Lyndall Phelps: The Pigeon Archive

The Pigeon Archive, 2007/08. Photo by Richard Davies and Ståle Eriksen Shows pigeon being released carrying a message tube on its back.


4 July - 30 August 2009

Artist Lyndall Phelps’ exhibition The Pigeon Archive, documented the re-enactment of pigeon manoeuvres undertaken during both World Wars, through photographs, film and other paraphernalia.

In the Second World War it was recommended that every military aircraft leaving Britain carry two pigeons in case of emergency. If the plane was shot down, pigeons were dispatched carrying the survivor’s coordinates for rescue. Homing pigeons were also parachuted behind enemy lines in order to retrieve crucial information on enemy manoeuvres for the British and Allied Forces. Some even carried miniature cameras to document military sites behind enemy lines. Large numbers of pigeons lost their lives through starvation, exhaustion, being killed by the enemy or exposure to harsh elements on homing flights, In developing her work for the exhibition, Phelps was particularly interested in the procedures that inhibited or denied their natural behaviour. These included restricting the birds’ wing movement by strapping their bodies with elastic harnessing before parachuting them from planes.

The first of three series of photographs Phelps created for this exhibition captured pigeons in flight wearing cardboard tube message carriers on their back. The second saw pigeons descending through the air, bound and attached to parachutes. The third referenced the unlikely union of pigeons being transported, bound and incapable of flight, within the large, mechanical flying machines, Lancaster Bombers. ‘Just Jane’, the Lancaster Bomber at the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre, formed the backdrop for these photographs.

Phelps also devised a miniature video camera holder for pigeons to wear, resulting in a ‘pigeon’s-eye-view’ film over the Cambridgeshire countryside which was shown as part of the exhibition, which paid tribute to these unsung and unusual heroes.

To coincide with The Pigeon Archive, there was a related offsite event, a special pigeon race in Campbell Park, central Milton Keynes on Saturday 18 July. As part of the race, Lyndall Phelps released pigeons with video cameras strapped to their bodies, to document the race. The resulting footage was shown in the Gallery’s Resource Area.

Exhibition and pigeon race supported by the Royal Pigeon Racing Association, Bletchley Park Trust and The Parks Trust, Milton Keynes.

Press Release