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The Future is Pigeon

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Kelly Reynolds, Pigeon (video still), 2019. Courtesy the artist. (1)

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The future is pigeon. I am going to embody Back to The Future’s Marty McFly and jump into the DeLorean time machine. We enter the target date 1969, accelerate to 88 miles per hour, activate the flux capacitor then burst into bright light as we achieve temporal displacement.

We have arrived amidst the space-pissing-race between the Russians and Americans. NASA has just launched human spacecraft Apollo 10 with three astronauts on-board. The mission’s main objective is to rehearse the steps and reproduce the events of the upcoming Apollo 11 Lunar Landing mission, with the exception of the touchdown. On board, astronaut Eugene Cernan is given a video camera to transmit the first-ever live colour television transmission back to Earth for the people watching at home.

Problems arose a few days into the mission when the spacecraft failed to go into Gimbal lock mode. This sent Apollo 10 into a chaotic spin during which the crew experienced total radio blackout for two hours. The crew had no idea where they were or how they were going to get back home. In this tense environment, Cernan continued to roll the camera. What he captured was a white, fast-moving object, passing below the module. It was at the precise moment of the object’s passing that the spacecraft regained control and all forms of communication were restored.

NASA has a code for these occurrences. They call them ‘Moon Pigeons’. Appearing blue and white in colour, Moon Pigeons are often out of focus and blink in and out of visibility. It is unsure whether these extra-terrestrial birds help astronauts, or try to get rid of them. Previous missions and other astronauts such as Neil Armstrong have experienced Moon Pigeons. It seems that there is a flock up there.

Pigeons are out there, but so are humans. Biologists describe this co-existence as synanthropic meaning ‘together with man’. In true Darwinian fashion, pigeons have adapted their habits to match our own. Pigeons stalk among commuters, coax park visitors into feeding them and scavenge the waste humans leave behind.(2) They are the quintessential urban bird. As a ground dweller, pigeons feel the slightest vibrations through their feet and, descended from rock pigeons, they are sensitive to atmospheric air pressure and can detect natural disasters and chaos in advance. Pigeons flee from earthquakes and even predict the weather, instinctively taking shelter. As well as dealing with Moon Pigeons, NASA is growing gardens in space and as the earth warms up, we might end up living up there. But in the meantime on Earth, follow the pigeons.

Spaceships launch from the upright position. Pigeons too are born to do this and are one of the rare few birds to be able to fly in a straight upwards position from the ground. They are the ultimate natural born flying machine. Their wings keep them in the air, moving forward and manoeuvring. On the downstroke, pigeons can signal impeding danger using noisy wings, not voices, to alert the flock. As they flap faster the alarm signal increases in tempo. Listen to the pigeons.

In an impending climate disaster, when all else fails and turns to Astronaut piss: follow the pigeons. Pigeons are messengers, they remember their way out and can find their way home, easily adapting to a brave new world. In Noah’s Ark, pigeons led the way to dry land. Follow the pigeon. The future is pigeon.