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Pigeons make it big in CBD
09 October 2009

Three steel pigeons take their place in Pigeon Square

Another piece of public art has been installed in Joburg's inner city, adding to its growing collection of beautiful sculptures.

THE pigeons are settling nicely into their new home in Pigeon Square in the CBD, lording it over the square and the other pigeons.

Work on the steel sculpture, Paper Pigeon
Work on the steel sculpture, Paper Pigeon
The three "origami-like pigeons" are three metres tall, standing in the triangle at the intersection of Main and Main Reef roads in Ferreirasdorp, just a block from Joburg's original Chinatown in Commissioner Street. This is a favourite spot of dozens of pigeons, which are fed by the local community.

When the call was made in March this year for proposals for a public artwork for the square, over 40 applications were received. Selected from five finalists, the winner was Gerhard and Maja Marx, with their outsized steel pigeon sculpture entitled Paper Pigeon.

"Constructed from steel, these large pigeons reference the oriental paper folding technique known as origami, homage to the oriental and Chinese community that has played a significant role in this part of the city," say the artists in a statement.

Gerhard Marx says the sculpture is "looking great" in the square.

The public artwork is intended as a city marker aimed specifically at vehicular traffic. The pigeons in the square were to be considered in the creation of the artwork, while it had to be robust and vandal-resistant, with a 20-year lifespan. The artwork is to mark the western entrance for vehicles into the inner city.

"The sculpture highlights the iconic presence of pigeons on Pigeon Square, not only in its visual reference to the pigeon as image, but also in serving as a perching pedestal for the vast resident pigeon community of Ferreirasdorp," say the artists.

Perching rods have been attached to the sculpture, and the "darker shapes of the seated birds will complete the recognisable tonal markings of the Paper Pigeon sculpture".

Installed this week, Gerhard Marx says that already the real pigeons are sitting on the rods, after being upset by workmen disrupting their usual daily feeding spot.

"Having the pigeons sitting on the sculpture has added to the finality of it," he says. "It's part of the choreography of the sculpture."

Historical and physical elements
The work had to take into account the historical and physical elements of the site, as well as the surrounding buildings. Landmark buildings in the immediate area include the Family Court, the Tramway Building, the City's department of arts and culture building, the Joburg Art Bank, Turbine Hall, the Bus Factory, and the Joburg Central Police Station.

"The pigeon is primarily famed for its profound homing ability, known as a messenger, and this focus on the home and community is appropriate to both its position in front of the Family Court and to those who enter or return to the city from its western side."

Marx adds that the sculpture also symbolises the centuries-old relationship between humans and pigeons.

The artists started work on the piece on May, and expect the installation to be completed by next week.

They have done other public artworks for the City. Maja Marx collaborated on a work called the Optic Garden on Houghton Drive Gateway, together with 26'10 south Architects, and commissioned by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).

Gerhard Marx collaborated on the striking Fire Walker with William Kentridge, unveiled at the end of July this year, also sponsored by the JDA.

Judges for Paper Pigeon were drawn from staff at the JDA, the City, the University of the Witwatersrand, the University of Johannesburg, and independent art consultants.

About R500 000 was spent by the JDA on the sculpture, says Sophia Ndhlovu, the development co-ordinator at the agency.

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