a neurotic, early worrying system

Whithervanes: a neurotic, early worrying system is a new work for the public realm is a network of five headless chickens. These 21st Century weathervanes are controlled by the climate of fear on the Internet. They will be presented on five buildings in the seaside town of Folkestone as part of the 2014 Folkestone Triennial.


The Whithervanes parse newsfeeds looking for predetermined keywords related to fear (e.g. natural disaster, economic collapse, war, etc.) When fear is encountered the chickens respond by rotating away at increasing speeds from fear hot-spots and illuminating different colors triggered by specific levels of fear.

The Whithervanes are connected to each other via the Internet. They share real time news-feed data from around the World with each other. On any given day the preoccupations of the World’s media will cause them to be “blown” around according to what is occurring. This will manifest as an emergent group behavior among the “flock”. Passersby can influence this group behavior by escalating or calming individual Whithervanes. In turn, this behavior will influence the rest of the array.

An array of five Whithervanes will communicate with each other, the cloud and the public. While this work is intentionally humorous, we hope the public become conscious of how much our contemporary media, policy and political frameworks utilize fear as a persuasive method.

The public can influence the individual Whithervanes by interacting with them via Twitter. They can add to the escalation of fear or attempt to counteract it by sending the messages to @whithervanes #keepcalm or #skyfalling.

Chicken Licken (UK) or Chicken Little (US) is a folk tale with a moral in the form of a cumulative tale about a chicken who believes the world is coming to an end. There are several Western versions of the story, of which the best-known concerns a chick that believes the sky is falling when an acorn falls on its head. The chick decides to tell the King and on its journey meets other animals (mostly other fowl) which join it in the quest. After this point, there are many endings. In the most familiar, a Fox invites them to its lair and there eats them all. For us, this parallels the self-fulfilling nature of some contemporary media channels that seek to use scare-mongering to take advantage of the ill-informed population they are simultaneously creating.

Whithervanes illumination consists of five color-coded fear levels:
Severe (red)
High (orange)
Elevated (yellow)
Guarded (blue)
Low (green)

TITLE: Whithervanes: a neurotic, early worrying system

PROJECT TYPE: Networked Public Art

LOCATION: Folkestone, UK. Curated by Lewis Biggs. Sites: The Cube, Leas Cliff Hall, Martello Tower No. 3, The Red Cow Pub and Rocksalt.

Design: Winter 2012 – Fall 2014
Completed: Fall 2014

FUNDING: Creative Foundation; Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan; The Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Michigan.

CREDITS: John Marshall (rootoftwo), Cezanne Charles (rootoftwo)

Assisted by: Travis Martin, Aaron Willette, Jason Prasad, David Brusstar, Alexander Watanabe and Matt Rowe.

Structural, Fabrication and Installation Team: Ashley Light Engineering, Joint Electrical, Christopher Hore Chartered Engineers.

DIMENSIONS: 3′ (L) x 2′ (W) x 4′ (H) each

MEDIA: Polyurethane, polyester, PVC, steel, Raspberry Pi computers, LED floodlights, sensors, stepper motors, WiFi.

Whithervanes was realized with support from:

Creative Foundation
Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design, University of Michigan
The Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Michigan
The Digital Fabrication Lab (FABLab) Taubman College of Architecture + Urban Planning, University of Michigan
The Work Department
The Workshop/The Beach Wifi Project
Pulsar Light of Cambridge Ltd.