Can Animals Be Art? Meet Venice's Painted Pigeons

Two artists air brushed a bunch of pigeons (with apparently non-harmful paints) and released the colorful creations in St. Mark’s Square.

Urbanites—Venetians in particular—know pigeons as omnipresent pests. But this week, festival-goers in Venice saw the city birds as bright and bold works of art.

This year, at the Venice Biennale, Swiss artist Julian Charriere and German-born Julius von Bismarck, who was the first artist in residence at CERN, executed a project called (in a nod to Orwell) "Some Pigeons Are More Equal Than Others" whereby they spray-painted pigeons and released them in the city.

The pigeons were made-over using a conveyor belt-like mechanism that the artists first tested on a rooftop in Copenhagen. Turquoise, fuchsia, and other intense tones were spotted around St. Mark’s Square this week, replacing the familiar gray coloration of these well-known residents of Venice and cities everywhere.

Charriere told Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that the spray-painting was employed "without any danger to the animals."

Maybe so, but though undeniably interesting, the exhibit walks an uneasy ethical line. What do you think? Are animals a suitable canvas?

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  • Frances

    I love it! First, I am a vegetarian and an animal lover who opposes unethical treatment of animals in all its forms. AND, I also have experience in this department. I had a white rat as a pet when I was a child. Contrary to popular belief, he was hyper clean and fastidious and did not mind one bit when I dyed him different colors (using non-toxic dyes, of course). The most interesting part of this (and that) experience is that it is evocative of the deep instinct that all humans of all ethnicities have to adorn themselves like animals--especially women. We paint ourselves like peacocks, wear colorful clothing, dye our hair, adorn our bodies with jewelry and tattoos. No matter where you come from, your culture does this in one way or another. And in many cultures (from India to Pamplona), animals are adorned and revered for what they tell us about US. Love it, love it, love it.

  • Andressa Nozue

    What about painting those "artists" mothers? If they ever had one, of course...

  • Farley

    Seeing pink, blue and green pigeons makes a bird-eating omnivore like me think about the ethical treatment of animals in a way that, say, eating a chicken leg does not. If that was the artists' goal -- mission accomplished. 
    Then again, if their goal was just to make some cool looking pigeons -- they scored on that front, too. 
    From a bird's eye view, I suppose it's better to be painted (presumably unharmed) alive and flying freely than unpainted, dead and my lunch. 

  • Guest

    I think we should paint the artists, instead of the pigeons, just to see if they get traumatized walking around in green or pink for many weeks! I hope some animal protection group speaks up.

  • Guest

    If the individual is unable to consent, then consent must never be assumed; of course it isn't okay to paint birds.

  • Chillubi

    I would like to know wich predators pigeons have? ;D Especially in the city... And they only painted a couple. Come on people it's not like they painted puppies!

  • goriginal

    Pigeons are no more than flying rats (think about what they eat!)  I think banksy used cows as canvas.  And of course, the cows weren't forthcoming with their answers -- maybe they agreed, maybe they didn't?  Regardless, I think it is brilliant and has given a bigger sense of purpose to the birds.  Bravo!

  • 72dpi

    Fascinating that anyone could think that what an animal eats, what habits it have, or how it looks for that sake, has anything to do with its value regarding mistreatment.

    Ethically, a being's perception of pain, suffering and unhappiness is the most important factors regarding how we treat them.

  • astralislux

    The green ones actually exist in nature in Africa -- forest pigeons are beautiful.

  • bananaboat

    This seems wrong to me. Exploiting animals, once again.

    So, what? You paint these animals unnatural colors, making them an easy target to their predators. You're PAINTING on their feathers - what happens when they're preening themselves? Are they ingesting the paint?

    When exactly does this paint come off? What's the paint made out of? 

    Come on now!
    Animals are not a canvas.

  • Hala

    I listened to this story on the radio this morning while driving to work, right before finding it here as well. The radio host reading the story made it sound all light and airy, but I couldn't get rid of a nagging feeling that something was just not right.

    My answer is no. Animals shouldn't be painted on for our viewing pleasure.

  • Susan

    Looks cool, but who asked the pigeons? Suppose they get attacked by fellow birds for having the "wrong" colors? I certainly wouldn't like to have my body spray-painted without my permission.

  • Kevin

    It's always harmless when done to others. Mr Charriere and von Bismarck should just stick to spray painting to their own skin.

  • Writer_Dave

    I'd rather see (non-harmfully) painted pigeons than corporate branded homeless people being used as mobile wifi hotspots.

  • Rupesh

    I agree when someone commented "does it make them more vulnerable to predators"