A girl sits, inquisitive look on her face, behind cloud reflections and smoky glass. She is in a wood wrapped room cantilevered three stories above a shaded stradetta and more of the dark glass. It clads most of the sophisticated, squarish building in flush panels, and bounces back the urban context as well as the gold-highlighted sky with cinematography. I stand, the same level but outside, on a ribbon of glass filtering light down, my soles two dodging smudges to anyone who looks up. I look ahead at another architectural feature, less eye-widening, more eyebrow raising; a wood frame and chicken-wire coop, adorned with a half-dozen roosting birds. Another girl, sharp nose, clad in henna tattoos and with eyes that similarly reflect the sky, though in quite an opposite manner to the noireish way the glass does, looks inquisitively at me.
The first girl’s look, perhaps, is in attempted reconciliation as to how the objects through her window seem unexpectedly misplaced, but to belong, to match at the same time. The second girl’s look is simply in waiting for confirmation that I am there for the reason she suspects I am.
‘Hi. Are you here to check out a pigeon?’
Interactive art is certainly a major, if not shift, then trend in art museums. It is fitting that a contemporary art museum would house such an installation, but this one, entitled ‘Thinking About Flying’, pushes the envelope of the genre, literally to a 30 mile radius of the museum. Over the course of months and in a matter of minutes, visitors can walk out of the museum with a young homing pigeon in a small laser-cut cardboard box, assembled as the attendant picks up a pigeon to use from the coop. From there, the visitor takes the bird (themselves loaned from a local pigeon racing club) to their home, or wherever they choose in the envelope, and releases it. The pigeon then navigates its way back to the simple country coop atop the sleek, contemporary museum, training it in the process.
Conceived by artist Jon Rubin, the installation uses the borrowed birds’ abilities to rethink the relationship between the museum and those who explore it. Participants become needles, the pigeons threads, connecting the museum to its wider context; the city as a whole becomes the effective exhibition space.
The traditional notion of an art museum is inverted as domestic spaces perform the function of temporary exhibition sites and the institutional space is cast as a domicile and caretaker. In this way, the work maps the social and geographic relationship between the institution and its constituent audience. (MCA)
Aside from asking visitors to directly participate in the work, the museum is putting more responsibility into participants’ hands than certainly most other interactive exhibits; within a quarter hour, I entered Adjaye’s building, learned about the exhibit, and had a living, breathing animal in my complete care. In another quarter, I chatted with a curious duo outside considering the same role, rode through downtown (piqueing more curiosity), and released the bird. There was a scattered flock of street-pigeons about for the release, but it was clear the one I had was not in the caste of flying rat; it burst crisply without hesitation from its cardboard confines into the open air, and took a swooping, deliberate arc around the edge of the next building, reversing on its inverse errand the route I had taken. It’s head moved once for the turn, seeing magnetic fields and maps, while the pedestrian pigeons below constantly swiveled necks, seeing only bread crumbs and threatening shoes.
The move towards interactive art exhibits reflects the connectivity and connections defining this age and developments across all fields. We are part of ‘the cloud,’ with shared commonalities, far-flung resources and coherent input, performing almost as a conceptual city. Hand-in-dichotomous-hand is the ubiquitous, representative ‘i’ prefix; the value, role, choice, and effect of the individual. Yet this instance didn’t have to be electronic or avant-garde to achieve its intentions in an efficient, effective, and engrossing fashion. ‘Thinking About Flying’ takes an ages old, pseudo-nostalgic method, where the only clouds are made up of water and dotted (without ‘i’s) by birds, and meaningfully connects the individual to the wider contexts of the city, art, and imagination.