Every winter, Rome’s sky is the stage for mesmerizing murmurations of millions of starlings. Swirling and ever shape-shifting liquid-like clouds are formed by a myriad of tiny black dots, moving like one single being in an unpredictable, breathtaking and incredibly swift aerial ballet.
From November to March every year, Rome's Campo Verano, the city's largest cemetery, is the stage for an ear-splitting cacophony as hundreds of thousands of starlings settle in its trees for their communal night roost at sunset. The incessant drizzle of the bird's droppings has submerged the cemetery under a monochrome, air-stifling coat.
Starlings have not always lived in and migrated to Rome. The first reference to them as migrant birds spending the winter is from 1926, and they did not start living in Rome permanently until 1970. Each winter for the past two decades, Rome involuntarily hosts millions of migrant starlings from Northern Europe, their numbers swelling from year to year. In previous decades, the birds continued further south to Africa, but olive plantations on the outskirts of Rome and a wind-protected city center perfectly meet the starlings' needs for feeding grounds and night roosts.
AUSPICIA literally means 'looking at birds' and refers to an ancient Roman practice of determining the gods' consent for major undertakings – even the exact location of Rome was thus established. The exhibition sets before us flocks of starlings and graves in shrouds to create a narrative about unrestricted forms and shapes as well as protection and concealment. Ultimately, it is about the impossibility of control and man's futile and unremitting attempts at exerting it.
All images were taken at Rome's main cemetery Campo Verano in December 2016 and November 2017.
There are eight text fragments next to the photographs of the wrapped graves and the starling murmurations. They have different origins and are quoted in the original language on the wall. A handout with translations is provided.
Text fragment 3:
Most of the starling’s food habits have been demonstrated to be either beneficial to man or of a neutral character. [...] With its ready ability to adapt itself to new environments, the starling possesses almost unlimited capacity for good [...].
»Economic Value of the Starling.« United States Department of Agriculture, 1921.
Text fragment 4:
Lo Storno è stato oggetto di numerosi tentativi di controllo cruento in tutto il mondo, ma senza risultati apprezzabili sul medio-lungo termine (« no long-term solution »).
Cosa non funziona:
– detergenti sparsi sopra ai dormitori da mezzi aerei, che causano la morte per ipotermia, facendo perdere le caratteristiche isolanti del piumaggio
– cariche di esplosivo fatte brillare sotto ai dormitori
– cattura con trappole innescate con cibo
– uccisione con arma da fuoco
Storno (sturnus vulgaris). Ecologia urbana, 2006.
Translation into English:
The starling has been the object of numerous attempts of fierce control all over the world, but without appreciable results in the medium- long term (»no long-term solution«).
What does not work:
– Detergents scattered on top of the roosts by aerial means, which cause death by hypothermia, causing the loss of the insulating properties of the plumage
– Explosives ignited underneath the roosts
– Catching with food traps
– Killing with a firearm
Starling (sturnus vulgaris). Ecologia urbana, 2006.
« Chiedo che venga trovata una soluzione de nitiva per inserire lo sturnus vulgaris (storno comune) tra le specie cacciabili e limitare i danni consistenti che l’uccello selvatico in questione sta causando all’agricoltura pugliese, essendo in grado di mangiare sino a 5kg di olive al giorno ».
« ... Una direttiva comunitaria ha infatti stabilito un regime generale di protezione per tutte le specie di storno inserendo in maniera erronea la specie dello sturnus vulgaris tra le specie protette e in via di estinzione ... »
Il consigliere regionale Pd in una nota indirizzata all‘assessore all’Agricoltura e agli europarlamentari pugliesi, dicembre 2014.
Übersetzung ins Englische:
»I request that a final solution be found regarding the inclusion of the sturnus vulgaris (common starling) among the huntable species and thereby limiting the substantial damage that the wild bird in question is causing to Apulian agriculture, being able to consume up to 5kg of olives per day.«
»... An EU regulation has put all starling species under a general protection regime and erroneously included the species of sturnus vulgaris among the protected and endangered species ... «
The Democratic Party’s regional councillor in a note addressed to the Council of Agriculture and the Apulian MEPs, December 2014