Pigeon from “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” (Image via huhmagazine.co.uk)

BERKELEY, California — Artists Julius von Bismark and Julien Charriere have teamed up to create a hilarious installation first in Venice and now in Copenhagen entitled, “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” (2012). The performative work exists on multiple levels: a hanging sculpture (pictured below) captures and holds the pigeons on a conveyor belt, then airbrushes the birds in a rainbow of iridescent colors only to release them back into the city. The colorful and playful piece takes place at different platforms and settings ranged around the cities in lands in.

Machine from “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” (Image via itsnicethat.co.uk)

After a week of the avian manufacturing line being installed on a rooftop in Copenhagen, the sculpture and the photographic documentation of the painterly birds was put on display in a gallery. The documentation of the transformed birds photographed against a sterile white backdrop coupled with the now silent machine is lovely — I’ve never looked longer at or enjoyed pigeons more.

What really excites me about this piece is that outside of the gallery walls, these photographed pigeons are still to be found around the city, doing exactly what they were doing before, art project or not. Nothing would please me more than to see this exhibition and, after I had forgotten about the show a week or two later, come across a beautiful blue pigeon, or a sickly green creature, or a brilliant pink one. What better way to recall the exhibition and to consider how these birds-cum-sculptures move throughout the urban environment?

Pigeon from “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” (Image via huhmagazine.co.uk)

The entire work reminds me a great deal of Olafur Eliasson’s “Green River” (originally carried out 1998), in which the artist dyed a river a bright, acidic shade of green. The water became a surreal piece of installation art, but still maintained its original motion. The new color highlighted how the water flows, where it goes, and the potential for particles of real pollution (as opposed to non-toxic dye) to be carried and spread.

This sinister question of whether “Green River” was toxic or not applies to “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” as well. Tagging animals is nothing new. Philadelphia-based graffiti artist Cornbread tagged an elephant at the Philadelphia zoo as a publicity stunt after reporters claimed that  had died. Banksy’s painting of a live elephant for his exhibition The Elephant in the Room (2006) became controversial and authorities deemed as animal abuse. Chinese artist Xu Bing even tattooed pigs with nonsense Chinese characters to make a point about the insular world of Chinese intellectualism. Among these projects, “Some Pigeons Are More Equal than Others” has a more political undertone — in the tumultuous mix of the city, are the rainbow-colored birds somehow more special, an elite avian force? The project is certainly a nod to Orwell’s famous line in Animal Farm, “Some animals are more equal than others.”

On the less socially critical side, the painted pigeons also demonstrate a new and exciting form of a street art that I personally find fascinating. The artists have taken an entire city as their canvas and infiltrated it in a unique, amusing way.

Ben Valentine is an independent writer living in Cambodia. Ben has written and spoken on art and culture for SXSW, Salon, SFAQ, the Los Angeles Review of Books, YBCA, ACLU, de Young Museum, and the Museum...

One reply on “Painted Pigeons: Political Commentary or Pop Street Art?”

  1. Yes, IS the paint used toxic? Does it interfere with flight or mating? Will it make them more visible to predators? Using live animals in art is usually a bad, inhumane idea that unintentionally says a lot more about the hubris of humans and their lack of respect for other animals.

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