I’m still in the process of determining my final site for my proposal for the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council public art grant. As it would follow, I’m also in the process of determining my idea. I want to get a few ideas out of my system, but will go into more detail about one site in particular.
I’ve been thinking a lot about our financial system, especially recently since an entire movement sprang up in Lower Manhattan over the past month. I think there’s some amazing things happening in Zuccotti Park, but mainly I’m happy that people are calling attention to the problems we have maintaining our capitalist democracy, and that it is a system that needs a lot more checks and balances in order to function. I’m considering the World Financial Center as a location for a piece that engages with the economic crisis, as well as the Occupy Wall Street protests. It’s closely situated to Zuccotti Park, but also Ground Zero. The physical area down there has taken on incredible symbolic meaning for New Yorkers, and people around the world. I think it’s a unique location for an intervention, and one that would probably need to confront the weightiness of its surroundings.
I’m also considering the Deutsche Bank lobby, especially since the interior decoration and palm trees are so kitschy and amazing.
Another idea I had focuses on water around New York. I am also considering the World Financial Center plaza for this since it seems to be the site most connected to the water. There is a lovely pier not far from the plaza with pistons that rise and fall with the current.
In terms of a site-driven concept, I’m really drawn to the Staten Island Ferry terminal building at White Hall (or is it South Hall). I like transit hubs in general because there are so many different kinds of people in a relatively small place who are joined by their schedule and a common destination. The White Hall terminal is very built out, and has a lot of neon, LED screens with scolling colored text, and other flashy and eye catching elements. There’s definitely the potential for something I make to be lost in the noise, but that could also work for me if I want to play a more subversive or subtle angle. I am considering an intervention into one of the many electronic displays that people watch or interact with. I’d like to play with the time-based structure of the space, either by trying to elongate that sense of time, or quicken it (by adding to the “quality” of the waiting experience).
I have another idea which might not be that realistic, but I sort of love. It’s also very “Animals, People, and those In Between.” I was really taken with the relationship between the drug sniffing dogs and their handlers. These dogs are essentially highly trained and specialized laborers, who are able to do a job that a person could not do on her own. They smell large backpacks and suitcases for bombs, or drugs, or whatever they have been trained to do. The dogs are adorable labradors, with very big puppy eyes. When I walked by one, he (could be a she) seemed pretty sad and bored, but was still obedient and did everything his handler instructed him to do. The handler is a police man in uniform, and that brings another dimension to seeing a man hold a dog on a leash. I’m thinking about building some sort of dog house or structure that calls attention to the work these dogs do, and how their life is not really about play like it is for so many other pets. And while some labs become helpers for the blind, these dogs have become police dogs, and it is their job to help keep us humans safer.
I also saw canine cops at the World Financial Center Plaza, but I’m not sure how frequently they are there.
The organization of the site functions around the Staten Island Ferry schedule, which usually leaves every 30 min. During rush hour the frequency increases to about every 15-20 min, and then on the weekend decreases to every hour between 7 pm – 6 am.
When a ferry arrives there is tremendous activity and motion in the station as people debark and make their way into the city, or rush to board the ferry. Then the terminal empties out fairly quickly as people file onto the ferry, or proceed outside. Little by little, the terminal grows full as people arrive to wait for the next ferry. When people have a lot of time to kill, they are pretty relaxed, or bored and killing time. There are lots of snack bars that sell pretzels or other fast food. There are also ATMs and other electronic components that help people wayfind, plan their trip, or just read the adspace.
The main waiting area are long double-sided granite seats, which are all connected to one another. People sit on either side, similar to the subway benches. The benches are in the center of the waiting area, but there is a large area between them that creates an aisle, as well as a good people watching throughway.
The overwhelming characteristic of the space is transitional, but there are still people who sit there for up to an hour at a time. There are also many displays and ads and other forms of signage bombarding you, so it is not really a quiet area, but invites something else that will impact people or grab their attention.
While I was there I saw an exhibition of signs that had been made as a collaboration between students from Brooklyn and visual artists. The project was sponsored by the Dept of Transportation, and the artists helped the students create their own versions of road signs that applied to their lives and values. Aesthetically, I thought these worked well in the space since they were so graphically bold.
