In the devastating aftermath of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, artist Rinko Kawauchi ventured outside with her Rolleiflex and took a photograph of the sun. As with many of Kawauchi’s images, her subject was something we all come across everyday. But on that particular day in light of ongoing turmoil, everything seemed to take on new meaning and something rather ordinary was transformed into a lyrical and quiet revelation through Kawauchi’s act of rediscovery. “The world is connected by what we cannot see,” she states, “…in times of despair if we hold on to the things we believe are beautiful in life, that energy will change and affect the world in a positive way.”
When Kawauchi, who is one of Japan’s most acclaimed contemporary photographers, was invited to create a series of photographs for the Brighton Photo Biennial in 2010, she was drawn to a subject that could illustrate this mystery of connectivity. On the South Coast of the UK during twilight in the winter months, up to fifty-thousand starlings arrive from all over Sussex to roost under the remains of Brighton’s West Pier. The birds, which have migrated from breeding grounds as far away as Scandinavia, congregate and create a captivating spectacle in the evening sky; moving together en masse in a mesmerizing cloud of flight known as murmuration. The magnificent ritual of murmuration is characterized by the curiously synchronized movement of thousands of individual birds as they perform airborne acrobatics against the dramatic hues of sunset. As a matter of survival instinct, each bird strives to fly as close to its neighbors as possible and to remain close to the interior of the flock where they are safe from large predator birds. Even the slightest deviation by one bird will be copied and magnified by the surrounding flock; a phenomenon which produces a swirling, rippling mass of interconnected life that can take on the guise of a rising plume of smoke as readily as a black cloud or a twisting tornado.
Rinko Kawauchi, who is known for her simple but poetic photographs of the quotidian, has created a quietly profound series of images of this dramatic but temporary natural event, which has drawn visitors to Brighton for decades. In addition to documenting the literal patterns of the starlings along the coast, Kawauchi, using murmuration as her guiding inspiration, also captured the metaphorical motion of flocking during explorations of Brighton’s urban environment. These glimpses of humans in motion, aggregations of objects, and even the artist’s own rhythmic movement through space combined with her images of birds, debuted in New Documents, at the Brighton Biennial, curated by Martin Parr and were shown in the United States for the first time at ROSEGALLERY in Spring 2011.