In the summer of 2014, I was given access to a rooftop in Manhattan for three weeks. West 16th Street in Chelsea, opposite Google. It was hot up there, eight stories up; a small, reflective desert, awash with the hum of air conditioners, without a single plant to soften it. The only living things around were thousands of minuscule red mites, motoring along in their silver worlds, a couple of passing starlings, and pigeons – lots of them.
Each day, I would watch them strutting puffily along the edge of the rooftop, hassling each other, preening their varied plumage, drinking from puddles, rising up as one and wheeling around the building again and again when I disturbed them. I was on their territory.
I made the pigeons a small architectural addition to the roof, created from bricks I made by hand out of birdseed. They ate it all.
I constructed a large pigeon costume to try to ingratiate myself into the flock, but they flew away when I came near.
I read about the extra colours they see, tried to make an approximation of pigeon vision.
I attempted to learn their mating dances and performed them, alone, on the rooftop.
The building’s health and safety officer was equal parts game and bemused:
When I was a kid, my friend’s dad had a coop of racing pigeons in the Bronx
Let’s face it, most of the city considers them flying rats
Your colors are good, but you need a peacock green neck band to match the local pigeons
My cardboard beak kept falling off and my disguise would continually come apart at the seams. Office workers having lunch on the roof of the building opposite gathered and pointed as I paced, turning in circles, bobbing and bowing, less like a male bird on the prowl than a strange and gigantic Pigeon of Death, my costume dragging in bird shit.
Fascinating, really, these birds – these faunal, feral symbols of city life – which are so tied to our human, urban experience, but are somehow viewed as degraded by their proximity to us, either ignored or maligned. I just wanted to get closer to them, somehow.
Melissa Deerson (www.melissadeerson.com) is an artist and writer whose work addresses the blurry boundaries between human and non-human domains, particularly in urban areas. Her previous...