Artists Flock to Starling Flocks
We can all agree that the real world is a tremendous place and every once in awhile you get to see something that’s jaw-droppingly extraordinary. What’s fascinating is when a multiplicity of artists see the exact same thing, use cameras to capture it, and call it art.
Flocking starlings are one of nature’s visual wonders, and lately, I’ve seen four artists who make work about the pesky birds. In substance, there’s no real difference between the four starling-art examples, each depicts starlings flocking as they prepare to nest for the evening.
Photographer Massimo Cristaldi photographed starlings in a dramatic location where they can be interpreted as smoke billowing from a refinery.
© Massimo Cristaldi
Mixed-media artist Laurent Grasso has an 8-minute video of starlings. Interestingly (and more substantively) he’s created a body of work called “studies into the past” where he paints scenes straight out of an art history textbook with extra, non-traditional elements, like an influx of starlings from his video.
© Laurent Grasso
“One of his most well known works, Les Oiseaux, depicts a flock of starlings filmed in the dusk sky above Rome. Taken out of its natural context, the flock of birds resembles an ionic particle field, moved as if by unseen magnetic waves.”
More traditionally, photographer Richard Barnes’ series “Murmur” shows starlings flocking in stills of black-and-white.
Multimedia artist Suki Chan likes starlings, too. She made a “single-screen & multi-screen High Definition video” of starlings flocking, and stills from the film are available as well. Suki’s work was featured on the BBC, in the art-competition reality show “School of Saatchi”.
Below, reality show judge and messy-bed artist Tracy Enim asks Suki if the starlings are bats, while curator Kate Bush asks what the difference is between Suki’s piece and “a nature documentary”.
Each of these examples offer clearly rendered depictions of starlings in flight. HD in one case (and probably two: Grasso’s) and two photographers who are using great cameras to capture clear, descriptive images.
Yet, when you dive into the deep-end of video sites to watch starlings, examples run the gamut from well-produced nature documentaries, to exploratory first-person monologues beneath starlings, to pure low-fi amazement.
My question is, how do starlings, as a fine art subject, differ from the kids/puppies/rainbows of the amateur-photography set? They’re readymade for audience response, right? The artist/photographer is just delivering nature to the screen, book, or gallery wall (and maybe with a dash of ethereal audio for a soundtrack).
Beyond waterfalls, stalactites, and phospherescent fish, what other natural subjects quickly offer themselves for metaphorical renderings by contemporary artists? If you were to make pictures of flocking starlings for exhibition and sale, would you think you were the first photographer to exhibit photographs of starlings? Does being the first to make work of a particular subject matter? These days, is it more important if you’re the most recent?
This is the first starlings video I saw, years ago — and interstitial titles aside, it still wows me with its pixellated glory. Perhaps the trick is to capture something truly extraordinary and not call it art, eh?