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Pigeonblog was a collaborative endeavor between homing pigeons, artists, engineers and pigeon fanciers engaged in a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative designed to collect and distribute information about air quality conditions to the general public. Pigeons carried custom-built miniature air pollution sensing devices enabled to send the collected localized information to an online server without delay. Pollution levels were visualized and plotted in real-time over Google’s mapping environment, thus allowing immediate access to the collected information to anyone with connection to the Internet.
Pigeonblog was an attempt to combine DIY electronics development with a grassroots scientific data gathering initiative, while simultaneously investigating the potentials of interspecies co-production in the pursuit of resistant action. How could animals help us in raising awareness to social injustice? Could their ability in performing tasks and activities that humans simply can’t be exploited in this manner, while maintaining a respectful relationship with the animals?
Pigeonblog was developed and implemented in the southern California region, which ranks among the top-ten most polluted regions in the country. Pigeonblog’s aim was 1) to re-invoke urgency around a topic that has serious health consequences, but lacks public action and commitment to change; 2) to broaden the notion of a citizen science while building bridges between scientific research agendas and activist oriented citizen concerns; and 3) to develop mutually positive work and play practices between situated human beings and other animals in technoscientific worlds.
When thinking of pigeons, people tend to think of the many species found in urban environments. Often referred to as “flying rats,” these birds and their impressive ability to adapt to urban landscapes isn’t always seen in a favorable light by their human co-habitants. At least by association then, PigeonBlog attempted to start a discussion about possible new forms of co-habitation in our changing urban ecologies and made visible an already existing world of human-pigeon interaction. At a time where species boundaries are being actively reconstructed on the molecular level, a re-investigation of human to non-human animal relationships is necessary.
Pigeonblog was inspired by a famous photograph of a pigeon carrying a camera around its neck taken at the turn of the twentieth century. This technology, developed by the German engineer Julius Neubronner for military applications, allowed photographs to be taken by pigeons while in flight. A small camera was set on a mechanical timer to take pictures periodically as pigeons flew over regions of interest, Currently on display in the Deutsche Museum in Munich, these cameras were functional, but never served their intended purpose of assisted spy technology during wartime. Nevertheless, this early example of using living animals as participants in early surveillance technology systems provoked the following questions: What would the twenty-first century version of this combination look like? What types of civilian and activist applications could it be used for?
Facilities emitting hazardous air pollutants are frequently sited in, or routed through, low-income and “minority” dominated neighborhoods, thereby putting the burden of related health and work problems on already disadvantaged sectors of the population who have the least means and legal recourse (particularly in the case of non-citizens) to defend themselves against this practice. Recent studies also revealed that air pollution levels in the Los Angeles and Riverside counties region are of high enough magnitude to directly affect children’s health and development.
With homing pigeons serving as the “reporters” of current air pollution levels, Pigeonblog attempted to create a spectacle provocative enough to spark people’s imagination and interests in the types of action that could be taken in order to reverse this situation. Activists’ pursuits can often have a normalizing effect rather than one that inspires social change. Circulating information on “how bad things are” can easily be lost in our daily information overload. It seems that artists are in the perfect position to invent new ways in which information is conveyed and participation inspired. The pigeons became my communicative objects in this project and “collaborators” in the co-production of knowledge.
Full Pigeonblog statement: pigeonstatement
Beatriz da Costa (June 11, 1974 – December 27, 2012) was an interdisciplinary artist known for her work at the intersection of contemporary art, science, engineering, and politics. Her projects took the form of public interventions and workshops, conceptual tool building, and critical writing
Beatriz da Costa was a co-founder with Jaime Schulte and Brooke Singer of Preemptive Media, and a former collaborator of Critical Art Ensemble (CAE). She also created work on her own, with a special interest in the intersections of art, science, engineering, and politics. Da Costa’s artwork took whatever form served it best, including robotics, micro-electronics, installation, sculpture, performance, interactivity, net art, photography, and video. She experimented with the use of biological materials and organisms in her artistic interventions and was intent on using these interspecies projects to promote the responsible use of natural resources and environmental sustainability. Da Costa and her collaborators frequently engaged the public by running workshops that translated challenging new technical and scientific developments into something accessible to a more general public.
Some of her better-known projects include Swipe, Zapped, and Air (Preemptive Media); Molecular Invasion, Free Range Grains, GenTerra (CAE), and Pigeonblog. Da Costa exhibited at venues including dOCUMENTA (13), Eyebeam (New York), the Andy Warhol Museum, the Centro Andaluz de Arte Contemporáneo in Sevilla (Spain), the Zentrum für Kunst und Medien (Germany), the Museum of Contemporary Art, (Serbia), Exit Art Gallery (New York), Cornerhouse (Manchester, UK), A Foundation (London, UK), Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts (Montreal), John Hansard Gallery (Southampton, UK, and the Natural History Museum, London.
Writing was also an important part of her practice, and she co-edited the 2008 MIT Press anthology Tactical Biopolitics: Art, Activism, and Technoscience with UC Irvine professor of history Kavita Philip.
Da Costa continued to work up until her death, producing a range of projects addressing her cancer and advocating an “‘alternative’ approach to healing” through healthy and preventative eating. Her late works include “The Cost of Life,” a Creative Capital-supported project, The Endangered Species Finder and Memorial for the Still Living (commissioned by Arts Catalyst, London), The Life Garden and Dying for the Other (with Eyebeam Art and Technology Center, New York), and The Delicious Apothecary. “The Anti-Cancer Survival Kit”, part of The Cost of Life, was funded in part through a Rockethub campaign.