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Brooklyn Street Art

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Martha Cooper And Adele Renault: Pigeon Fanciers In Moscow

Posted on August 30, 2018

BSA is in Moscow as curators of 50+ international artists in the Artmossphere Biennale 2018 for its 3rd edition called Street Art Wave. Till the end of the month we’ll working with a stellar cross section of people involved with Urban Art/Street Art/Graffiti at curious and fascinating intersections. We’re meeting with Street Artists, academics, collectors, gallerists, museum curators, organizers, and thoughtful pontificators of all sorts in studio, on the street, behind the scenes, and on display. Come with us!


As curators we were asked to write a text about Martha Cooper and Adele Renault and their collaborative project for the Artmossphere Biennale 2018 in Moscow. We think it is equally appropriate for the work in process photos here and the interviews BSA had with both:

“A perfectly paired duo of artist and photographer who each engage with Street Art from two distinctly different perspectives, this collaborative project puts the focus on a shared interest.

Adele Renault grew up in the Belgian Ardennes and at a very early age began traveling the world; sometimes solo, quickly developing an adept eye at studying places and people. A classically trained painter with a realistic style, she focuses her camera and her brushes on smaller details that may sometimes be overlooked but which add texture and rich interest to the mundane or unrecognized. With her beautifully realized portraits she is able to capture the depths of her subjects by the expression in their eyes, the details of lines on their face, and the candid innocent smile that flashes quickly.

However her love is with pigeons. Her pigeon paintings and murals give the oft-derided birds their rightful place in our cities where they are often considered pests that are equal to rats.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Teaming up with famed photographer Martha Cooper is a pure coup d’état. Ms. Cooper’s fame within the graffiti and Street Art community is legendary but her photographic interests are many. A documentarian and ethnographer, she grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, a US city that is famous for its once-thriving community of pigeon fanciers – and their elaborate coops. For Ms. Cooper the intersection of pigeons and their fanciers presents a fascinating and educational opportunity to capture with her lens the relationship between humans and their aviary friends in their habitats…the coops.

Ms. Cooper has been photographing pigeon coops in Baltimore and in New York where she currently lives – and in many other cities that she visits every year. For Artmossphere both Ms. Renault and Ms. Cooper have found a shared passion that drives them both even harder to create. Designing a site-specific environment and using locally found materials; both artists have trained their attention to the Russian tradition of painting pigeon coops. They hope that their installation respectfully represents the local culture and history while combining Adele’s paintings of pigeons and Martha’s photographs of the pigeon’s coops.”

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Pigeons were the original Internet, email, messenger. As carriers they were the quickest and most efficient way for people across cultures to communicate. Cooper and Renault have created the ultimate exhibit that ties together the themes of OFFLINE in a very local and global way. With Martha’s photographs of pigeons from over forty years and Adele’s uncanny ability to faithfully create the plumage and character of the bird over the last decade on city walls everywhere, the original message carriers are more than getting their due in Moscow.

BSA: Yesterday at the round table discussion someone made the connection between this show being “Offline” and pigeons carrying messages. Can you talk about that a bit?
Martha: That was a brilliant connection because neither of us had thought about it. Yes there were lots of pigeons that used to carry messages, specially during wartime. The messages were secret and written in code stuffed in little capsules and attached to the pigeon’s legs. The pigeons were able to fly across enemy lines. So here we have the Internet and the name of this exhibition is “Offline” so what can be more offline than a pigeon carrying a message.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: About this project in Moscow. What was the most surprising element?
Adele: When I travel I try not to have expectations but for this project the most surprising thing was the location. The space is so beautiful and it’s inspiring being here. And the people of course. Sabina, I knew she was going to be nice because Martha has been telling me great things about her but she and her team are wonderful. It is very nice to work with nice people. The most important thing is the people.

BSA: Where were the photos being shown here taken?
Martha: Africa, Asia, North America and Europe.

