some pigeons are more equal than others

The artist, writer and composer Lord Berners was born on this day in 1883, and while you’re wondering what rare metal might be appropriate for a 129th birthday, I thought you might be interested in an example of Berners-style surrealism rematerialising in the present day.

One of the eccentric baron’s more eye-catching wheezes was to dye the white pigeons on his Faringdon estate, such that guests would be greeted by a flutter of rainbow-hued wings on arrival. They accompanied Berners in his transformation from real life to his fictional persona, Lord Merlin, as Mark Amory explains in Lord Berners: The Last Eccentric:

In The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford in a few words described the single creation for which Berners remains best known: ‘[there was] a flock of multi-coloured pigeons tumbling about like a cloud of confetti in the sky’. The heroine, told that they are dyed each year on Easter Sunday and dried in the linen cupboard, objects, as any such heroine would, but is reassured that they soon learn to keep their eyes shut. In fact they were dyed monthly with harmless vegetable dyes and had masks to put over their heads.

Later we learn that less mentally agile visitors “often asked for eggs, hoping the brilliant hues would be inherited,” and that further extreme makeover recipients included “some swans, a duck and a white poodle.”

For this year’s architectural Biennale in Venice, artists Julian Charrière and Julius von Bismarck performed a similar trick, giving La Serenissima’s menacing columbiformes a Columbine makeover under the title some pigeons are more equal than others. It followed a previous piece in which Copenhagen pigeons were recoated using an automatic rooftop spraying device. The above image comes from Julian Charrière’s website; see more here (with the Faringdon pigeons below for comparison).

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4 comments

  1. The animal lover in me winces, but they’re gorgeous. This practice is also still alive in NYC, albeit with slightly less glamour, more grit:
    http://lunarcamelco.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/brief-blog-post-infested-with-pink-rats/

    • As someone who loves, lives with and refuses to eat animals I’m very sensitive to cruelty but I really don’t think the pigeons suffered. Certainly not as much as the psyche of someone stoned out of their gourd seeing a pink rat running around…

      • I suppose you’re right; I’ve dyed my own hair every possible shade over the years. Never via a suprise dunking, but the process itself is painless.

  2. Pingback: Lady Ottoline Morrell | photographic portraits « Strange Flowers

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