Saturday 22 October 2016

Pigeon light show takes flight over New York skyline

Published 06/05/2016 | 03:21

Pigeons wearing LED lights fly above their coops in a 30-minute performance (AP)
Pigeons wearing LED lights fly above their coops in a 30-minute performance (AP)

New York is staging a show featuring 2,000 pigeons tagged with LED lights illuminating the city's night sky.

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The spectacle, called Fly by Night, premiered over the East River separating Manhattan from Brooklyn.

The birds were released at sunset from coops aboard a former aircraft carrier docked at Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The flock improvises its own choreography, swooping, twirling and gliding through the sky to create a 30-minute show.

The performance is the brainchild of artist Duke Riley, who compares it to a shooting star crossing the Big Apple's skyline.

The LED lights are attached to the birds' legs and are remote-controlled.

The spectacle is running each weekend until June 12. It is free of charge but requires online reservations.

Riley selected Brooklyn Navy Yard for his light show because nearby, on an artificial island, the navy housed its first messenger pigeon fleet in the early 20th century.

The project by the 43-year-old artist, from Boston, is presented by Creative Time, a New York-based non-profit that sponsors public art. He said he was inspired after reading an old military manual on training pigeons for night missions.

About two-thirds of the birds were donated by people from New York's pigeon-rearing community who were forced to give up their birds because of their housing situations. Others are on loan from friends.

They come in an array of colours, some with silver heads, others with black stripes, and one with a red beak.

Equipping thousands of pigeons with LED lights was a project in itself - a team effort led by a company called 10xBETA based at the Navy Yard. It took a technician in China to create a pigeon-light circuit, and an American manufacturer made containers for the equipment that volunteers snapped into leg bands on the birds.

The cost of the project was not disclosed.

The show also celebrates the vanishing hobby of keeping pigeons on the rooftops of Brooklyn's historic waterfront. In the 1960s, thousands of people did so, but now there are fewer than 200.

When the show is over in June, many of the birds will go to a Brooklyn man who lost hundreds of his pigeons in a fire earlier this year.

It's not the first time Riley has used homing pigeons for his performance art. He said he smuggled cigars from Havana to Key West, Florida, in a 2013 project called "Trading With the Enemy".

"Pigeons suffer a PR problem," said Creative Time curator Meredith Johnson. "People have this sense that they're rats with wings. But pigeons are incredibly complex."

"He wants to bring them out of the shadows," she said of Riley.

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