I've been asked by a few people what the Pigeon Project is all about. Well maybe art is like jokes; if you have to explain it, it can't be that good. But I'll try to explain it anyway.
There are several facets to the Ħamiema project. It is, on the surface, described as a participatory project. But the method of participation, and what is asked of participants, is quite strange, so it’s not likely that anyone will actually take part. In fact (in case it’s not already obvious), most of the uploads on the project’s social media page purporting to be from members of the public, are, in fact, from non-existent participants, drawn from a non-existent community. The project describes itself as a community project, but then it calls on all of the ‘citizens of Malta’ to participate; such a broad call, that is scarcely conducive to community-building.
This element of 'non-participation' is a reaction to the recent profusion of community- or participatory- art projects calling for participants; where are all these participants to come from, and why should they take part? In her essay Your organization sucks at “community” and let me tell you why, Rhonia Holmes describes a certain amount of soul-searching that arts organisations should go through, in order to answer the statement in her title. One challenge, she says, is “the arrogance of believing that these communities want or need or should invest in these offerings.” (2016). The Ħamiema project is, in its way, that arrogant community project; participants should take part because they are asked to, and not because this is a long-term grass-roots project with their interests at heart.
Today, in 2018, the project also serves as an exercise in observing a side-effect of the gentrification of the city of Valletta. A few years ago, when the project was first conceived, dead pigeons were two-a-penny in some areas of the city. These days, it’s not easy to find enough material for the project’s social-media page! Are pigeons, then, a casualty of the city’s rapid clean-up? Do they get swept up as soon as their demise occurs? Or have they moved on, and if so, to where?
The Ħamiema project is really a comment on how lightly we can see death on the street without turning a hair. Pigeons are not small birds; they’re big, bloody and meaty. When they’re run over they make a sound, and when they’re left on the street, they make for quite gorey viewing. And yet, nobody seems to mind side-stepping around a bloody flattened carcass. No tears are shed, no children’s eyes are covered. It’s our mortality right there in front of us on the street, but nobody seems to notice.
The call ends with the statement that the citizens of Malta do not have much respect for each other. (For once, Malta is ahead of the curve - we’ve been rude for angry for centuries, but the Guardian’s only just caught up.) So I suppose, what the project’s saying here, is that if we can’t be civil to each other, we could at least, pause in our day for these pigeons.
So that’s it; non-participation, animal rights, and some pigeon trivia, all rolled into one. Make sure you download the template and keep your eyes peeled!