Fly By Night

Beginning on May 7, 2016, Creative Time and the Brooklyn Navy Yard will present Fly by Night, artist Duke Riley’s public artwork of unprecedented scale and beauty. Fly By Night will be Riley’s largest project to date.

Friday through Sunday evenings at dusk through June 12, 2016, a massive flock of pigeons will fly in elegant harmony over the East River, as Riley orchestrates a series of performances occurring regularly throughout the spring. At the call of a whistle, thousands of birds will emerge from their home in a grand, converted historic boat docked at the Brooklyn Navy Year. The pigeons will circle above the river as the sun sets over Manhattan, and small leg bands, historically used to carry messages, will be 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. Locally, each neighborhood in New York once has 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. The iconic Brooklyn Navy Yard, once home to the country’s largest naval fleet of pigeon carriers, is the ideal setting for Riley’s Fly By Night—a tribute to the beautiful, diverse and fascinating histories of pigeon flying and New York City.

In addition to her contribution to the Fly By Night artwork, Kristen also design a limited edition birdhouse inspired by the pigeon lofts for the Creative Time Gala which took place on April 28. The Spring Gala is a fundraising event to help ensure millions of people have free opportunities to engage with groundbreaking art. The 25 birdhouses will be auctioned for $2,500 each.

Kristen Becker, an Associate at Olson Kundig, was the Project Architect for Fly By Night. Becker’s previous involvement in public art includes playing an integral role in designing the armature that supported El Anatsui’s Broken Bridge II installed in The Highline in New York City. For Fly By Night she collaborated closely with artist Duke Riley to design pigeon lofts to house the flock of pigeons participating in the performances. A series of modular structures were created so that each individual coup housed roughly 200 pigeons of various species each with their own aviary with a connecting door. Careful consideration went into providing proper release and landing areas for the pigeons. Materials consisted of chicken wire, and standard lumber framing, which was then painted to complement the converted naval boat, The Baylander, which houses the pigeons.

Kristen describes her contribution to the public artwork by saying, “The artist has a clear love for these pigeons and it came across in the design thinking behind the pigeon coops. The idea that the coops were designed to exist beyond the performance resonates in the way in which we detailed the piece. Each coop bay was designed not only to be installed quickly but also to be dismantled to be reused and donated as individual coops afterwards. Instead of thinking of it as one building—we thought about it as a series of buildings.”

Photography by Tod Seelie, courtesy of Creative Time.

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