A group exhibition at Air de Paris celebrates the ubiquitous pigeon
By Kate Mothes
In the late French filmmaker Jean Painlevé’s (1902-1989) final directorial project, a short called Les Pigeons du Square released in 1982, a man sits on a bench in a Parisian park and talks to a group of children about pigeons. He discusses how they look, their courting and mating rituals, how they take off and land, and the way they eat. For decades, Painlevé explored the natural world through filmic experiments of zoological and biological phenomena, often focusing on the coastline and sea. In this final contribution, he turns the lens on himself, and on a creature whose presence is variously interpreted as exasperating, benign, or delightful. Running parallel to a retrospective of the filmmaker’s work opening at Jeu de Pomme next month, Air de Paris presents a group exhibition teeming with the ubiquitous birds.
Interactions with Surrealists in the 1920s like Jacques-André Boiffard, Fernand Léger, and Alexander Calder influenced Painlevé’s approach to scientific documentation that took the shape of immersive, dreamlike film sequences that cast new light on familiar creatures and environments. Working collaboratively with his partner Geneviève Hamon, along with scientists, writers, and photographers like Christiane d’Hôtel, he produced dozens of works, and his extensive filmography continues to influence contemporary artistic practice.
Les Pigeons du Square is a poetic exhibition that leans naturally in the direction of photography and video, sympathetic to its muse, and features more than twenty artists. Alongside prints and film, a selection of mixed media sculptures wryly evoke the awkward scrappiness of these beady-eyed beings, which range from a lifelike acrylic baguette by Rémy Drouard, to a series of plastic pigeons outfitted in various pieces of detritus by Maïa Lacoustille, to the winged-looking Wu Tang Clan symbol woven by François Curlet.
An 18-minute film documenting a performance by German artist Thomas Gelger posits that ‘We talk a lot about public space and its various concepts, but we always look at this space from a human perspective and with our demands and ideals. […] How does the pigeon experience this space? What does it think about our concepts, ideas, and how we deal with this space? And what advice does it have for us?’
Nature documentaries afford us the opportunity to examine our environment through the lens of science and social commentary, often providing insights into our surroundings world that go unnoticed in our daily routines. The exhibition is in itself a sequence of different perspectives in which each artist provides a unique narrative, a variation on the theme. Positioned as a dialogue ‘after and with’ Jean Painlevé, the exhibition is a playful romp around the city streets and a close inspection of the surprisingly beguiling history and lives of—and attitudes toward—these common creatures.
Les Pigeons du Square (d’après et avec Jean Painlevé) et autres oiseaux is on view at Air de Paris through July 30. Jean Painlevé at Jeu de Paume opens June 8 and continues through September 18.
Header image: Vincent Gernot, Lignes de pigeons, 2019, video, 3min, 43 sec, loop. Edition of 3 © Vincent Gernot. Images courtesy of Air de Paris.
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