Flocks (Journal of Visual Culture & HaFI, 46)

This is the forty-sixth instalment of a collaborative effort by the Journal of Visual Culture and the Harun Farocki Institut, initiated by the COVID-19 crisis. The call sent to JVC’s editorial board, and a wide selection of previous contributors and members of its extended communities, described the task as follows: “There is a lot of spontaneous, ad hoc opinion-making and premature commentary around, as to be expected. However, the ethics and politics of artistic and theoretical practice to be pursued in this situation should oblige us to stay cautious and to intervene with care in the discussion. As one of JVC’s editors, Brooke Belisle, explains: ‘We are not looking for sensationalism, but rather, moments of reflection that: make connections between what’s happening now and the larger intellectual contexts that our readership shares; offer small ways to be reflective and to draw on tools we have and things we know instead of just feeling numb and overwhelmed; help serve as intellectual community for one another while we are isolated; support the work of being thoughtful and trying to find/make meaning…which is always a collective endeavour, even if we are forced to be apart.'” TH



By Isobel Wohl

Now that the leaves have fallen from the trees, we can see the birds more easily.

The other week my mother and I were walking along our road when we saw a group of tiny grey birds, heavily paunched. Each had a yellow spot on the top of its head and white streaks on its face. The birds hopped up and down branches only as thick as two threads together, and their beaks darted quickly as they seemed to find some food, maybe bugs too small for us to see. They took off and batted their wings fiercely and resettled on the next branch over. They ate more, took off again, and moved to the next tree. We walked with them. Sometimes one bird would grasp a branch with its long toes and hang below it, nibbling joyously at some movement above.

In the house, on the news, the election was still happening, and we were afraid. We had voted and volunteered and it seemed it might have just been enough but we were not yet sure. We had gone out into the world to get away from the news but we could not go far into the world because of the virus. The faces of our friends were dangerous. We missed the world and were afraid of it.

I asked my mother if the birds were chickadees. (Those are her favourite bird.) She said no. We left the flock we had been watching and began to walk more quickly back to the house. Soon we saw another group of the same tiny birds and among them a bigger one with a black marking covering the whole top of its head. It was on a sturdy branch. That’s a chickadee, said my mother, the big one, the kind of fuzzy-looking one. When we got back to the house we looked the smaller birds up in our field guide. They are called golden-crowned kinglets. They often travel in flocks with chickadees.

Isobel Wohl is a writer and visual artist from Brooklyn, NY. For seven years she lived in London, where she studied at the Royal College of Art. Her first novel, Cold New Climate, will be published by Weatherglass Books in April 2021.
January 4th, 2021 — Rosa Mercedes / 02