecies sympoiesis.
  • What is it like to be a bird? How has this question been taken up in aesthetic practices?
  • Avian aesthetics: how are our phenomenological experiences of birds in tension with the languages of empiricism?
  • The semantics of birdsong: birdsong and parallels to human and non-human language.
  • Birds and pattern-making (lyrebirds, bowerbirds, magpies, crows, etc.)
  • Birds as ambassadors for a geopolitics of sensing and knowing.
  • Escaping the Anthropocene: how a critical aesthetic of birds may open a space for restorative reflection.
  • Critical examination of collaborative strategies.
  • Fieldwork, field notes.
  • Conservation and biodiversity.


Fill out this form specifically outlining your proposed contribution (250 words) in terms of both the thematic focus, and its proposed form.

The editors will respond, inviting selected contributors to develop their proposal into a full submission to be peer reviewed. Please include your email address and contact number. You will be contacted via personal email regarding the outcome of your proposal, not by the Submittable system. Contact Madeleine Kelly or Jen Valender with any queries or to discuss proposed contributions.

Deadline for Submissions: 10 December 2021.

School of Literature, Art, and Media – University of Sydney