Every night, 15 minutes before sunset, birds start to gather on telephone wires around Providence, Rhode Island. And some nights they’re being watched: Dennis Hylynsky, a professor at Rhode Island School of Design, comes out with his digital camera to record the birds as they fly, later transforming the flight paths into these mesmerizing videos.
Hylynsky uses editing software to stack together a sequence of frames, adding the darkest pixels together to draw a path as the birds move. It’s a technique he stumbled upon a few years ago while playing with footage he’d taken of starlings at a Dunkin Donuts. “It was a typical artistic process of gathering lots of information and trying to make sense of it,” Hylynsky says.
His work has piqued the interest of ornithologists, though Hylynsky says he doesn’t want to turn it into something that’s purely about science. “I believe artists have a place in science as generalists. I have studied some of the science but I find it very reductive and I am focused on capturing the “jizz”–a birder term for the general feeling of a species.”
The videos aren’t meant to be screened in theaters, but instead shown on a loop in an installation where people can easily walk around and talk. “I have had long conversations with people who are trying to make sense of the chaos of this bird activity. We stand or sit and ramble on about lots of different things,” Hylynsky says. “I want these works to stimulate conversation.”
At different moments, the artist says he’s talked about everything from social media, to dance movements, to DNA–why, for example, two species of birds have the same ability to fly but fly in different patterns. The work raises many more questions, Hylynsky explains in a project description:
As we collect more data and attempt to track and visualize it–I feel the study of these movements in our urban nature habitats can serve as a powerful model for visualizing complex systems. To some degree these videos are studies of mob behavior. Are these decisions instinctual or a small thoughtful considerations? Does one leader guide the group or is there a common brain? Is a virus a single creature or a diffused body that we inhabit? … Are creatures naturally prone to randomness rather than the organization to which humans aspire?
Watch more of the videos here.