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These headless chickens spin on Miami rooftops when there's bad news

They’re terrible at gauging wind direction, but when troubling news is afoot in South Florida, count on Miami’s new brood of headless chickens for help.

Starting this week, a collection of three “Whithervanes,” or headless chicken sculptures, will appear on rooftops across Miami, alerting any passersby about fear- and anxiety-causing headlines.

Subtitled “an early, neurotic warning system,” “Whithervanes” comes from Rootoftwo, the Detroit-based artist-couple of Cézanne Charles and John Marshall. Locust Projects, a Miami Design District gallery, commissioned the public art project, which previously appeared in France and England.

“They’re like weathervanes, except they respond to fear instead of wind,” says Lori Mertes, Locust Project’s executive director. “This daily bombardment of bad news has an effect on all of us. It ratchets up our anxiety.”

Each roof rooster is powered by circuit boards and tethered to an internet connection, which pulls headlines from the Reuters newswire, Mertes says. As they parse keywords such as “war” and “mass shooting,” for example, the “Whithervanes” read a report’s location and spin in the opposite direction of those GPS coordinates, as if the news were a gust of wind. They also change colors based on the threat’s severity, lighting up from red (the most threatening) to green (the least worrying).

“I haven’t seen it turn green since we turned it on,” Mertes says. “It hasn’t stopped spinning, either. But I’m hopeful that it will.”

The chickens can be found in downtown Miami, atop the Locust Projects building and in the MiMo district, and also pick up South Florida-centric keywords such as “sea level rise” and “climate change,” Mertes says.

The public can also change the chickens’ colors by tweeting the hashtags “#keepcalm” or #skyfalling,” which symbolize users’ desires to not be persuaded by the media. Explanatory text is also located beneath each “whithervane” for visitors who encounter the headless chickens by accident.

“You can either decide to have freedom over how you respond, or let fear take over, and you’re like Chicken Little shouting, ‘The sky is falling!’” Mertes says.

When:April 9-June 30

Where: Locust Projects, 3852 N. Miami Ave., Miami (Design District “Whithervane”); 5555 Biscayne Blvd., Miami (MiMo “Whithervane”); and 1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami (Downtown “Whithervane”)

Cost: Free

Contact: 305-576-8570, LocustProjects.org or Whithervanes.com

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

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