Art exhibits organized by the LMCC allow the public to get new glimpses of Governors Island
This month through August 13, thanks to the clever installations of "Set and Drift," a multi-media exhibit organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC), the public has even greater access to Governors Island than has become the case in recent years. While enjoying the current mind-tickling art installations, don't miss the added opportunity to freely roam, picnic, and savor the sights and smells of the eclectic military buildings, admire the exquisitely maintained turn-of-the-century housing, marvel at the majesty of historic Castle Williams or formidable Fort Jay, and be amazed by the lush diversity of the island.
Set and Drift
Steadfastly dedicated to revitalizing Lower Manhattan through art, the LMCC provides free art in unexpected venues. "Set and Drift," comprised of six installations on tranquil Governors Island, is surprising, delightful, and mind-opening -- and if ever there were an excuse "needed" to explore an oft-ignored quarter of the city, this exhibit will provide it. So, hop on the Lieutenant Samuel S. Coursen ferry and cross over into another dimension. The exhibit is named for a term used in navigation to describe what happens when external forces act on a ship causing it to deviate from its intended course. Appropriately enough, it describes, in a way, the course change Governors Island itself is undergoing. Guided by six artists who have all given voice to unusual expression, the island is taking a turn, its surroundings enhanced. The artists, whose works are site-specific, were selected by LMCC President Tom Healy and curator Jessica Sucher. Their installations are as diverse and rich as the island's history.
A Little Governors Island History
A scant 800 yards from the southern tip of Manhattan (and a mere seven minutes by the always-prompt Lieutenant Samuel S. Coursen ferry) lies the ice-cream-cone-shaped fertile swath of turf known as Governors Island. Slightly under four times the size of Central Park, this verdant, bucolic isle just happens to have been the longest continuously active military post in United Stateshistory. And, from 1966 until 1996 it was home to roughly 3,500 people, all or most of whom were affiliated with the base of operations for the Coast Guard's largest installation, the Atlantic Area Command and the Maintenance and Logistics Command, Atlantic, as well as the Captain of the Port of New York.
Although today its only residents are firefighters, security, and maintenance personnel, at one time Governors Island's diverse denizens could enjoy a local Burger King, a movie theater, a bowling alley, and countless other commercial ventures. The island also had a hospital (where comedian brothers Tommy and Dick Smothers were born in 1937 and 1938 when their father was stationed on the island), schools, and even a Motel 6. None of that exists today.
Despite its current, pleasantly sleepy state, Governors Island has been the scene of countless historic and often very exciting events -- albeit, some slightly apocryphal:
In 1637, the then director general of the New Netherlands, Wouter Van Twiller, acquired Pagganck Island as it was called, from its Native American owners, Cakapeteyno and Pehiwas, for "two axe heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails." It was renamed "Nooten" or "Nutten Eylandt," the Dutch translation of Pagganck -- an island of nuts, an epithet no doubt derived from the plentiful oak, hickory, and chestnut trees on the island.
In 1776, the first submersible, the Turtle -- a crude forerunner of a submarine -- was put to a seafaring test in the bay during the American Revolution, as an Army volunteer actually attempted maritime warfare on one of His Majesty's ships, the HMS Eagle. Whether this "attack" actually took place nearer to Governors or Liberty Island, well, nobody is around anymore to consult…
Samuel F. B. Morse, of eponymous code fame, is alleged to have attempted a test of his famous dots and dashes via cable between Governors Island and Manhattan in 1942.
During the first dozen years of the 20th century, nearly five million cubic yards of terra firma, removed from the excavations for the Lexington Avenue IRT, became landfill that enlarged Governors Island from 70 acres to its present size.
Wilbur Wright went aloft on the first American flight over water in 1909, taking off from Governors Island, circling the Statue of Liberty, and returning to the island. A few days later he ventured even farther, flying uptown to Grants Tomb and back.
President Reagan officiated at the ceremonial relighting of the refurbished Statue of Liberty's torch here in 1986.
And in 1988, Reagan hosted the joint United States-Soviet Union summit with Mikhail Gorbechev.
