Lights in the Sky

Repost from The Creator's Project

Friday through Sunday evenings at dusk, a massive flock of pigeons elegantly twirl, swoop, and glide above the East River NYC, as Riley orchestrates a series of performances occurring regularly throughout late spring. At the call of a whistle, thousands of birds emerge from their home in a grand, converted historic boat docked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The pigeons circle above the river as the sun sets over Manhattan, and small leg bands, historically used to carry messages, have been replaced with tiny LED lights, illuminating the sky in a transcendent union of public art and nature. 

Fly By Night pays homage to pigeon keeping, both in New York and farther afield. Pigeons have been domesticated for thousands of years and kept by people around the world for their companionship, sport, and service.The Brooklyn Navy Yard was the site of the military’s largest coop at it's peak during World War II. Returning birds to this site is not only a love letter to pigeon fancying, it is something of a PR campaign for creatures routinely called “rats with wings.” Duke Riley (the creator of the project) tells The Creators Project, “They’re extremely smart, and have excellent facial recognition skills. In some ways, they’re kind of like aliaison between the human and the natural world.” 

Locally, each neighborhood in New York once had a community of pigeon keepers (or fanciers, as they are commonly known); a dense network of rooftop pigeon lofts stretched across the five boroughs. While property development and population shifts have caused the practice to wane, Fly By Night reflects back on and makes visible this largely forgotten culture. 

Fly By Night encourages urbanites to look up and take in their surroundings. “There’s a level of enjoyment and childlike amusement,” Hollander (Creative Time) says. “One day, we were down at the Navy Yard, and a security guard ran over and said, ‘I just got off a 16-hour shift, and seeing this filled me with joy.’ That’s what we’re going for: an opportunity to replenish people with hope and wonder.” Riley and his avian performance artists illuminate the waterfront in a confluence of art and nature, creating a spellbinding experience for those lucky enough to witness it this spring.

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