BSA: Adele, what’s your fascination with pigeons? Was it from childhood?
Adele: No, I grew up on a farm but we had more chickens than pigeons. The first time I saw a lot of pigeons was in Venice in the Piazza San Marco. My parents had a hard time pulling me away from them. I just wanted to stay with the pigeons. The fascination is mostly that they are everywhere, in every city and they look the same everywhere and I never run out of subjects. They are like a metaphor for people. In 2007 or 2008 I painted the first oil close-up painting of a pigeon and my first mural of a pigeon was in 2010.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: You found an Icon at the flea market in Moscow.
Martha: We did! And it has a pigeon painted on it.

BSA: So was the found icon the inspiration to make the display wall in the shape of an icon?
Adele: No it was the other way around. I knew that in Russia there are a lot of religious triptychs with Madonna and other religious imagery in gold leaf and inside the churches. When we came in and saw the exhibition space with all of these arches we thought that we wanted to have an arch and actually paint the arch directly on the wall but because the building is a landmark we were not permitted to paint directly on it.

So we asked if the temporary wall could be a triptych instead of a simple long panel. So then at the flea market we found the triptych with the Madonna and two pigeons painted on it. So everything about this installation makes so much sense and the process has been entirely organic. We also wanted to have real pigeons inside the coop but we found that that wasn’t permitted. So we then thought about having a porcelain pigeon or something like that inside the coop. Today a Russian girl who I gave a book to a couple of days ago came back to visit and told me that she had a present for me; a souvenir from Russia and she proceeds to pull out this porcelain pigeon!

So we are going to hang it in the coop.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: What was the genesis of this collaboration with Martha?
Adele: Every time we see each other we talk about our attraction to pigeons and she tells me that she has been taking photos of pigeons for a long time. We were together in Los Angeles for “Beyond The Streets” and she mentioned to me the Moscow Biennale and how in Moscow artists paint the pigeon’s coops on the outside. So she encouraged me to send an application for us to participate in this year’s biennale in collaboration and I did.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you tell us about the small pigeon on the front of the pigeon coop?
Adele: The small one on the front is the last passenger pigeon who died in 1914. The original passenger pigeons are extinct. And this pigeon’s name was ironically Martha – and it resides in taxidermy in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC. So we named this coop “Coop’s Coop” because Martha’s friends call her Coop. So it really is Martha Cooper’s coop. But passenger pigeons were used in the two big wars to bring messages in code and they were rewarded with medals for their service.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: So what about the old, paint peeling off frames you are using to display the photos?
Martha: When we first thought about putting photos up we wanted rough looking frames and I had this idea, based on my previous visits to Moscow and the flea market that we would be able to find them at the flea market and we found tons of frames actually. We got them cheaply and it was a lot of fun going around collecting them.

BSA: Martha our eyes gravitated to the B & W photo of the boy holding two pigeons. What’s his name and who is he?
Martha: His name is Edwin but his writer’s name is HE3 and he introduced me to Dondi. I was working on a project on the Lower East Side and I was interested in his pigeons and he asked me why didn’t I take pictures of graffiti and proceeded to show me his notebook with his drawings in it.

He said “I can introduce you to a King”. And the King was Dondi. So I said “OK let’s go”. We drove to East New York in my car and directed me to Dondi’s house.

We knock on his door and Dondi was there. He recognized my name because when he opened his black book on the first page he had a clipping from The New York Post with a photo of a very simple throw up and I was amazed that anybody would identify it and it said CIA, Crazy Inside Artists. That was his crew and I didn’t know anything about crews. When he saw me he knew I wasn’t a cop but instead he saw me as someone that could help him get fame. Boom!

BSA: So the B & W photo above is 40 years old?
Martha: Yes

BSA: Can you talk about the large painting of the pigeon in the center of the triptych?
Martha: This is a painting of a pigeon that we actually met in Moscow in a pigeon coop. One of the pigeon fanciers showed this magnificent pigeon and Adele took a photo of it with her phone so this is the portrait of the pigeon and I took a photo of Adele taking a photo of the pigeon and that photo is included in this exhibition.

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Martha Cooper / Adele Renault work in progress at Vinzavod for Artmossphere Biennale 2018. Moscow. August 2018. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

 


Click on the link below for more details about the opening of this exhibition:
OFFLINE: The 3rd Artmossphere Biennale Of Street Wave opens this Thursday August 30th at Vinzavod in Moscow.

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