Um, there is also a Talking Map. It talks to you. It’s a bit embarrassing to use, but kind of amazing at the same time.
DRAFT SET OF INSTRUCTIONS
Enter the South Ferry station and proceed up the escalators to the 2nd floor waiting area.
Write down the time of your arrival.
Find out the time of the next ferry departure.
Calculate the amount of time you will have to wait for the ferry.
Take a seat with a good vantage point of one of the LED screens.
Write down each message that gets displayed on the screen. If possible, note the color of the message as well. If possible, note the time.
After leaving the terminal, re-type or xerox your notes. Cut out each sentence or phrase. Re-arrange them according to your own desires. Photograph the result. Post the before and after versions to the blog.
Observe the canine cop and his handler.
How would you characterize their relationship?
How many times does the canine cop conduct searches?
What are the various reposes of the canine cop?
What is the method of communication between the canine and his handler?
Document your thoughts and these behaviors with words, images, or video.
On Sunday I finally made it down to Occupy Wall Street, and arrived there in time to hear Slavoj Zizek speak to the crowd in Liberty Square. While his back was toward me for most of the time, this enabled me to fully experience the human crowd microphone that everyone has been talking about. I only heard his words through the collective voice of other people in the crowd listening as well. While there was one main “echo” after he spoke a sentence, there were other echos of his words trickling back into the far part of the crowd. “Mic checks” had to happen several times when the system started to break down (usually when peoples’ voices got tired of shouting), which got the crowd back into repeat mode. But the message did go through, albeit with these delays. Someone standing next to me remarked how this could be happening 2000 years ago, and the same techniques to amplify the message would be used. Besides the livecam in use nearby, I definitely saw his point.
There were a lot of wonderful things happening down there. I was impressed by the ability of the protestors to organize on a practical level – feed themselves, to set up communication with the outside world (the online stream has been crucial to getting their message out) – but mostly I appreciated the kinds of conversations that this movement has made possible. I hope that it continues – that the protestors are able to reach out to the majority of the American electorate and make people realize that a lot of them vote against their best economic interests. I’m not sure what will happen once the weather changes, but I think most people there know that they won’t be in that square forever. And I appreciated that a lot of peoples’ questions to Zizek were about how to speak to the people who wouldn’t consider protesting themselves, but who are very much in the 99%.
After OWS I headed to the Living as Form exhibition on Essex St. It was interesting to go to this right after what I’d seen downtown because the mood was markedly subdued. For an exhibition about social practice it felt very static and somewhat disconnected from the largest socially motivated protest movement New York has seen in a long time. There was an attempt to make connections to what was happening at the protest with a wall of protest signs, but I’m curious whether the signs would have served a better purpose (or made a better statement) at the protest itself instead of mounted on the wall of a gallery.
A project that I really did enjoy at the Living as Form exhibit was Suzanne Lacy’s The Roof is on Fire. Suzanne Lacy worked for a number of years with teenagers in Oakland, CA, as well as the Oakland Police Department, in an attempt to make each group better understand one another. The impetus for the project was a youth riot in June of 1993, which was spun to blame teenagers for starting it, but was definitely exacerbated by police present. One week later Lacy gathered 220 students from Oakland Tech High School on top of a roof top. They sat in open cars talking openly about issues affecting them and their community – violence, sexuality, race, economic disparity, lack of opportunity. NBC news and CNN were there with cameras covering the event and broadcasting their message.
I appreciated that the description of the piece explains that Oakland youth were used to attention by the media, but were generally portrayed in a negative light. This event (organized by Lacy and TEAM – a group of teachers, educators, artists and media workers) was designed as a “positive media spectacle,” where young people could be seen as citizens “instead of liabilities.” Lacy helped to facilitate a spectacle which gave a group of misunderstood people a platform to express themselves, and create a different discourse in the media and other communities.
This project also resonated with me because in 1993 I was 10 years old living about 5 miles away from where this event took place, but completely unaware of the world these teenagers were living in.