Text by Hannah Levine, photographs by Nadia Chaudhury
Proof that Governors Island is awesome: it once housed the only Burger King to serve beer in the U.S. One of the few remaining ghost towns in New York City, it’s still deserted enough to draw in stoners hoping to catch spirits from the colonial era pow-wowing with Native Americans or Coast Guards who died in the 60s. Not jumping on the ferry yet? You will want to on June 27, when Creative Time launches New York’s first public art quadrennial on the isle, PLOT09: This World & Nearer Ones, featuring 19 public commissions by major international artists. There will be groups of gays summoning the dead and zombies singing Bryan Adams. Also, it’s super-creepy.
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Ann Pasternak, President and Creative Director of Creative Time, explained during a tour of the exhibition that she was fascinated by the island’s “great past, fascinating present, and exciting future.” Her dream was for public art that would engage Governors Island’s bizarre history, “reinterpreting the past while creating the present.” Curated by Mark Beasley, the quadrennial will open up 5 buildings not usually accessible to the public, as well as interacting with many of the island’s other historic structures, fields, churches and even overgrown playgrounds. The result, again, is super-creepy.
Greeting visitors near the South Battery, Klaus Weber’s 13 foot tall “Dark Wind Chime” installation hangs ominously from a tree. Unlike the happy sounds a normal chime makes, it has been tuned to diabolus musica tritone, an interval associated with rousing the devil (or at least that’s what they thought in the Middle Ages). The 18th century violinist Giuseppe Tartini said he composed his tritone work, Devil’s Trill Sonata, with instructions from Satan himself, and Black Sabbath put it to (gloom-evoking, air guitar solo-inducing) use on their self-titled debut album. Superstitions aside, the chimes darken the (already, lest I say it one very last time, creepy) tone of the quadrennial.
Isle of the Dead, the Brooklyn-based Bruce High Quality Foundation’s film installation, is about New York artists-turned-zombies who gather on Governor’s Island for the sole purpose of singing Bryan Adams’s “Summer of ‘69.” I’m so bummed I missed the casting call for this one. Inspiration for the film, which will be screened in the same disused theater the zombies inhabit, came from classics like Night of the Living Dead (where social critique is buried under campiness), as well as “zombie protests” (films that are all campiness, with no agenda). The film, intercut with montage footage of protests from the sixties, satirizes romanticized nostalgia towards the radical art of that era (and opens with a disillusioned, starving artist at The Guggenheim, staring at a faded New York skyline photo), but also questions whether or not the recession will necessarily bring this type of art back. Beneath the film’s absurdity, there is the pressing question of where the current art world is heading, and whether heading backwards, to a simpler time in cultural production, is really the answer.
None of installations engage the viewer’s sense of self quite as intimately as Anthony McCall’s Between You and I, a series of sculptures made of light projections inside the darkness of Saint Cornelius Chapel. Projectors on the ceiling cast lines of light down to the floor, creating forms that are only visible when the light encounters mist. McCall has essentially created the monumental from the invisible. The side by side projections, one an ellipse becoming a traveling wave, the other a traveling wave becoming an ellipse, shift so slowly that it is impossible to perceive the moment of change; the viewer experiences it from within, easing into what the title suggests: a state of self reflection.
AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs’ Invocation of the Queer Spirits is a séance, closed to the public that took place two days before the quadrennial opened, and invited the homo-spirits of the region out to play. Bronson and Hobbs, who have performed similar rituals in Winnipeg and New Orleans, believe that invoking queer and marginalized practices is a way to heal the past and inform the present (and while I can’t tell you how it relates to Governor’s Island, specifically, I think that’s pretty righteous). “We draw a circle, ask for protection, and invoke the spirits, naming the various communities of the dead,” Bronson explains in an accompanying press release. “We share food, drink, and [presumably a lot of] alcohol between ourselves and on behalf of the spirits.” The ritual ends with each person involved making a personal declaration, a vow of sorts, which might also honor the dead. Visitors to PLOT 09 will be able to see the remains of the séance (cans, empty bottles, looming ghosts wearing short-shorts, etc).
PLOT09 starts as soon as you embark on the journey over to the island—you will notice Lawrence Weiner’s textual work as the ferry leaves the dock. Once there, you can divide your time between the various structural installations, performances, films, and sound projects (I’m personally psyched for Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse’s spoken word poetry and musical composition Messages in a Bottle), and decide whether you want explore by foot, on bike (they are free to rent on Fridays) or with a tour guide. I recommend making the trip, even if it’s just to chill with some gay ghosts and head back to the city uber-creeped out (yeah, I said it) and inspired.
PLOT 09: This World & Nearer Ones opens on Saturday, June 27, with bands and performances from 2-4pm.