Flamingos Duck for Cover in the Hirshhorn’s New Black Box Installation

Still from "67 Bows" (2006) by Nira Pereg
Still from "67 Bows" (2006) by Nira Pereg Courtesy of the artist

If flamingos were able to watch the new Hirshhorn “Black Box: Nira Pereg” presentation of the looped video 67 Bows (2006), no doubt they’d warn each other about Israeli digital artist Nira Pereg. In her video, she explores herd response theory when she appears to disrupt the serenity of a German zoo’s flamingo community with the repeated cocking and firing of a gun.

But all is not what it seems.

67 Bows was filmed during a snowstorm over Christmas in a nearly empty Karlsruhe Zoo. Though Pereg had initially desired to shoot a portrait of a flamingo, her project expanded into a study of group behavior utilizing the indoor colony of social birds.

“While visiting and studying the flamingo exhibit, realized when visitors put their hands up, if one bird ducked, they all started to,” explained Hirshhorn curator Kelly Gordon. “This behavior inspired how this work was filmed and “scored.”” After shooting video of the flamingos being flamingos, making flamingo sounds, and then nodding and ducking in unison, the “score” was added.

The “score” in this case, being the repeated threatening sounds of a gun being cocked and then fired that break the silence and appear to shock the pink feathered video stars. Pereg synched her “score” with the pre-existing ducking “choreography” of the flamingos, making it appear as if they were reacting to the gunshots.

The timing of the gun soundtrack provides the illusion that the flamingos are actually responding to the sounds–and doing so in a Pavlovian manner. Initially, they only appear to duck when a shot is fired; however, eventually they cower at the sound of the cocking of the weapon and don’t even wait for the sound of the blast. The sight of flamingos bobbing their heads in unison almost in rhythm with the gun blasts is almost hypnotic. View a clip of the piece here.

Born in Tel Aviv in 1969, Pereg was raised in an environment where the threat of  terrorism loomed daily. So was this piece designed to see if a potential threat affects individuals in a community the same way? “I was trying to make them do a certain move in order to see the ones who don’t move,” Pereg said in a July 2010 Artis Video Series interview. “So 67 Bows is a lot about the ones who don’t bow.”

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