Perhaps, from a very different perspective, that of the island itself, the most significant episode in its history in these several hundred years was the handoff on January 31, 2003, that returned it to the people of the city and state of New York. During its history, the island had changed hands many times, but on that day, after a 200-year stewardship by the federal government, it was put back under the aegis of the locals, "sold" for a hefty ceremonial one dollar (with the deed restriction that it not be used for public housing or casinos). This transaction was funneled through the Governors Island Preservation and Education Program (GIPEC). One week later, on February 7, 22 acres of the island's land were transferred to the National Park Service, which conducts tours on the island.
Both transactions have now allowed the public far greater access to this idyllic island…and the current LMCC art exhibit opens it up even more.
Shining Beacons: "Beckon"
Even if you can't make it to the island, you can view Leo Villareal's twinkling-light installation, "Beckon," from Manhattan. At dusk, park yourself on the terrace of the Battery Gardens restaurant and enjoy a summer cooler as you watch the sun set and the nearly 100 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) of "Beckon" light up the island's distant shoreline. They sparkle in 20 different configurations, as if they were playing happy tunes to lure (indeed, beckon) you to the island.
Computer programmed, the jaunty LEDs can also be viewed from the
Staten Island Ferry, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Battery Park City. With simplicity, Villareal (whose work is included in the current "Visual Music" exhibition at the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC) has transformed the shoreline much as he does with his other artworks, using sound, light, and video manipulated by advanced computer programming.
Day Is Done: "Taps"
At the other end of the technology spectrum, although also a somewhat musical installation, is Jennifer Zacklin's "Taps," a rainbow of color that enlivens the patrician white oak trees that stand as bold sentries along the pathway adjacent to the equally majestic Liggett Hall. (This structure is also known as Building 400 and was designed by McKim, Mead & White; up until the construction of the Pentagon, it was the Army's largest building.)
Zacklin, whose previous exhibits have graced the Whitney Museum of American Art, here has used basic nautical rope to wrap the mighty trees in "notes" of music that she has colored shocking pink, neon yellow, and royal blue -- each color corresponding to the wavelength of the notes of "Taps." (The saturated hues of the vividly colored ropes are a breathtaking counterpoint to the subtle pastels of the bountiful, blooming hydrangeas all over the island - don't miss them as you ramble around going from exhibit to exhibit.)
"Taps," the traditional military melody, is almost always sounded on a bugle and is composed of a mere three notes. Played at twilight, to retire the day, and at funerals, it was sounded nightly from the rooftop of Liggett Hall during the island's Army and Coast Guard eras. Zacklin has, in effect, created a farewell to the island's military history.
Calling All Governors Island Pilgrims: "Branching to Broadcast"
Another interesting and acoustic exhibition is "Branching to Broadcast," a creation by collaborative neuroTransmitter (nT) and Daniela Fabricius installed along Colonels Row. neuroTransmitter uses FM radio technology to sonically map urban space. On Governors Island, the group has recorded sounds, both natural and artificial, drawing from the abundant music of clacking cicadas, distant fog horns and other maritime sounds, rustling leaves, chirping birds, and muffled voices. These sounds are then broadcast to strategically placed radios throughout the island. In its main base in a treetop, neuroTransmitter has a transmitting station with a low-power FM radio station, a sort of primitive Buckminster Fuller-type, geodesic dome-fort, which was created by Fabricius with wood, Mylar survival blankets, and screening.
A Thousand Questions: "Thousand Islands"
Sound also plays a subtle part in Serge Spitzer's at-first baffling, ambiguous "Thousand Islands," which is presented in the chilly, shadowy, storage magazine underneath Fort Jay. This two-channel video installation, viewed on huge screens, seems originally like a terrifying blood bath. But, as you stand there, transfixed by the seeming gore -- heightened, perhaps because you are in the artillery storage rooms of a fort -- you observe that nobody looks sorrowful, nobody has been shot, and indeed, those who are "bloody" are smiling, laughing, and having fun.
