The Protest Pigeon was attempting to represent the everyday citizen and responded to the numerous global and local protests post Trump and the Australian ‘yes’ vote. Rebecca Solnit , the author/activist had just re-released her book , Hope in The Dark, as a response to Trump's Presidency. It speaks of the power in hope and I quoted her description of hope in my Fringe piece. She describes hope as,
"an embrace of the unknown and unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists...It is the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things you can know beforehand."
I loved this inspiring quote as it reminds us that there is a power in hope and that the individual can make a difference. In light of the Trump Presidency and the need to have a 'Yes' vote in Australia, these words captured an uncertainty I had felt.
So, in my Protest Pigeon piece I wanted to present a certain ambivalence around the notion of protesting and democracy and simultaneously highlight the power of the individual citizen. I am questioning the actual real powers of democracy …is this notion of democracy indeed somewhat impotent?
As an artist interested in notions of the carnivalesque, I talk of a revolution with a hint of the tongue in cheek. However, the revolution I guess I am referring to is the exploration of possibilities that sit outside of what we already have. I do think all possible alternatives that sit outside of our existing system should be explored. In Democracy and Other Neoliberalism Fantasies: communicative capitalism and left politics, J Dean, an American political philosopher states,
“real existing constitutional democracies privilege the wealthy. As they install, extend and protect neoliberal capitalism they exclude, exploit and oppress the poor all the while promising that everybody wins.’ (p76)
An acknowledgement of the flaws of democracy and indeed capitalism suggests to me, a need to explore and investigate all possible alternatives that exist outside of our existing reality as opposed to attempting to mend what already exists. Notions of a revolution in this context may not indeed be so far fetched.
Durational Piece at The State Library
This incursion outside the State Library of Victoria was intended as a durational piece yet I was asked rather angrily by security to leave the space after about 10 to 15 minutes. I was told it was not public property. Here unintentionally, I am making visible some of those invisible boundaries of public space.
Interestingly, I had spent extended periods flaneusing around this space without an issue with my last project as Flaneuse Fox and her turtle Croissant. I concluded that the protest sign of the protest pigeon is such a signifier of protest that being in this space became contentious with security.
Secondly, the fact that I wasn’t circulating through the space but rather standing in one place put my work at odds with the expectations of behavior in these ‘public’ sites.
There is both a power in the ridiculousness of asking a pigeon protesting about hope to leave the space, and also there is a power in work that does not read as the familiar protest may have. By creating protests that don’t read as protests, not only may I trespass in places others may not, but hopefully the public may be more receptive to the work….using humor and a space of the absurd to disarm and engage. I also like to think, that I have foregrounded Chantal Mouffe's notion of public space as a 'battleground', as I have revealed in this moment the space as a contested site.
After this experience, I began to think more consciously about how I might expose some of the invisible boundaries of public space.
This mini video captures some of the Protest Pigeons incursions. The triumphant moments were taken on the day the Yes vote numbers were revealed, with Melbourne city receiving the most yeses in the country.
The protest pigeon, was part of a larger body of work, The Blue Flaneuse, that I presented at the Melbourne Fringe Festival (2017) at the Abbotsford Convent. It took the form of an outdoor roving puppetry piece that I performed each weekend of the Festival.
The Blue Flaneuse is a part bird, part Mary Poppins and part ‘Dickensian’ character that observes the growing space between those that have and those that do not, within the contemporary city landscape. As a response to what is observed, the Blue Flaneuse offers up the poem by Emily Dickinson, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’ and explores the use of the bird as a metaphor for hope. The Protest Pigeon appears in the finale accompanied by a simple poem I had written.
by Zan Griffith
Rat with wings
Strolling the streets
Thing with feathers