Contemporary artist Duke Riley’s outdoor installation, Fly By Night wasn’t like anything I’d seen before. And I’ve seen plenty. Riley constructed pigeon coops on the helicopter landing deck of a decommissioned Navy vessel that was docked in the Brooklyn Navy Yards.
The press release said 2,000 pigeons lived there. For six weeks, three nights a week at dusk, Riley and his handlers stood on top of the coops, whistled and whooped and set the birds flying. They gently swirled over the East River.
You may have noticed something odd. Attached to their legs were small leg bands. Long ago, when pigeons were used as couriers, these bands contained messages. Now, they contained LED lights. As darkness fell, the lights popped against the black sky. They became swirling comets over the Hudson.
Pigeons are not nocturnal by nature. Riley had to acclimate them to flying in the dark. Some animal rights activists felt this was abuse and picketed the exhibit when it first opened but none were there the night I saw it. Here, the choreography is set against the Williamsburg Bridge and Manhattan skyline.
The piece lasted about :20 minutes. They were trained homing pigeons and didn’t fly away to join their brethren in the city. They returned to their coops to the sound of Sister Nancy’s Pigeon Rock.
Riley has a special fondness for pigeons. In an earlier piece, 50 of them carried illegal cigars from Havana to Key West. Tiny cameras recorded the event. This last clip is superfluous. It’s just me toying with my iPhone settings.
Meanwhile, back in my past, a vacation goes bust.
March 17, 1992
The Bahamas were lovely but we never had sex. Not once. I wasn’t interested and neither was she and no amount of alcohol could change that. I wish I’d gone with anyone else. I’m sure she feels the same way.
I’m refreshed. Nine hours of sleep every night and day after day of sunshine, beaches and great meals will do that to a person. But at night, I looked across the bed and felt nothing. Thank God she lives in Columbus. That’ll make it easier. She drove me mad with that fucking camera. How many picture do you need?
She could’ve been more adventurous. She’s consumed with caution and dread and governs her life with a strict adherence to rules. She wouldn’t take a boat out to a coral reef to snorkel because she was afraid of getting too much sun. Scuba diving was entirely out of the question because it’s too dangerous. She was afraid her lungs might burst. I finally got her to snorkel, but only in the lagoon near the hotel, which was so polluted with sunscreen that you couldn’t see six feet in front of you. It was disgusting. After that, she wouldn’t go again.
She insisted on eating only ‘natural’ food. What’s that? Lots of fish, I suppose. Every morning she took a fistful of vitamins and supplements. I’ll bet half of them are placebos. We took a ferry to the mainland to visit the ruins and she got seasick. So frail and easily knocked off her game. I can’t say I was much of a gentleman. She’s probably as glad to be rid of me as I am of her. Perhaps more so. I barely know her. What were we thinking?