Murmuration and The Swarm Statement
‘Starling Murmurations and butterfly Swarms rely on intricate and nuanced communication between species. The delicate dance of the Starlings murmuration is described by Scientist, Grainger Hunt as “A dazzling cloud, swirling, pulsating, drawing together to the thinnest of waists, then wildly twisting in pulses of enlargement and diminution, a fluid choreography of funnels, ribbons, and hourglasses, spills and mixing, ever in motion. Dense in one moment, diffuse in the next.”
Murmurations have long evaded scientific logic and understanding. It wasn’t until recently that physicists have come to understand the complexity and beauty in the unified movements of Starling formations. Like one long game of
“telephone”, the birds communicate in small groups of six or seven, passing on critical movement shifts to escape their prey, the peregrine falcon.
“The change in the behavioral state of one animal affects and is affected by that of all other animals in the group, no matter how large the group is. Scale-free correlations provide each animal with an effective perception range much larger than the direct interindividual interaction range, thus enhancing global response to perturbations.”
Starlings are an invasive species, brought to the United States from Europe, specifically Central Park, in the late 1800 ‘s by Shakespeare enthusiasts who wanted every bird mentioned in Shakespeare’s scripts to be represented in the United States. There are now over 200 million of the invasive species in the US and are considered by Ornithologists to be a menace due to their aggressive behavior.
I was fortunate to witness the dazzling choreography of a murmuration in Greensboro, NC. I photographed still images and shot video of the incredible patterns and formations; the sheer number of birds was exquisite, overwhelming and slightly terrifying and the noise deafening.
I had been photographing bird skins at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and found the intersection of the lifeless birds at the museum and the beautifully alive birds in the murmuration intoxicating. It was a poignant reminder about the cyclical nature of life: wildly twisting and ever in motion to lifeless and still, tucked away in the dark drawers deep within the bowels of the museum collections. The stark contrast led me to The Swarm, an installation comprised of over 500 cyanotypes butterflies thus creating my own false migrations and swirling masses of butterflies.’
Leah Sobsey is an artist and Assistant Professor of Photography at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Sobsey works in 19th-century photographic processes combined with digital technology. She exhibits nationally in galleries, public spaces, and museums; her most recent installations were exhibited at The Weatherspoon Art Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, 21C Hotel Museum in Durham North Carolina and Rayko Photo Gallery in San Francisco, California, which also featured her first monograph, Collections, released in July 2016 by Daylight Books. Her work is held in private and public collections across the country and was recently acquired by the North Carolina Museum of Art (NCMA) for its permanent collection. She is one of the core artists in Bull City Summer, a documentary project that explores the Durham Bulls AAA baseball team, a Daylight Books best seller. Her images have appeared in New Yorker.com, the Paris Review Daily, Slate.com, Hyperallergic.com, The Telegraph.