Lofty Tone’s Column
Tony Allen on dead pigeons and other sculptures
Squall 9, Jan/Feb 1995, pg. 37.
I’m not one to nick the artistic inspiration of others but there are times….
It all started in late October. I was off to visit a bunch of squatters in Hackney who had offered to throw open their doors for an all night chill out party after the SQUALL benefit gig at the Hackney Empire. On my way to Ladbroke Grove tube station I noticed a hand-written sign on Portobello Precinct: “Don’t feed the pigeons - they are vermin.”
“They’re just flying rats,” a local trader explains to a session musician as they both lunchbreak on take-aways from the nearby wholefood and Italian delis. It’s an alfresco canteen, the precinct, and the fat vermin pigeons clean up on a regular basis.
I think a little more about it until two hours later when I’m opposite Hackney Town Hall in an ex-Sally Army hostel, now a squatted art gallery, viewing some enormous skeletal bird-like sculpture made out of old rubber tubing. At its feet in a glass-fronted case are the clean white skeletons of two pigeons, immaculately intact.
Impoverished artists tend to use available materials for their creations, and many of London’s long-term empty buildings - mere gambling chips in the property booms between recessions - are littered with the spindly remains of ex-pigeons. I’m reminded of the image of a crucifix made entirely of pigeon skeletons I’d seen earlier in the year, casually exhibited on a staircase at Artillery Mansions. A pertinent artistic statement - irrefutable evidence of the obscene neglect. That particular squat’s most recent human residents (a firm of property consultants) had vacated the sixth floor in 1973, but on the eighth floor I was shown a large four bedroomed flat occupied only by those flying rats and their decomposing parents, and generations of their ancestors, and of course piles and piles of their shit rising like stalagmites from the floor beneath a sturdy guano-encrusted curtain rail.
Back in Hackney they’re draping a banner across the front of the building; “Spikey Thing with Curves” it reads. Is it a contribution to the Spikey Vs Fluffy debate or a nod of acknowledgement to those flying vermin who seem to have such an easy time of it, getting food in their bellies and a roof over their heads?
A week or so later I’m on agit prop duty at the Kensington Gardens, one-day, political show squat; a block of 50 empty flats opposite the Royal Residence of Kensington Palace. I’ve shared my obsession with fellow activists who have promptly presented me with my very own Spikey Thing with Curves - a pigeon skeleton with outstretched wings. A fine specimen, probably lived on lasagne from Portobello Precinct - only a couple of miles away as the portly pigeon flies. Within half an hour it is mounted, framed and being exhibited outside on Kensington Gore to the passing rush hour crowds: “Sole resident 1989-94."
The following day the place is boarded up, our posters ripped down, our banners gone and our artwork doubtless in the vaults of some shrewd Bond Street dealer waiting for a nineties retro at the ICA.
Here's more from Tony Allen...
Reformist's Revolution - A rant from Tony Allen. Letter published in Squall 8, Autumn 1994..