Friday, October 06, 2006

Around the World in the Winter Garden

Today, I spent my lunch hour in the Winter Garden instead of my usual Battery Park City bench along the Hudson because it's starting to get cold outside. The Winter Garden is an intriguing indoor atrium with about a dozen tall palms spreading their fronds over the marble floors and brightly-colored benches. While I sat on my bench, sipping my chai, I suddenly began to hear ocean waves. The waves began quietly enough, but they quickly crescendoed to a climax, so I thought I might be in a hurricane! Noting my obvious interest, a man with a walkie-talkie came over to me and asked if I'd heard the waves. (well duh...) I told him I certainily had and explained that they were so loud I was expecting rain. At the time I thought this was a project by the building to create a summery atmosphere in the Winter Garden.

The man, an NYU music technology professor, dispelled me of this notion. He explained that he was prepping for a week-long festival called Ear to the Earth that would feature explorations of sound, art and the environment in venues across New York. He asked if I wouldn't mind being a test subject for a little while. Of course I wouldn't mind. So I listened to birds from Madagascar, whales from Glacial Bay in Alaska, the crashing ocean of Big Sur and hooting monkeys from Sumatra. I helped him get the volume just right and he encouraged me to attend the festival. And I left the public space of the Winter Garden with a deeper attachment to my adopted metropolis.

"Land-markings" misses the mark

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend the opening of a new exhibit at New York Federal Hall. "Land-markings" brought together research efforts of social scientists from the US Forest service with urban ecologists and architects from the New School to present data on Americans' collective response to 9/11. They examined the creation of "living memorials" from multiple perspectives with ultimate intention of extracting a kernel of truth about the changing relationship between people and their landscapes.

Now, I can't think of anyone more interested in this topic than me. I wrote over 100 pages on it just last year! I really, really wanted to like this exhibit, but it failed to interest even me. Sadly, it faltered on both the design and content fronts. Design-wise, it was organized by subtopic arrayed around Federal Hall's rotunda. Each area featured a little TV with a segment of a narrated power-point presentation. Unformatted, the little videos neither introduced the topic coherently nor came to any clear conclusions. Like any good lecture, museum exhibits should have arguments and they should use the tools they have on hand to clearly present those arguments.

Sadly, despite it's intriguing name and description, "Land-markings" had little more to offer than carefully segued photographs of gardens and forests and narrative obfuscation. Charts and graphs were left unexplained; memorials were presented like an annotated list and I left without feeling like I'd learned anything more than how not to create an exhibit based on academic research.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yom Kippur (after Thoreau)

My first post, because I have to post to start my blog, will be more musy than museum-y.

Ever since college, Yom Kippur has been a day to spend in the park. Parks are little microcosms of creation-- wild elements directed and diverted into dwelling-places for creativity. The synagogue and my apartment aren't wild enough for me; parks are the city's genesis-mirrors.

From here on in, I promise I won't always be this abstract.