How will you write a dawn chorus?

The hands on your watch creep closer to 4 am. Your hands shake from exhaustion and that cup of coffee you slurped down quarter of an hour ago to stop yourself dozing into your coat collar. Around you, the world’s beginning to take on a new colour. The night’s inky grey half-light replaced by the brackish reds of the ‘rosy-fingered dawn’. You reach for the smartphone, fingers tapping at the screen until, with a flourish of an index finger, your tweet is sent, popping up neatly at the top of your timeline. Satisfied, you return the phone to your pocket and stare out into the dawn.

That’s what the National Trust is asking people to do as the sun rises this Sunday morning. From 2:45 until 5am, we’re inviting people to share their observations of the breaking day via twitter, as part of a mass public performance: Dawn Chorus.

Join us to see in the dawn ©Claire Reddleman/Natasha Vicars

Join us to see in the dawn ©Claire Reddleman/Natasha Vicars

On Sunday 9th June, as the first fingers of sun creep above the horizon seven artists stationed at National Trust places across London will be watching dawn’s changing sights, sounds and smells and noting their observations in 141 characters or less on twitter. Wherever you live, you can join this mass creative observation online by tweeting to @NTlovesLondon or using the #dawnchorus hashtag.

Run by the National Trust’s London Project as part of the Chelsea Fringe festival, Dawn Chorus is the brainchild of Natasha Vicars, a London-based performance artist. We talked to Natasha about the event and why she believes people should sit and observe the sun rise this Sunday morning.

What’s the inspiration behind the Dawn Chorus event?

The original interest was this experience I’d had on a long walking holiday in Spain, getting up when it was dark and walking in this twilight just before sunrise. I was struck by the experience of literally seeing somewhere in a new light. It was beautiful, but also an interesting time to see a place because it’s outside of your regular routine. It becomes a different space.

I’m also interested in experimental performance. I saw Twitter as a way of bringing together people’s observations of these dawn hours. Geographically, people might be very spread out, but what they would create could all be brought together online.

What are you asking people to do?

We are inviting people nationwide to get up in the early hours on Sunday and look out of the bedroom window or anywhere else they can get to in the small hours and write in their own style about what they see.

We’ve also got a group of seven artists – including me – each at a National Trust place in London. They are at a lookout points, observing that place in the early hours and tweeting about it. But more than that, we collaborate – doing things together, drawing upon the live, performative nature of writing for twitter. So we’ll all tweet at the same time to say when we’re entering a new phase of twilight, for example. And for one period, we’ll start off with one tweet that’s written with 141 characters, and then go down to a tweet made of just one word and finally the shortest word we can. So it’s a bit like music – it’s a kind of diminuendo.

At the core of it, Dawn Chorus is about looking and reporting what we see creatively.

Why should people get up in the small hours to get involved with Dawn Chorus?

Because it’s an amazing experience to take time out to really watch and observe somewhere. It lets you into what’s special about that place. You might think that there’s not much to see at dawn, but the more you sit and watch, the more you get drawn into details: the birds of the dawn chorus, the people working or coming home from a night out. It’s about those observations you wouldn’t normally make, like what time the street lights turn off, or how the light subtly changes.

Dawn has a lot of connotations around joy. There is something naturally wonderful about this everyday event that you don’t normally see at all: the start of the day.

Where will you be tweeting from?

I’ll be Tweeting from Morden Hall park, in South West London. It’s a place that I really enjoy and I’ve lived in that area before. It’s such a fantastic oasis of natural environment and it’s got the River Wandle running through it. There’s a little island that you can wade to wearing your Wellington boots. On Sunday morning I might carry my laptop over with an internet dongle and tweet from the island.

Do you have a favourite place where you’ve seen the sun rise?

St Augustine’s Tower in Hackney Central. There’s a panoramic view from the top of what used to be a church tower. It’s right next to the High Street. On the one side it looks and feels really urban; you’ve got the trains, the taxis and the bustle. But on the other side there’s green space, with trees coming right up to meet the tower. So you’ve got the two things together. You’re aware that you are within the urban mass  of London, but with a viewpoint lifted above.

On the night that I spent on the top of the tower, the skies were clear and cloudless. Some of the more picturesque light effects usually come from way the sun lights up the cloud formations. But it was very striking that morning  to directly see the burning red ball of the sun crossing the horizon.

  • Find out more about Dawn Chorus at Join the conversation on Sunday morning by tweeting to @NTlovesLondon and using the hashtag #DawnChorus
  • Where will you be tweeting from this Sunday? Let us know via twitter @NTExtAffairs or in the comment box below!

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