Duke Riley And His Spectacle Of Birds Stop New Yor...

Duke Riley And His Spectacle Of Birds Stop New Yorkers In Their Tracks

Duke Riley continues to shock and amuse us with his most recent artistic statement, Fly by Night. The performance has been commissioned by Creative Time, and begins each evening at dusk from May 7th to June 12th at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. This public work is on view for free, with a reservation made through the Fly by Night website as there is limited admission. The performance begins when the birds launch out of an out-of-commission Vietnam era Navy boat, The Baylander, that has been repurposed as the bird’s stage, home, and launching point. Patrons watch from the bleachers, or from tapestries and stadium seats as a whistle is sounded, and the Pigeons launch from the boat to soar, sweep and dance through the night sky in synchronized movements. With small LED lights strapped to their feet, they create an other worldly experience for viewers. The birds, all pigeons but in an array of breeds, sizes and colors, dance through the air, creating swirls of light reminiscent of fire works. The birds have either been rescued, or borrowed from friends of the Artist who are part of the “pigeon community”.

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Still from “Fly Away Home: The Making of ‘Fly by Night,'” Photo: Jarrard Cole / Wall Street Journal

Riley notes that his “work addresses the prospect of residual but forgotten unclaimed frontiers on the edge and inside overdeveloped urban areas and their unsuspected autonomy.” So the Navy Yard, paired with pigeons as trained performance artists, seems to fit the bill. Informing his performance with history, Fly by Night was born when a friend gave Mr. Riley an old military manual on training pigeons for night missions. He notes that after receiving the book, he “put a light on one of the birds, and it made me think about what it would be like to see more of them.” During this first experiment he noticed that with the bird, and the light shining, “It was almost like this shooting star going across the skyline of Brooklyn.” He wanted to bring a beautiful visual experience to his city, and he did.

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“Fly by Night,” Duke Riley. Photo: Kathy Willens

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“Fly by Night,” Duke Riley. Photo: Lucas Jackson


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Rebecca is a native New Yorker with a passion for aesthetic beauty and a particular love for interior design. After earning her BA in Communications from The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., she landed in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where she resides today. She is a tea enthusiast and curious critter.