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Whithervanes, a Neurotic Early Worrying System (NEWS), 2014

For the 2014 Triennial, rootoftwo created Whithervanes, a Neurotic Early Worrying System (NEWS) consisting of a network of five sculptures in the form of headless chickens, to be presented on the highest points of five buildings. The buildings were selected for their prominence and significance to the community in which they are located, as well as for their height.

Just two of the Whithervanes remain in place. These weathervanes for the twenty-first century track and measure the production of fear on the internet. Their software looks for predetermined keywords related to fear (e.g. natural disaster, economic collapse, war, etc.) in newsfeeds from Reuters. The keywords were generated in part by local people through community engagement workshops, and were also taken from the 2011 US Department of Homeland Security Media Monitoring Capability Analysts Desktop Binder. When fear (as measured by the keywords) is encountered, the chickens respond by rotating at increasing speeds and are illuminated in different colours. They share real time news-feed data from around the world, during the 2014 Triennial it was possible for passers-by to influence their behaviour via Twitter. This ‘early worrying system’ highlights how much our contemporary media, policy and political frameworks utilize fear as a persuasive method.

rootoftwo is a hybrid design studio, co-directed by John Marshall and Cézanne Charles, that makes hybrid design projects, social objects, experiences, and works for the public realm – typically at the scale of devices, furniture or small buildings. Their experimental objects and experiences attempt to disrupt and expose existing systems of social behaviour through humour, play, interaction and participation. Humour is particularly important, where laughter is as much about coping with discomfort, embarrassment or confusion as it is about expressing joy, happiness or relief.

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rootoftwo Whithervanes, 2014. Photo by Thierry Bal.

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