Next time you’re walking through the East Village, take a moment to look up at the skies over Tompkins Square Park. You might just spot Anton van Dalen’s flock of snow-white pigeons. The artist, who first learned to rear the birds at the age of 12, is one of the few remaining pigeon keepers in Lower Manhattan.
A core component of the artist’s iconography, van Dalen’s birds have primarily stood as symbols for migration, freedom, and community. Other works such as “B.F. Skinner with Project Pigeon” (1986) focus on humanity’s fraught relationship with nature. B.F. Skinner, the father of radical behaviorism, attempted to devise a pigeon-guided missile during World War II. Dubbed “Project Pigeon,” the program sought to harness positive reinforcement techniques in order to train birds to peck at images of military targets.