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Fly By Night (London) 

(Co-presented by the London International Festival of Theatre, 1418NOW, Greenwich-Docklands International Festival, Peabody in Thamesmead, The Borough of Bexley & Cross Ness Pumping Station June 20—June 23rd, 2018)

Naval Pilot Russel F. Riley, 1916

Naval Pilot Russel F. Riley, 1916

I come from a military family.  I grew up hearing stories about my grandfather, who flew bi-planes over Europe during World War I at the age of 15.  Around the time that I was regaled with these stories of heroes in service, I happened to adopt an injured pigeon.  In my quest for knowledge of pigeons, I learned of their unsung heroic past. Pigeons have delivered messages during times of war since the beginning of civilization, however, the technological advances leading up to WWI, as well as its unprecedented scale, led to a militarization of the pigeon, the likes of which the world had never seen.   Pigeons participated in all branches of the military.  They constituted the main ship-to-shore communication, were deployed with pilots, and mobile pigeon coops were a boon to the choreography of trench warfare.    

 The thousands-strong ranks of military pigeons in turn saved thousands of human lives and influenced key moments of the conflict.  The most famous was Cher Ami, a homing pigeon donated by British pigeon fanciers.  She lost a leg and an eye in battle yet still delivered the message that saved hundreds of lives. 

Fly By Night London Pigeon Lofts on the River Thames, Inspired by WWI Mobile Pigeon Lofts. Photo by Will Star

Fly By Night London Pigeon Lofts on the River Thames, Inspired by WWI Mobile Pigeon Lofts. Photo by Will Star

 As developments in communication caught up with the advancements in firepower and mobility, the war pigeon gradually became obsolete and its service was ultimately forgotten. 

 One hundred years later, we once again find ourselves in a time where technological evolution is rapidly changing our lives. These changes are ubiquitous in both our engagements in war, as well as the way we live our lives in times of relative peace.

Conflicting nations increasingly besieging each other with cyber warfare and hacking perhaps brings the perceived obsolescence of carrier pigeons into question. As peoples’ day-to-day lives become more engulfed in cyber technologies, they become further disconnected from both the history that came before them and from the natural world that surround them.  Attaching LED lights to these pigeons draws attention to the beauty and intelligence of these animals, and to their service to mankind that so often goes unnoticed. 

Sometimes the obscure and untold stories of unknown heroes of a celebrated historical event are the ones most important to tell.

Fly By Night London is my tribute to these forgotten heroes.

Fly By Night London, 2018

Fly By Night London, 2018

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