At first blush, the avian specimen looks vaguely familiar: The telltale hunch in its ample beak suggests a dodo, that flightless bird that was essentially destroyed by its own discovery. But closer inspection reveals a familiar dove-shaped gray-and-white body and spindly legs. The realization: This isn’t a dodo at all!—it’s a pigeon masquerading as one.
Created by artist Laurel Roth, this costumed fowl belongs to a series called, “The Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons,” which also features a Carolina parakeet, a passenger pigeon, and an ivory-billed woodpecker—all extinct species. It’s just one in a collection of work that examines the relationship between humans and our environment. More specifically, Roth explorers how, as we modify ourselves, we also influence—or even emulate—the biology around us. A series of peacocks fashioned from beauty products, for example, “borrow human mating plumage,” perhaps revealing how our flamboyant efforts to be noticed by others are a (less natural?) twist on nature’s.
Three years ago, Roth quit her job as a park ranger in Marin County, California to pursue art fulltime. Yet, she stills spends time in nature, removing invasive species and restoring habitat on 3.5 acres of second growth redwoods and riparian willows that she owns with several friends. The California quails, black-capped chickadeeds, and acorn and pileated woodpeckers she sees on the land afford ample opportunity to foster her budding interest in birds.
Below, Roth addresses a few questions about her work.
Where did the “The Biodiversity Suits for Urban Pigeons” idea come from?
These pigeons are my response to a variety of things, one of which is the interesting tendency of humans to despise wild animals that adapt most readily to us (pigeons, rats, roaches) and revere those that don't adapt (endangered or extinct animals being a prime example). This is, of course, an oversimplification. It's also my attempt to pad the heartbreak of extinction with a little bit of humor but without denying the issue. There's more to it than either of those explanations, but I can't say where exactly the idea came from - mostly just looking at the state of the natural world and the way we live in it and wishing that making everything better were as easy as slipping a crocheted suit onto a pigeon and pretending that extinction hadn't happened.
Where do you get the materials for your peacocks?
The peacocks use about 1,000-1,500 false fingernails that I usually get through eBay and paint with nail polish sometimes donated by OPI; 1,500-2,000 barrettes either from eBay or donations of older styles from Scunci; and second hand jewelry that I buy through estate sales in bulk (also through eBay). The bases are partially recycled wood.
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How should people interpret these works?
I hope that people enjoy my work and find their own messages, but that my appreciation for the animal world comes across and is shared. It seems to get easier and easier to pretend that we are the only ones on the planet that matter, and that makes me very sad. By comparing beauty products to mating plumage or dressing up pigeons as tongue-in-cheek environmental commentary, my hope is to encourage people to remember that they are part of a larger world.