December 25th, 2015
'Please Do not Feed the Birds' was an ephemeral installation inspired by a residency I completed through the Artist Volunteer Center in 2014, 'Engaging Artists'. Over the course of six weeks, I, along with thirteen other residents, volunteered at various homeless organizations within the city and had weekly discussions about this important topic with arts activists, curators, and other prominent volunteers.
There are over 67,000 homeless people in New York City, according to the 2014 Annual Homeless Assessment Report. In response to this statistic, I created 67 cast glass pigeons and starlings and installed them in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village of Manhattan. The birds were then left in place, to be taken by viewers and passers-by. On the bottom of each individual bird was a QR code which links to this page.
I find a disconcerting correlation between the homeless and pigeons, as both are treated in very similar manners. People pass them by without a second glance, dislike them, and call them dirty and irritating. But if one takes the time to truly look at them, pigeons are actually quite beautiful, intelligent creatures. They are simply trying to survive in a harsh environment. You will often hear warnings such as ‘Don’t feed the birds, they won’t leave you alone’. The same individuals who say this will use a similar inflection when they speak of the homeless: ‘Don’t give them money, they won’t leave you alone.’ This is why I have chosen the pigeon as a representation of the homeless. Both are surviving in this urban landscape in a way that most of us could never imagine.
The poetry of the material, glass, was also vital to the concept of the piece, as it completely changed the way in which the viewers reacted to and handled the objects. In this way, it was not the 'art object' that was important, but the act of installing and giving away the work to the viewers. This in an important aspect to much of my artwork. It is about an issue larger than I am, and so it belongs not to me, but to the inhabitants of this city. Once viewers take the pieces home, they then serve as a physical reminder of what so many people do not have, and what we often take for granted- a place to call home.
You can find out more about the Artists Volunteer Center and the Engaging Artist Residency here.
This installation would not have been possible without support from the Puffin Foundation, who have my deepest gratitude.