Artists Hanna Benihoud and Charlotte Spafford had to Google what the collective noun for a group of women was.
“It’s a gaggle of women,” says Benihoud. “Like geese.”
“An impatience of wives,” adds Spafford. “We were eye-rolling.”
So the artists decided to create an installation celebrating the power of the collective female voice, inspired by flocks of birds forming murmurations.
“We were looking at the idea of hives and murmurations and flocks, and murmurations specifically, they [birds] flock together to find warmth and share information and for security...which we thought was quite fitting for the collective female voice,” says Benihoud. She added that maybe “flock” was a more empowering noun for women.
Flock began as just letters, spelling out the project's name hanging, in the window of the Aviary (637 East 15th Avenue) when the installation started on May 25. Then, a stack of books by female authors appeared.
Next were the first few pages, followed by hundreds and hundreds of rolled paper cones made from works written by women. Benihoud says there’s 1,200 pages in all, suspended carefully from the ceiling.
Benihoud and Spafford chose the books by asking women on social media what works by female authors had most impacted their lives. To Kill a Mockingbird was an obvious choice, but there were some less mainstream ones too, such as The Diary of Anais Nin and Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.
Using the pages from the books meant highlighting women’s voices in a very literal way, according to Spafford.
“I think it’s interesting because the idea of ripping apart a book is kind of a violent act in a way, but also books have become not as useful because everything’s digital. They were sitting in thrift stores not being used,” she says. “I don’t think that it’s damaging to what these women are saying. It’s playing with it in a different way.”
The artists have been adding a little each day, creating a live-action stop-motion effect. Commuters walking past the window see the installation grow and change each day. From today until Monday (June 1 to June 4), the installation is in its full glory.
After June 4, the process will be reversed: the flock of pages will shrink and be absorbed back into the books. After June 10, it will be gone.
“A big thing with temporary installations is what you do with them after. The great thing about paper is that you can recycle it,” Benihoud says.
She hopes that the artists can put on another version of the installation in London, U.K. The artists are recording the whole thing, and it will live on as a stop-motion recording after it's taken down. But Flock's transience is also in keeping with its avian inspiration.
“There is something sort of precious about it being temporary,” Spafford says. “It comes and it goes, and murmurations are very temporary.”
While the artwork’s theme was inspired in part by the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March of 2017, the artists also understand that mainstream feminism can be exclusive.
“I think feminism has a huge issue with being inclusive,” says Benihoud, “but it’s all about talking about it and making sure you’re self-aware.”
Spafford agrees, and acknowledges there aren’t easy answers: “Grappling with things that don’t have answers is something we do a lot as feminist and as artists.”
Flock is at the Aviary (637 East 15th Avenue) until June 10.