“Seth Weiner,” Artillery Magazine, June/July.Vol. 7 Issue 2.
A GROUP OF HOMING PIGEONS HAVE TAKEN UP RESIDENCE AT Venice 6114, an experimental exhibition space in Culver City. These birds, housed in a wooden coop built into the façade of the gallery, play a key role in the artist Seth Weiner’s recent project, “Twitter Carrier Pigeons,” curated by Sergio Bromberg. For this work Weiner affixed each pigeon with a custom-built device linked to specific twitter accounts primarily tweeting news from places of conflict and revolt, most often in the Middle East. Weiner then followed these pigeons as they made their journey from the Pacific Coast Highway along the 10 Freeway towards a coop in Alhambra, passing six electronic highway signs along the way. When the pigeons flew within 10 to 15 feet of an electronic freeway sign the most recent tweet on their assigned twitter account appeared in “amber alert” capital letters, for everyone to see.
The resulting documentation of Weiner’s intervention appears as large framed photographs in the gallery, each mounted on singular walls erected specifically for this exhibition. One particularly quizzical photo captures a sign stating: TO MEDIA: PLEASE CONTACT YOUR SOURCES IN #DAMASCUS. As if to literalize the pigeons’ journey, the artist has divided the gallery down the middle with a narrow waist-high wall holding a topographical rendering of the 10 Freeway, complete with miniature freeway signs. Additionally, the backside of each small wall holds vinyl text and archival photos about the history of messenger pigeons, along with photos of people who appear to be smuggling objects and information. One text tells of a North African caliph who had pigeons bring him single cherries in silk bags from Lebanon, creating the first “parcel post.” The exhibition’s design resembles a didactic museum display, something intended to educate and inspire further investigation.
While Weiner’s process itself inspires “how’d he do that” interest, the work is much more than a tech gimmick. People have hacked electronic road signs before; the instructions are available on the web, and a simple search reveals signs altered to display funny messages like “ZOMBIES AHEAD.” But Weiner’s intervention is different. The fact that the artist had no control over which specific tweets would appear on the highway signs helps to bypass discussions of individual wittiness, and instead allows the work to engage with the urgency of its site, the freeway sign itself. In placing politically engaged twitter feeds into a very public setting on the relay mechanisms designed to alert us to emergencies, accidents and crimes in our immediate vicinity, Weiner’s project directs our attention to larger more pressing questions of how and where news and information reaches us, and calls attention to voices that are often ignored or dismissed in favor of more “authoritative” sources. With Weiner’s work we see a critical investigation into the fragility and urgency of communication, and the desire to share pressing and important information. If truly revolutionary art has engaged with politicizing the overlooked and mundane as well as meeting people where they least expect it, then Weiner’s work succeeds to great effect.