Challenging Public and Private Space Through Pigeons

By Elizabeth Papierz
MA Theatre and Performance Studies
York University

When I moved to Wellington, New Zealand in October 2013 I was constantly walking around the city anxiously handing out resumes and trying to navigate my life in this new and unknown environment. Although Wellington is a fairly small city compared to Toronto, my home city, I still felt lost among the twisting streets and the unfamiliar surroundings. I also felt an internal pressure to create an identity for myself in a city where I was alone with no connections to speak of.

First Pigeon Poster Sighting

First Pigeon Poster Sighting

As I explored the city I began stumbling across street art of giant pigeon posters. The first pigeon poster I saw was located on Vivian Street, a block from my first apartment in Wellington and located above Brisco’s, the Bed, Bath and Beyond of New Zealand. Wellington, like any other city had their fair share of real live pigeons, and in Wellington they liked to wander down Cuba St. among the restaurant patios, nibbling at crumbs in between diners feet or I would see them along the pier on Sunday mornings among the market shoppers buying fresh produce.

As I continued to see the pigeon posters through out the city, I grew more and more curious as to why they were there. What did they represent? Who put them up?

As I questioned the purpose of these pigeon posters, there was very little known about them except that an artist by the name of BENT created them. The only source of information I could find on the posters was a dedicated Facebook community called “Pigeon Poster Fanciers of Wellington,”which   encouraged people to take, and then share photos of different pigeon posters spotted across Wellington.

Pigeons on Tory Street

Pigeons on Tory Street

It wasn’t until I returned home to Toronto that I recently came across an article from Stuff, the online newspaper in New Zealand, where journalist Hannah McKee interviewed BENT. From the interview BENT explained that the role of his pigeon posters was to convey the idea of “identity.” BENT says, “The pigeon fitted in with finding identity within the pack but also acknowledged a wide population of humans who live in cities…the pigeon can be a symbol of identity almost for everyone” (McKee 2014).

Street art has always fascinated me, as there is always that tension between public and private space and the question,  “How public is public space?” BENT, in his interview with Stuff says, “I’m sure many could read a message behind giant pigeons, whether it’s a social commentary of our feral race just like pigeons, or maybe a political message as how the poster uses public and private space” (McKee 2014). He then goes on to say that the pigeon posters contain no message beyond the idea of identity.

Painted Over Pigeon

Painted Over Pigeon

Although BENT ignores the factor of public and private space that most of his pigeon posters are found on, I believe that comment offers a lot of insight on how he, as a street artist feels that he interacts with public and private spaces. The pigeon posters also offer insight into how citizens of Wellington respond to art in public and private spaces. The pigeon posters around Wellington stayed up for varying amounts of time, depending on where they were posted. The first pigeon on Vivian St. that I saw stayed there for many months while other pigeon posters almost immediately got torn down or painted over.

Richard G. Jones and Christina R. Foust who study consumerism spaces in Denver, CO say that, “Public space in this sense is not a shared, unconstrained space” and that it is “subject to usage by an appropriate public that is allowed in” (Jones and Foust 2008: 9). This idea of certain people or objects being allowed in public space is reflective of street art.

Flying Pigeon on Cuba St.

Flying Pigeon on Cuba St.

I would suggest that BENT’s pigeon street art is also reflective of this statement, as real pigeons are often not welcome in many public spaces, much like people who are categorized by society as being out of place and unwelcome in certain spaces; for example a homeless person in a  consumer space, as seen in Jones and Foust’s work. The idea of identity attached to the pigeon posters comments on which human identities are allowed in which spaces through out the city.

The pigeon posters in Wellington offer an insight into how public and private space is viewed by people through out different areas in the city. The poster pigeons, much like their real life counter parts offer insight into whether they’re allowed in different public and private spaces through out the city, much like the presence of certain humans are questioned in certain spaces through out a city.

 

Images
All Images used are from the Facebook photo album of “Pigeon Poster Fanciers of Wellington” https://www.facebook.com/PigeonPosterFanciersOfWellington/photos_stream

Works Cited
Jones, Richard G. Jr. and Christina R. Foust. 2008. “Staging and Enforcing Consumerism in the City: The Performance of Othering on the 16th Street Mall.” Liminalities:A Journal of Performance Studies 4, 1: 1-28.

McKee, Hannah. 2014. “Pigeons a symbol of life in the city.” Stuff.