A room in the abandoned elementary school is empty, except for thousands of small black birds, covering almost every inch of the walls, floor, windows, and door. While that sounds at first like a chaotic nightmare scenario, it's actually Australian artist Juan Ford's latest installation, Flock Propagation, at the Nakanojo Biennale late last year in Japan's aging Gunma prefecture.
The birds are stickers, placed chaotically on the walls by Ford and his visitors like a darker version of Yayoi Kusama's Obliteration Room. The black sillouettes are a reference to Japanese writer Haruki Murakami's quote, "Beyond the window, some kind of small, black thing shot across the sky. A bird, possibly. Or it might have been someone's soul being blown to the far side of the world."
Ford uses his own aesthetic to address the biennale's theme of migration, an important issue to a region whose youth population is dwindling as marriage becomes less frequent, and kids seek out lifestyles offered by bigger cities. These abstract cultural issues are perfectly summarized by the installation's setting inside a defunct classroom.
"Cities are becoming bigger, and we collectively are forgetting the natural places from whence we emerged," Ford tells The Creators Project. "I've long argued that if we lose touch with wilderness, and destroy it, we cannot go on living as a species."
In Flock Propagation, Ford channels the mission of the Nakanojo Biennale: to refill the village's beautiful natural landscape with enough people to appreciate it. "In the installation, each bird might signify a person, and thus visitors are complicit in collectively blacking out the landscape through sheer numbers," he says. "And yet, the results are unexpected and beautiful, so it's not all bleak!"
Flock Propagation is the latest iteration of Ford's 2013 installation,You, Me, and the Flock, which invited onlookers to stick birds onto a curved mural of the sky. He also cites Chris Milk's Treachery of Sanctuary and Roman Ondák's Room of Heights as influences on his style, concept, and intent. Check out pictures of the installation below.