They weren’t as impressive as the murmurations you see passing by on Facebook in this time of the year but still it was miraculous how those starlings moved through the sky over the street in the middle of the city, forming a dense cloud, vastly changing shapes and directions, breaking up into four smaller clouds, spreading out again, diving down to take a break in a big tree that had as many leaves left as there were birds. Three hundred maybe, chatting excitedly before suddenly some of them flew up again and the rest followed. “A starling’s attempt to escape the murmuration is the murmuration” (- Bayo Akomolafe). It is still unknown exactly how and why they do this.
There is an artwork, a flying sculpture, which copies the aerial performance of starlings. Franchise Freedom, made by Studio Drift, is an autonomous flying swarm of hundreds of drones which exposes the tension between individual freedom and safety in numbers. Two artists choreographed the parameters in the algorith that is used but the behaviour of the drones can’t be predicted exactly.
“The artwork translates into a poetic illustration of how we, as humans, strive to live autonomously within societies defined by rules and conventions. Although the patterns appear random, and the impression of such a swarm may remind us of freedom, the behavior of these birds is completely orchestrated and subject to many rules and survival instincts. There is a tremendous beauty in watching these sudden decisions of thousands of individuals and their reactions to one another. If every bird were to operate on its own, complete chaos would be the result. Just like birds, people find safety in a group, while at the same time they are forced to act according to a set of rules on which society functions. One who chooses complete individual freedom above these rules is forced to operate outside of society. What is the perfect balance between the two? Is freedom an illusion?” (source: http://www.studiodrift.com/franchise-freedom/).
Earlier this week I saw a robin. An Old World flycatcher. They are one of the first species to begin singing every morning and I have heard them on some occasions, usually when I was still working or reading in the last hour of the night, long before dawn. I was never sure though, because in the 2,5 years I lived on this noisy crossroad I had never seen one. But there it was, sitting on the table outside, on the tiny balcony, staring at me through the glass door. Later on I saw it again, rummaging through my plants, looking for insects probably. I reminded myself to put water outside and bird seeds. With the risk of attracting the malicious looking sea gulls that sometimes land on my balcony unexpectedly and straight away makes me think of Hitchcock’s birds.
When I was in bed last weekend with a back injury, unable to move (I’m fine now, don’t worry) I watched a documentary about wingsuit basejumping. People jumping off cliffs just wearing a costume that gives your body wings when you spread your arms. The wish to fly is an ancient one, going back to Icarus, the first human-powered flight we know of (even if it is a myth). The most ancient references we have to Daedalus' escape from Crete by his human-powered flight are not written, but artistic illustrations. The first example appears on an Etruscan engraved wine jug in about 630 BC.
Flying with a wingsuit is (for now) probably the closest you can get to feeling like a bird.
Once you have tasted flight,
you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”
― Anonymous (often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci)
I tasted flight, but only in an airplane. And in my dreams, as a child. These days I dream of walking.