By Miriam Hill
Inquirer Staff Writer
If a pigeon ever pooped on your head or desecrated your windshield, you might find yourself bewildered at the saintlike images of the birds on South Broad Street.
Rendered in bold colors on plexiglass, the five depictions of pigeons beckon pedestrians to make an offering of birdseed in front of the University of the Arts building.
It's a pigeon pantheon.
Stride to the other side of the staircase in front of the building and you will find a large crate housing "The Mobile Museum of Pigeon Culture and History."
A small sign explains that the museum is the collection of Red Lahore, who wanted to "convince the world that pigeons are far from the pests we see them as."
Lahore is the fictional creation of Matt Zigler, whose pigeon exhibit just helped him earn his master's degree from the university.
Zigler arrives in Philadelphia this weekend to dismantle his project but says most of it will be open Saturday.
A resident of North Carolina, near Chapel Hill, Zigler has lived in Philadelphia part-time while pursuing his master of fine arts degree. Initially, he shared Woody Allen's view of pigeons as "rats with wings."
"It was sort of ... there are mice in my dorm room and pigeons on the street," Zigler said.
But one day in the summer of 2007, the 33-year-old art teacher noticed a beige pigeon amid a gray flock. That got him thinking about how people so often fail to notice the "little dramas, narratives, and moments of profound value" around them.
His brain took flight, pursuing pigeon information with the speed - the birds can fly more than 60 m.p.h. - of his subject.
He pored over two recent books, Pigeons: The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird, and Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan . . . and the World.
His case for changing our understanding of pigeons goes something like this:
We love doves and imbue them with spiritual meaning. Scientifically, doves and pigeons are practically the same bird.
Through most of our history, people held pigeons in high esteem. During World War II, a pigeon named G.I. Joe carried a message that saved 1,000 people. Squab is considered a delicacy, though Zigler notes that it's a baby pigeon. People once ate pigeons more, but as industrial farming took hold, chicken became the preferred bird.
The more Zigler studied, the more he believed that the dulcet cooing of pigeons spoke loudly about society. His "genocide" poster in the museum refers to passenger pigeons. They met with extinction in 1914, killed by hunters and loss of habitat as trees were felled for farms.
But an artist who is a friend of pigeons? The birds whose droppings defile architecture?
Even there, Zigler sees a lesson. Pigeon droppings have become more acidic as the birds have learned to eat our trash, he said. When the birds ate a more natural diet, their droppings were valued as fertilizer.
"We get what we put out there," Zigler said. "When we start feeding them processed pizza crusts and Wonder bread, we get the results of that."
That's why his exhibit entices visitors to put 25 cents in a gumball-type machine to buy birdseed to "feed" one of the pigeon images, which sit atop small black altars.
The pigeon museum is a moving crate donated by PODS Enterprises Inc., a container company. Everyone calls it the Pod.
Inspired by fictional characters in art, Zigler came up with Lahore, named after a fancy breed of pigeons.
According to Zigler, Lahore, once a student at Duke University, withdrew from society as he fed his pigeon obsession.
Zigler came up with Lahore's story by thinking about how scientists must find it difficult to cope with knowledge about humans harming the environment.
"I think it would take an extraordinary amount of will for a scientist not to despair, so I let Lahore go ahead and despair," Zigler said.
Don't expect Zigler to be as much of a downer as his alter ego. In a phone conversation, he sounded thoughtful and lighthearted.
Later, he sent an e-mail that read: "Maybe there's hope for the good name of the pigeon yet."
Inside the Artist's Studio with Molly Matlock.
May 19, 2010
A friend of mine considers pigeons rats of the sky, but I have always found this to be a decidedly ungenerous attitude. Columba livia, as the common pigeon is formally called, deserves respect for adapting so well to the urban environment. The bird's not so bad looking either. Matthew Zigler seems to take a similar position on this common creature, and he has devoted his current painting practice to memorializing it and its contemporary habitat. A pair of birds etched into scrap metal has potential in its surprising silver lines on rusted plates, but this series remains unresolved, the drawings themselves not rendered convincingly enough. Dead birds meticulously painted onto fragments of safety glass feel just right, so fragile and touching. A series of small wood panels present tender, brushy oils of individual birds, exacting enough to provide information yet not so overdone as to feel educational. Zigler sources found materials, and installs some of his finished work, in an abandoned local mill, where one suspects the painted creatures can only rest temporarily, being less weatherproof than the feather-and-blood ones. Who gets to see them there? Other birds, perhaps. Zigler photographs these installations and also suggests them in elaborate painted compositions, but these re-presentations are of less interest than the installations themselves. But why paint such common creatures at all? Perhaps to help us pay more attention to that which hops and flies past us everyday, as we ignore or shoo or insult it away. My friend, the pigeon hater, could certainly stand to contemplate some.
