Help wanted: MCA Denver, our city's bastion of contemporary cool, is seeking someone who understands high-concept art, someone who is responsible and punctual, someone who is, uh, good with animals and doesn't mind bird poop. Sound interesting? Here's the job ad that an Off Limits operative recently discovered:
"We are working with artist Jon Rubin on an installation called The Pigeon Project. We just finished lifting a pigeon coop onto the roof, where we will be rearing our own loft of racing pigeons. These pigeons will be trained to hone to MCA Denver, so that eventually guests, volunteers and staff can check one out and send it on its way back to the museum from distances up to 500 miles away! We are looking for 1-2 people to work 3 hours per day as the official liaison and maintenance person for this project.
- 15 minutes of pigeon coop cleaning per day
- Handling the birds in order to socialize them
- Talking to visitors about the project
- Checking out pigeons to visitors
- Work with artist Jon Rubin and the Foothills Pigeon Racing Club to learn about racing pigeons and the handling and rearing processes involved in this project.
- Must love birds and people
- Willingness and interest to learn about racing pigeons and this exciting project
- Able to commit to a regular 3 hour shift between 2 + 6 pm
- $10 per hour"
Here's the deal: The project is a cooperative effort between MCA Denver, the Foothills Pigeon Racing Club and Rubin, a Pittsburgh-based conceptual artist who explores the relationship between people and institutions. In Denmark last summer, he hired two actors who look like that country's Queen and Prince Consort to parade around the streets holding up protest signs with complaints written by ordinary Danish citizens; the point was to show how much power the royal family could have over everyday problems.
At MCA Denver, the goal will be to "extend the space of the museum, to switch the roles of the people who are the caretakers of objects and the visitors," says MCA programming director Sarah Baie. In this case, the art objects will be the pigeons, which will be trained to return to the museum every time they are released. Beginning in July, any museum guest will be able to check out a pigeon, take it home in a carrier and then release it.
Of course, the birds may not always come back. "We'll have twenty to start with, but we will lose some to the ways that you lose pigeons," Baie says. "Some won't find their way back. Some will join feral pigeon colonies. Others may be eaten by predators or accessioned by the Louvre." (They are art objects, after all!)
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And what happens when the Pigeon Project ends in December?
Baie doesn't know yet, and neither do the members of the Foothills pigeon club, who are advising the MCA on the project. "I don't see an end to it. They [the museum] will have to keep them for some time," says Wayne Rozendaal, a pigeoneer for 35 years and the club's secretary. The problem is that once a bird is trained to hone to one place, "the only other option is use the birds as breeding stock," he explains. "These birds are domesticated. We feed them every day and take good care of them."
Above all, you can't release them into the wild. "Racing pigeons are not feral pigeons," he notes. "We don't want our birds mixed up with those."
Which means that the MCA — and its latest conceptual art project — may have pigeons coming home to roost for a long, long time.