April 10, 2018; Fast Company
Whether your instinct in the face of impending danger is to fight, fly, or freeze, Miami’s new “whithervanes” are a great public service.
Described as a “Neurotic Early Worrying System,” the four-foot-high headless chickens installed on rooftops give a heads-up (so to speak) by their movement and color about how dire the day’s news is. It’s like a public fear-o-meter.
Detroit-based design studio rootoftwo created the art installation, which is sponsored by Locust Projects with the backing of the Knight Foundation, to help folk to “think about the troubling currents that are currently blowing us around,” says rootoftwo’s Cezanne Charles.
The installation is animated by a program linked up to the Reuters’ newsfeed, searching for watchwords drawn from Homeland Security documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The chickens spin up to five times, depending on the frequency of watchwords per story, and end up pointing in the direction of the locality of the story. The birds glow as they revolve, lit in colors that mimic Homeland Security’s threat alert spectrum.
Each “whithervane” also responds to local neighborhood news, spinning for stories with terms like “mass shooting” and “climate gentrification.” Additionally, locals have the option to weigh in on ambient fear levels by tweeting either #KeepCalm or #SkyFalling.
“This is a really 21st-century [example] of what art does for us. It slows us down, gets us to really think about and isolate an idea, and perhaps gets us think differently because we’re all embedded in this world and not realizing how we’re impacted by this information,” says Lorie Mertes of Locust Projects. “The little chicken is telling you essentially what’s in the air, and you get to decide how you’re going to respond to it.”—Ruth McCambridge