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‘Pigeon Fanciers’ at Sett Studios (EXHIBITION REVIEW)

When one thinks about pigeons, perhaps beautifully handcrafted odes and intricately sculpted memorialisation’s don’t immediately spring to mind. At Sett Studios on Leith Walk, however, the pigeon is at long last thoughtfully imagined in a multitude of contexts a true ‘pigeon themed love affair’.

A memorial

The exhibition, created by contemporary art graduate Isabelle Phoebe, is an ode to the under-appreciated urban pigeon. As well as an exploration of the practice of Pigeon Fancying (breeding and keeping domestic pigeons) the show becomes a heartfelt memorial to pigeons we too often see dead on pavements. It was these dead pigeons that inspired the curation of the show, as Phoebe states that they force us to confront death right in front of us, as opposed to from a distance or on a screen.

‘Cherishing’ by Dan Rong (Angel) immortalises a dead pigeon she saw on the street in ceramic – making the grotesque form into a fine sculpture – almost evoking a white dove. In the same space, William Sherval’s ‘Resting Peacefully’ places the dead pigeon on the ground in a pose strikingly similar to Christ on the cross. There is something to be said about the time, effort, and skill that goes into creating pieces that capture a being that we so often look away from, and so often disregard. In this show, we are forced to confront our own discomfort regarding the animal, its proximity to us, and our neglect of its wellbeing.

Inspired by what’s nearby

An open call for pigeon-related art received over one hundred responses, exceeding expectations and exemplifying the fact that artists seem to be drawn to the little birds. Certainly, for an artist to work ‘en plein air’ in cities such as Glasgow or Edinburgh, pigeons demand to be involved.

As Phoebe says, ‘artists are inspired by what’s nearby’, with pigeons being both incredibly common, and one of the only animals that tend to roam our streets.

The show itself seems to bring about a sense of unity amongst those who see the animal as underappreciated and wrongfully scorned. Simply the name ‘Pigeon Fanciers’, although the technical term for pigeon keepers, is ‘funny and cheeky’ Phoebe says, laughing. With an opening featuring performance art by Kat Stanley and art by Nigel the Pet Pigeon, ‘funny and cheeky’ is certainly one undeniable theme of the show. The show also included a pigeon spotting/zine making workshop and a film screening, inviting viewers to access the show in a more interactive way.

Wonderfully kitsch

‘Lovebird’ by chris timmins is a hot pink textile hanging, adorned in sequins and inspired by vintage valentines cards. The piece is wonderfully kitsch and charmingly cute -inspiring Phoebe to lean into the love that people have for the pigeon, taking advantage of the soft spot that they occupy in many of our hearts. We all love an underdog, after all.

If art is designed to induce an emotional reaction in the viewer, Pigeon Fanciers brings joy. Phoebe states; ‘art I’ve made before has been about processing quite difficult topics. To make a show that was just joyful, especially in the world we’re living in today, was something that was really important to me. I really wanted to approach all the work with love and care’.

The exhibition certainly fills a void we didn’t know existed, while Sett Studios continues to provide a hub for some of the most unique creators in Scotland’s art scene.

‘Pigeon Fanciers’, curated by Isabelle Phoebe, took place from the 23rd March to 27th March at Sett Studios on 127 Leith Walk.

Photo Credit: Piegon Fanciers

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