By wearing mourning we pay tribute to those who have died. It is a public display that acknowledges their absence and our loss. Mourning jewellery - engraved rings or lockets, often bearing a portrait of the deceased - dates back to the sixteenth century, and black clothes are customary at funerals and during widowhood. After a period of days, weeks, months or years, the time arrives when such outward signs of grief may be cast off.

But what if it is not an individual, but an entire species or a whole ecology that is being mourned? A loss of such magnitude surely deserves to be marked in a permanent, irremovable way. In Call of the Wild (Berlin, 2014), Hayden Fowler continues a lifelong memorial to extinct New Zealand birdlife, using his own body as the canvas. Over three sessions of four to five hours each, his chest is being tattooed with an image of a Whekau - or laughing owl - by artist W.T.Norbert.

The last recorded specimen of a Whekau was found dead in 1914 in Canterbury on New Zealand's South Island. It was no match for feral cats and stoats brought from the northern hemisphere to control a rabbit population that was breeding at breakneck speed. For Fowler the story of the now extinct Whekau, symbolizes the rapid disappearance of so many of the bird species that once dominated his homeland.

In a period of less than a thousand years since first human habitation, the introduction of predatory mammals and destruction of vast areas of ancient forests caused New Zealand to lose a third of all its native and freshwater birds. Many of those remaining are like the living dead; existing in small, isolated colonies on tiny offshore islands. The surviving forests are all but silent. Fowler says the swift devastation of this unique ecosystem is "like breaking an egg. It can never be put back together."

Call of the Wild (Berlin, 2014) continues a project Fowler started in 2007 when he sat in a high street shop window in Auckland while designs of the Huia were tattooed onto his back. In 2015 Call of the Wild will transfer to Sydney where a further bird will emerge on his torso to add to the diorama. Both Berlin and Sydney performances will be documented in video and a series of stills.

A white face and yellow-brown feathers give the Whekau a less exotic-looking appearance than Fowler's previous subjects - the Huia with its long tail feathers, or the fluffily-plumed heritage bred hens in New World Order (2013). Through the humbleness of the Whekau Fowler represents all those extinct bird species not usually singled out by artists and natural historians.

The design for the tattoo has been an act of interpretation, pieced together from nineteenth century watercolours and early black and white photographs. On Fowler's chest the Whekau is captured in flight, looking down, legs hanging loosely beneath it and talons empty. This Whekau is not the predator; it is the prey.

Fowler's white, geometric set prophesies a depleted, sterile future as an increasing number of species face the same fate as the Whekau. In this world beyond nature all that remains is the haunting sound of recorded birdsong and two lone figures etching out memories of what has been lost.

In taking Call of the Wild to Berlin, Fowler lifts the veil on the common northern hemisphere misconception that New Zealand is an untouched wilderness. Submitting himself to be tattooed, he sacrifices his own body in a ritual of both repentance and resurrection for the part humans have played in the extinction of wildlife. Call of the Wild is a demonstration of reverence, regret and also hope; keeping what has been lost in nature, alive in the conscience of the world.

By Emily Cloney