Taken from seven years' worth of footage from an annual tomato-throwing festival in Spain, Spitzer has tricked the senses and thrown the viewer into the crossfire with this marinade of tomatoes. Perhaps it's really a Thousand Island dressing he's making. The interesting sound accompanying the exhibit is heard through speakers in two adjoining rooms and is actually the magnified tones of graphite scribbles on paper! This installation was originally created for the exhibition Epicenter Ljubljana in 1997 at the Museum of Modern Art in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and this is its first presentation in the United States.
Anyone Home? "The Refurnishings of Ignis Fatuus"
You'll find Anna Craycroft's "The Refurnishings of Ignis Fatuus" work comforting and homey as it provides a peek into the interior of a colonel's home along the rows of officers' late-19th-century housing. Although these uniform, red-brick buildings with their sedate little porches are closed to the public, Craycroft has imagined what it would have been like to have lived inside, creating phantom-like drawings of furnishings that might have been seen from the proverbial curb.
Working originally with black-and-white painted-ink drawings, she scanned them into a computer, blew them up, and then silk-screened them onto acetate and fitted them into the windows. Here you see a hint of a curtain, there the trace of furniture, ghosts of people who might have once inhabited the homes. Craycroft, whose work has been exhibited in the 2005 Greater New York exhibition at PS 1 and at Socrates Sculpture Park, often explores fantasy with the histories of specific sites.
May We Come In? "The Last House on the Left"
Another "home"-oriented installation on the island is Jesse Bercowetz's and Matt Bua's charming "The Last House on the Left," which is the artists' interpretive representation of an officer's home built among the trees and created from scavenged items from the island. The multi-media home is a sort of shrine, constructed lovingly in homage to the people who lived on the island.
Among the diverse materials, there are odd bits of Plexiglas, books, colored surfaces, mosaic tiles. Within the house, there is a multi-media assemblage which is a tribute to the many novel ideas that were floated at one time or another as suggested ways the government might make use of the island -- as a history of flight museum, an amusement park, an airstrip.
Bercowetz and Bua have worked together since 1998 creating site-responsive installations that often blur the lines between work and play. They participated in the LMCC's 2004 Artist Residency Program and have had installations at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and PS 1.
"Set and Drift" was produced in association with Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation and the National Parks Service. The LMCC extends special thanks to the Goldman Sachs Community Team Works Volunteer Program.
For a slide show of Governors Island, please click here.
|Slightly under four times the size of Central Park, Governors Island has been the longest continuously active military post in United States history
For general information on the current art exhibit, please visit www.lmcc.net/setanddrift.
NOTE: Governors Island is closed Sundays and Mondays. The exhibit continues through August 13, and the island remains open for National Landmark Historic District Tours led by the National Park Service Rangers through September 2, 2005.
FERRY/TICKET INFORMATION: Ferries depart from and return to the Battery Maritime Building, 10 South Street, Slip 7, adjacent to and northeast of the Staten Island/Whitehall Ferry Terminal. The nearest subway stop is Whitehall on the R and W lines. Pre-purchased ferry tickets are often necessary and generally advised. They cost $6 for adults, $3 for children three to 12 years old, and are free for children under two. (Tickets are discounted 10 percent when you show a New York City Transit MetroCard.)
Tickets are available through the New York Water Taxi website, through the LMCC website, or directly through the New York Water Taxi ticket booths at Pier 11 (at Wall Street and South Street), at the South Street Seaport, and in Jersey City, NJ. They can also be purchased by phone, at (212) 742-1969. Ferry tickets may be pre-purchased; there are also same-day sales at the Governors Island ferry slip on Saturdays only, subject to availability.
SCHEDULES/WEEKDAYS (Tuesday through Friday): Ferries generally depart from Manhattan at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., timed to coordinate with the National Park Rangers tours. Tours depart from the Governors Island Bookstore, adjacent to the ferry terminal on Governors Island. Note: Access to the art installations is limited on weekdays to what can be viewed on the National Park Rangers tours.
SCHEDULES/SATURDAYS: Ferries depart from Manhattan on the hour, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; ferries depart from Governors Island on the half hour, from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. National Park Ranger tours depart from the Governors Island Bookstore hourly. All art installations are open and visitors are invited to roam the island, picnic, enjoy the organized tours, or take a self-guided tour.