Material Semiotics of Tenderness
We, Seraina Dür and Jonas Gillmann, have been working with thirteen pigeons on our project Parliament of Things, Animals, Plants, and Algorithms since 2019, creating performative settings that we act out together with the pigeons and other human and non-human actors. The concept of caring architecture is crucial when conceiving our settings. While pigeons are often shot and displaced in cities, we are interested in how spaces might look that care for all their different residents, instead of dividing and repelling them. Each space we design features a flight hole through which the pigeons can enter and leave, along with ceramic bowls that we and the pigeons eat porridge from, dandelions that we use in play with the pigeons, bathing pools for splashing around, and much more. These objects allow us to connect with the pigeons. Their meanings are produced from our lived experience with the birds, and from our shared but different use of the objects; they are symbols of tenderness between humans and pigeons. Our article Semiotics of Tenderness presents what is now our three-year relationship with the pigeons as a photo and video story. It reflects important current issues, such as how we can best care for our damaged environment. In addressing the question of how this relationship can be conveyed within art and theater spaces, we draw upon Ursula K. Le Guin’s carrier bag theory. In contrast to the heroic story, which runs as straight as an arrow and ends at a target, the carrier bag is a container within which meandering and polyphonic narrative strands are interwoven with one another. With their permeable walls, our caring spaces are themselves carrier bags – vessels where a variety of different stories are gathered. In order that this narrative can be communicated – both verbally and in a material and spatial language that stems from our activities with the pigeons – we attempt to find a semiotics of tenderness.

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