Last night I travelled an unaccustomed route after leaving work. I took the F train from 34th Street all the way to Brooklyn, to the Carroll Street stop. I was surprised to discover that I had actually been in that neighborhood before, about a year-and-a-half ago. This happens to me fairly frequently in and around New York -- the sudden recognition of an environment when the maps and names of the area didn't necessarily ring any bells. I walked up Smith Street, enjoying the lights from dozens of nifty shops and restaurants and bars, then hung a left at Sackett and walked a long ways down that, over 278 by a short strip of bridging. When I got to Columbia Street, it took me a moment or two to identify what I had come that way for. Then I crossed the street and explored it, insofar as the chain-link fence surrounding it would allow.
It's pretty accurate to say that I am a huge fan of installation art, and an even huger fanatic about public installation art (i.e., installed in a largely uncontrolled, outdoor environment). I am lucky enough now to actually know an installation artist, and I hope she'll forgive me if that description limits her craft. Friend Natalia installed Luminous Accumulation on the corner of Columbia and Sackett a few weeks ago. I had intended to go to the opening, but it was rescheduled on account of weather to just out of my schedule's reach. Hence my solo journey to a dark corner of Kings on a Wednesday night.
I was disappointed, yet not surprised, to find the display fenced off but my mood was already pretty contemplative and buoyant due to the walk over. As is my wont, I read Natalia's description right away. As you can see, I brought my camera with me, and these two choices are related. Some appreciate art and, in particular, contemporary art, best through raw experience and an immediate moment. I envy this approach. It rarely works for me, outside of perhaps architecture and murals. No, I get the most out of these experiences when I'm working to synthesize my experience with the artist's intention. I find it similar to my impatience with classical music -- I loathe misinterpretation, even when an artist tells me such a thing is impossible. (And how much more impossible can it be to "misinterpret" than with the personal experience of music?) So I ask for answers straight off, and interpret the work through my own lens however I can thereafter.
Luminous Accumulation is interactive with the weather. There are a serious of pipes that ever-so-gradually draw precipitation and condensation into a roofed basin. The pipes, though you can;t tell it from my photos, extend their open ends out just past the borders of the chain-link fence, integrating it into their structure. They also reach back about fifteen yards to form rectangular arches of varying height that occupy the rest of the otherwise empty lot. The basin is lit around its rim and from two sources above it, and it is sheltered to ensure that the accumulation of moisture comes largely from the pipes. (Although the basin is also made of clear plastic, so I was immediately reminded of a wilderness survival contraption for gathering dew as drinkable water.) The more moisture that gathers, the more light that is reflected from it. (Rather ironic, then, that the original opening was postponed on account of rain.*) Natalia cites an Eskimo practice of holding reading material, or any object that requires scrutiny, close to the snow fall, the better to light one's discoveries.
It was frustrating not to be able to walk beneath the pipe arches, but only a little more frustrating than not being able to climb them -- they inspired that strong urge for me immediately, but never could have taken my weight, even if I could get to them. I have to imagine the ideal time at which to experience the exhibit would be a lightly rainy evening, just before dusk. You could (theoretically) walk beneath the pipes as they worked their gradual, inevitable work, toward the incrementally expanding pool, dipping your book/stone/lithograph into its light once there. It's a bit of a trip for me, but I may just do this some rainy night. I envy the people who get to experience this work on a semi-daily basis. Somebody has quietly transformed their environment for a few months, and it's an ongoing transformation. I think that's very valuable work, no matter how little monetary or pragmatic gain it results in. I want very much to be awakened to new perspectives on the every-day, and I can easily forget how much I want this. Thank goodness there are people interested in doing this for us. No one can sufficiently describe their interior experience of art. It's too personal. I hope it's enough to say that I spent some quiet moments with Luminous Accumulations, and felt pleasantly changed by the experience.
Well . . . maybe I'll just say one thing more. One of the best effects, in my humble opinion, a work of art can have is to invite us to carry its perspective with us into the world. We learn from it, in a sense, and carry it forward if not into our actions, then at least into our perceptions of everything else. This is part of the explanation for the genre of "performance art"; as with art, and unlike theatre, there is no definite end, no fallen curtain, to the experience, and it forces you to contemplate the possibility that the experience is simply continuing into the rest of your life. In this way, these things have a very far-reaching influence indeed. As I walked the good walk back to a subway station, I enjoyed immensely the details of illumination all along the way. Effects produced by headlights, streetlamps, windows, grates and foliage were all accentuated for me, and seemed somehow new. It was akin to the feeling I new best on my first trip to Italy, or my first to New York, and a feeling that I find has diminished slightly every time I add another visit and the longer I live here, like I lose it one slow drip at a time. It's a wonderful feeling.
*Perhaps it was apt, though; it must have filled the basin somewhat for the next day's appreciation.