The MUSA show at Cozart’s Antiques in west downtown Raleigh (just closed October 18th) was varied, intriguing and successful in presenting artistic takes on the issues behind the show’s concept – work and making things in the post-industrial age. The show was held in a back space which formerly housed a furniture factory. I have formerly described my personal connections to the space and its employees. I went opening night and then back for more pictures. There were a scattering of very interesting installations within this large show, and these were what I focused on.
One striking installation had some very cool craft history associated with it. Jon Barlow Hudson’s ”Felt Hat Body” also offered a chapbook called “The Handmade Felt Hat.” I picked one up and found it, as a papermaker, a wonderful history of the craft and the culture surrounding it. There was also a beautiful accordion book by Kathleen Loeven on display, seen below.
The show was incorporated into its space in a unique way. Many trappings of the former furniture works were still in place – from commercial tin decoration samples to the old paint shop. One of the installations used spray paint and objects to evoke the history of the place’s paints. The large back room featured a working silk screen process as well as the installation of “Invisible,” the music group that played at the opening and other project events. Below, an Invisible member sets the pegs on the player piano wheel that provided some of the random sounds.
The artwork was extremely variable in style and quality. My favorite piece by far was a large contraption that hung clay “icicles” over a pan of water. As visitors pushed the lever that lowered them into the water, the blobs of clay were soaked and softened. Gradually they would slip off their strings and fall into the water creating an evolving pattern in the water. Below is a picture I snapped just after a young woman had been splashed by a sudden plop.
Another very fun piece was the shrine to highway US 1 by Dave Alsobrooks that was installed in a small side room. There was a church pew, a slide show of the artist’s road trip (whose imagery was “desaturated” for effect), and -best of all- a US1 bumper sticker which I have proudly displayed on my car! I liked the artist’s attempt to “find beauty in the mundane” and really like his description of the piece recording “the constant plodding of our human race towards an unknown future…”
The show was a lot of fun and thought-provoking as well. The gritty, down-n-dirty atmosphere provided an excellent setting for much of the art work. Carter Hubbard and Sarah Botwick are to be commended for finding a way to enlarge the possibilities for art events in downtown Raleigh.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 12, 2009
FILM / RALEIGH / INSTALLATION ARTDormant Raleigh warehouse breathes again in Made in USA show
Posted by David Fellerath on Mon, Oct 12, 2009 at 3:25 PM
Indy contributor Rebekah L. Cowell visited the Made in the USA exhibit in Raleigh prior to its official opening. She sends us this report.
Empty warehouses haunt the landscapes of many North Carolina cities. Some have been renovated into funky apartments, art spaces and restaurants, while many others remain shuttered.
On Friday, Oct. 2, a vacant warehouse at 320 S. Harrington in Raleigh-built in the days of the American Cotton Oil and Fertilizer Company-came to life.
Carter Hubbard and Sara Botwick, local art entrepreneurs, partnered with Otho Cozart, owner of the building that once hosted his thriving furniture manufacturing business, to bring a multimedia post-industrial art exhibit. Hubbard and Botwick's goal is "to produce an interpretive, visual perspective that will allow patrons to reflect on what it means to be 'made' in the USA-a question even more poignant in these current economic times." Thirty-six artists will be featured in the exhibition, showcasing a variety of media and styles.
The installation begin before you enter the 10,000 square feet warehouse. Outside is William Cozart, Inc., an eclectic antique emporium with stone floors under lofty ceilings. At the height of its production, the William Cozart furniture manufacturing company employed up to 35 workers. In the early '90s, the recession reduced the workforce by half. And as the story of furniture manufacturers in North Carolina goes, globalization gripped the small businesses across the state and reduced productions until slowly and mournfully the doors had to close all over the state, as they did at Cozart in 2002.
In the process of cleaning the space up enough to bring in installations and organize the chaos, Hubbard says the eerie quality of entering a building that seemed to be waiting for the workers' return, impressed upon her how vital it is to give old shuttered warehouses a chance to let the light in and breathe.
"Everything was still laid out as if there would be another day of work," said Hubbard, "paint cans on the counters, furniture still on the table, board cut but not yet assembled and tools everywhere. One day they just walked out."
Outside the building, the brick walls that surround the parking lot are resplendently covered in orange Chinese trumpet flowers and bright green kudzu. From here, visitors can head down an alleyway, guided by half-buried defunct train tracks.
The first "real" installation outside the warehouse is a pigeon coop, a piece credited to Matthew Zigler. The coop sits against the side of the warehouse-a building that still has barbed wire wrapped around its top, and still in possession of its mighty fans, silent behind louvered windows. Pigeon-keeping, a dying pastime of the urban working class, saw its demise in Raleigh accelerated by the diligent eradication by the city. Zigler explores this loss through an installation the viewer walks into, observing oil paintings of pigeons and becoming a participant in the scene.
Once inside the warehouse. visitors will become enveloped by grit, grime and sweat.