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MIT student to transform street into Flamingo Road

Artist's rendering of Flock Mentalityon Storrow Drive near the Science Park MBTA station.
Artist's rendering of Flock Mentalityon Storrow Drive near the Science Park MBTA station.

Boston-area motorists will notice a strange band of tropical birds migrating into the city next week.

Beginning on Monday, May 11, from 7:30-9:30am, a flock of 80 pink plastic lawn flamingos will appear at various points along one of Boston's main commuter routes, journeying from the western suburbs into Boston. After making their first appearance in a private Newton garden along the Chestnut Hill Reservoir on May 11, they will 'travel' along Commonwealth Avenue, passing through Kenmore Square and near Storrow Drive before 'arriving' at Boston's City Hall Plaza on Friday, May 15.

"Flock Mentality," a public art project conceived by architecture graduate student Stephen McHale, uses the lawn ornaments as icons of suburbia. "Commuters have an instant affiliation with them," he said noting that the sense of displacement suburbanites feel in the city is symbolized by the flamingos' absurd presence.

"I hope the commuters are amused by the flamingos," said Mr. McHale, who's at MIT for one year as one of two students in a new exchange program with Cambridge University in England. "Some of those who are intrigued will hopefully take the time to figure out what's going on."

Mr. McHale noted that the flamingos relate to the "quintessential American paradigm of the suburban paradise, which has been described as a perverse attempt to assert individuality through acts which have become conformist."

Mr. McHale first became interested in the flamingos after reading an article about them in last semester's issue of Thresholds, the Department of Architecture's journal. This project, he says, combines the flamingos' quirky character with his personal sense of bewilderment when thinking about commuting.

The route of the flamingos intersects the route of the "reverse commute" of the MIT students living in the Back Bay area and Kenmore Square. As the flock passes the Boston end of the Harvard Bridge, Mr. McHale hopes that students will be made aware of their part in the daily pattern of movement through the city.

"We students can contrast our inhabitation in the city with that of the commuters who drive in daily. We can also see the difference in the velocity of our movements -- walking or biking as opposed to driving," he said.

Mr. McHale, who is supported by a grant from the Council for the Arts at MIT and the Peter DeFlorez Fund for Humor, will personally tend his flock during their daily two hours of public exposure. Later this month, he plans to present a slide show of the manifestation of the flamingos and how they affected the daily commute.

And what will happen to the flock of flamingos when their artistic work is done? Some will be given to Mr. McHale's friends who helped with their daily travels and as for the rest, Mr. McHale says, "I'm happy to listen to anybody who wishes to make an offer."

The flamingos' flight plan is as follows:

  • Monday, May 11 -- 62 Beacon St., Chestnut Hill
  • Tuesday, May 12 -- Commonwealth Ave./Brighton Ave. intersection
  • Wednesday, May 13 -- Kenmore Square where the Green Line emerges
  • Thursday, May 14 -- Storrow Drive, Science Park MBTA Station
  • Friday, May 15 -- City Hall Plaza near flag poles

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 6, 1998.

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