Artist Duke Riley’s project, “Fly by Night”, uses pigeons to create a work of art. Riley’s project is essentially a performance – the audience waits for 90 minutes along a Brooklyn waterfront for the sun to set and stars to emerge, when 2,000 homing pigeons, each fitted with an L.E.D light, will take the to air and create intricate, swooping patterns of light against a Manhattan backdrop. It was created to draw the attention of New York City residents towards the sky and the 2,000 pigeons that also call that city their home. Riley directs the pigeons from above, standing on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
The home of the pigeons is the Baylander, stationed in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This decommissioned and refitted naval aircraft is now home to the pigeons, who a century ago, would have carried mail for military purposes. Though many New Yorkers now view pigeons as merely a nuisance in their bustling city, the project that Riley has created gives the birds newly-found captivating and beautiful qualities.
Though the performance is organized and directed by the artist, it is by no means perfectly orchestrated. The birds have a directed course that they are urged to follow, however, many stray birds rebel, flying far from the other birds to observe the human audience below, even swooping close to the seated viewers. Other pigeons fly away mid-flight, intersecting the careful arcs and flying patterns of the flock.
Through his project, Riley tries to create for the audience the sense of wonder that he finds in observing only one pigeon. Even in a city sick of them, pigeons are still marvelous and beautiful to Duke Riley, and his project calls light to that child-like wonder. His work will grace the Brooklyn sky throughout June.