Fermynwoods Friday 27 – dawnchorus365

From 15 November 2013 to 14 November 2014, the collective noun for a series of tweets was a dawn chorus; 365 of them. Commissioned for our fourth Open Online exhibition, #dawnchorus365 was a year-long online artwork which changed daily, devised by Natasha Vicars and created by the Seven Art Writers collective (Mary Paterson, Tamarin Norwood, Sally Labern, Eddy Dreadnought, Tiffany Carrington, Joanne Brown and Natasha Vicars).

Collective nouns for birds are full of poetic language. A murder of crows. A bellowing of bullfinches. A siege of herons. The Seven Art Writers added their own poetry by tweeting observations and responses to a shared dawn in disparate locations, from Fermyn Woods to Dunfermline, from Oxford to Forest Gate, London and beyond.

“Harsh chirrup? No soft. The first sound of a bird.“

“This is Astronomical Twilight.”

“Traffic forcing paper cut through the dawn.“

After researching how and why birds flock and sing en masse at dawn, the Seven Art Writers established a unique method of collaborative writing, modelling some of the characteristics on avian behaviour.

This included instructions such as “to ‘flock’ (to be alike in some way, perhaps by borrowing words or images from one another’s tweets and incorporating them into their own); to ‘call and respond’ by asking and replying to questions about their individual locations; and to steadily increase or reduce the number of characters in each tweet over the course of a given period.”

What distingushed #dawnchorus365 from the Seven Art Writers’ other dawn Twitter performances was a bespoke website built by Wired Canvas in collaboration with the Writers. Wired Canvas developed an algorithm to trigger subtle changes in the site’s background colours to coincide with the precise arrival of dawn at different times each day throughout the year. A digital sunrising took place as tweets danced across the screen in real time.

The public could also take part in the project by tweeting their own observations, the site puling in tweets which used the hashtag #dawnchorus365. As the Seven Art Writers and members of the public tweeted throughout the year, the online chorus grew and mirrored many of the natural rhythms and structures which occur in the natural ensemble.

Importantly, the site was responsive, so participants could experience it on mobiles outdoors in real time. Seven Art Writer Tamarin Norwood described a “feeling of their company at this very early, shivery hour of the day: that other people have got out of bed too and are up stalking around in the near-darkness incorporating their local experiences into a shared observation of dawn.”

Too often social media manipulates and isolates from the world at large instead of truly connecting people. This artwork, by contrast, connected with the natural world, creating a real sense of shared experience.

James Steventon

This project was funded by Arts Council England through Grants for the Arts.

Look out for more Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects.