FIGMENT

There are many wonderful events in NYC in the summer. There are outdoor film screenings, concerts, parades… People watching is everyone’s favorite pastime and every park becomes a stage. Of all the events in the city though, there is only one that truly feels like a figment of Salvador Dalí’s imagination, and that is the FIGMENT Arts Festival on Governors Island. This marvelous event brings all sorts of whimsical creations to an island that still feels as though it exists outside of time.

Wandering around Governors Island, past the houses in Nolan Park and Colonel’s Row, there is a sense of being in a sleepy forgotten town. When you round a corner and suddenly see Lower Manhattan rising above you it can be almost shocking. Visiting the island at any time during the summer is worthwhile; it is a fabulous place for a picnic or a little sunbathing in the new ‘Hammock Grove.’ Children can run free without fear of vehicles, although they should watch out for all the Schwinn bicycles. The ferry is now $2 roundtrip (up from the previous $0) and for the first time is running seven days a week. While I have mixed feelings about the hills currently being constructed, I absolutely love the respite from the noise and smell of summertime in NYC. It’s also my favorite view of Manhattan; the one viewpoint from which it truly looks like an island.

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island

The Island of Manhattan as seen from Governors Island 2008

Governors Island has its own magic but FIGMENT transforms the island into something truly surreal. The artists who create installations for the festival work in many media but the guiding spirit is that the art be participatory. This is not art behind glass, it is art made to be touched, played with, climbed on, drawn on, destroyed and rebuilt. The island becomes an art museum that a child would imagine. Last year a cloud-like dome made of recycled water bottles rose against the backdrop of the city.

Figment 2013

Figment 2013, Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside the dome a DJ played music and people of all ages and in quite a strange assortment of clothing danced and jumped and spun until the grass was all turned to muck. The space was lit strangely through the bottles and it had such a feeling of unreality that it was astonishing to emerge into the sunshine again.

Inside  Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Inside Studio Klimoski Chang Architects’ Head in the Clouds

Children are usually first drawn to the elaborate mini golf course, each hole of which is designed by a different artist. As someone who is not particularly skilled at golf, I am more likely to make a beeline for the treehouse, although it can get too crowded at times. The real fun is the wandering; there are so many small interesting pieces to discover. Just as important are the many performances taking place. There are concerts and dance performances at all times. Last year I followed the sound of drums to find an all-female marching band on the waterfront.

Perhaps my best FIGMENT was the year that I volunteered as an assistant priestess for the Encouraging Priestess. The Encouraging Priestess marries people to themselves. I helped participants write their vows to themselves and find appropriate costume pieces from our supply for the ceremony. Watching people, some with great seriousness and others with great levity, engage in this ceremony, was magical in a wholly different way. At the heart of FIGMENT is a need to engage, to provoke, to truly touch each person who visits the island. That summer I felt that I was really part of the festival. It was only the porch of one of the lovely yellow Nolan houses, but for that weekend it was a magical temple of self-affirmation and glittery ceremony.

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

Marry Yourself, Encouraging Priestess

This summer CDR Studio’s Governor’s Cup will add a heavy dash of the surreal to the island. It is described on the FIGMENT website:

Inspired by tape-lace crochet, used plastic cups, saved from discard from throughout the city, are bound by zip-ties into a densely-knit serpentine structure. Undulating between the tree branches, the canopy is suspended by strapping and turn-buckled cabling. The trees are unscathed. A lacy infill of cups between the tape structure and branches create an airborne topography and shadow play. The configuration forms an outdoor room, shimmering in the sun and echoing with breeze-driven sound.

The treehouse, with its slightly terrifying slide, will be returning for the summer of 2014. This video (showing some very happy frolicking) gives me quite enough incentive to go out to the island all on its own. I am excited to see what other structures will be part of the sculpture garden. Until it’s all there under the sun (or sometimes in the rain), the art exists mainly in the artist’s imagination; once it’s there it becomes part of our collective imaginings. This is a festival that aims to connect, not merely to entertain. Go forth and be part of the fun!

 

 

An Ode to Joe’s Pub

Everyone who has lived in NYC for more than a few months has a venue, perhaps more than one, that they hold near to their heart. We all have those places that have defined some aspect of our New York experience. The spot where you first saw that great band, or first drank some astonishing concoction that became ‘your drink.’ I have been here now for eleven years and of all the venues I have frequented the one that is most tightly woven into my life in NYC is Joe’s Pub.

The following appears on the Joe’s Pub website:

The New York Times has praised Joe’s Pub as at the “nexus” of “a downtown axis of clubs whose performers gleefully fuzz the boundaries between old and new, and between pop, rock, jazz, rhythm-and-blues, swing, country, world music and performance art.”

This very much describes the variety of performances I have seen on their stage. One of my first was a gospel singer whose name I no longer remember. I was invited to the show by my boss, perhaps the hippest partner in a law firm you can imagine. I felt very adult sitting at the tiny table, elbow to elbow with the well dressed crowd, sipping a fancy cocktail. The stage lights were dazzling, the sound system smooth and balanced, and the singer’s voice reverberated around the intimate space. I remember thinking that this must be how important people attend concerts, as opposed to the hot and echoey rooms where young people listen to music standing up and pushing each other for a clear view of the stage. I liked the comfort of sitting and absorbing the performance. I have since paid close attention to their upcoming shows and have enjoyed quite a variety of music from their tightly packed tables.

One of the most memorable was a performance by The Wet Spots, a duo who performs some of the raunchiest and most absurd songs I have had the pleasure of enjoying. Joe’s Pub is especially well suited to this kind of act. You’re close enough that the performers can pick on you and make you part of the act. The intimacy and the fact that you’re not standing and crowding the stage, allows the performers to really take the pulse of the crowd and adjust accordingly. Lady Rizo is another prime example of a performer who really blossoms on this stage. She’s performing there again soon as a matter of fact and I would very much recommend being part of her audience.

Joe’s Pub is also an excellent venue for performers who require a good deal of attention to detail. Sxip Shirey is best seen in this kind of venue. His use of music boxes, bells and marbles to make a variety of ethereal sounds can only be appreciated when you can actually see his maneuverings. If you see him in some larger venue, standing far back and craning your neck, you will entirely miss what makes his music magical.

Most recently I attended two performances by a wide variety of artists who had all studied under Barbara Maier Gustern. There were absurd costumes of many varieties and the biggest range of musical styles I think I’ve ever experienced in one show. I truly feel that this kind of show is only possible in a venue with an outstanding sound system and a professional staff. As much as pop-up venues and underground spaces foster creativity in the city, this kind of established venue has the ability to bring out the best in performers. I was very pleased to see one of my favorite musicians perform as part of the TRANSformative lineup; Natti Vogel is really best seen in this kind of environment. I think this photo by Albie Mitchell pretty much says it all.

Natti Vogel; photo by Albie Mitchell

Natti Vogel; photo by Albie Mitchell

For those of you who may still be searching for the venues that will define your experience, I recommend trying out Joe’s Pub. Sometimes the official venues offer something the underground venues lack- the smooth sound and comfortable seating that allow you to enjoy the details.

Wandering in Prospect Heights

Walking in a westerly direction from my current apartment at Franklin and Park Pl. I was amazed by the number of new buildings that have popped up in recent years. Some are certainly ugly concrete blocks with ‘artful’ triangular windows, but others manage to blend and add character in equal measure. The neighborhood is changing. NYC is always in a state of flux. The longer I live here (it’s been almost 11 years now) the more tempting it is to feel nostalgic about how it was when I moved. I remember when anything east of Washington was ‘scary’ (for a white girl from Buffalo). I remember when Grand Space (the hippie colony on Bergen and Grand) was the only place with lights on for blocks. Now there’s a condo building down the street. Progress can make long time residents feel shut out, left behind. Who are all these yuppies with strollers? Why are there so many men with absurd beards and ironic tattoos? This is the way of the city. I wouldn’t have 1970s NYC back for all the cocaine fueled parties in the world. I’m glad that the city is safer, that new housing stock is being built, that organic produce can be purchased at Bob & Betty’s Market. I will admit that I wish brunch for one at Dean St. Cafe didn’t cost me $25 and that the line at Ample Hills Creamery was less than 25 minutes in duration, but I’m happy that they both exist. The rent is too damn high but I don’t believe that NYC is less vibrant, less artistic, less surprising than it was ten years ago, or twenty, or fifty. The city changes. The artists change.

This amazing and totally crazy piece of art by Swoon, which memorializes Red Hook after Sandy, is on display at the Brooklyn Museum. During a recent visit there were Caribbean immigrants, yuppies with strollers, old Jewish ladies and Hispanic families wandering through.

Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands.

Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum, Swoon: Submerged Motherlands.

Is this piece of art less meaningful because it’s displayed at a museum? Rather than see it as overly establishment I would like to see the Brooklyn Museum as a vital and interesting venue because of their choice to display this piece of art. Where else would it find such a diverse audience? I don’t believe that art is only important when only a few people know about it; art is meant to be exposed to the public. NYC has always been a place where a vast variety of people have access to a vast variety of art. This is what makes it vital and exciting as a place and I don’t believe that this quality has disappeared. NYC is just as full of wonder as it ever was (but now you can take the subway at 2am and not be mugged).

Outdoor Film Screenings

Summer in NYC is a hot, sticky time full of free outdoor events. There are yoga classes, bubble wars, wandering Shakespeare, Shakespeare in a Parking Lot, countless concerts of all musical varieties and, my favorite part of the summer- outdoor film screenings! There’s something about sitting on the grass, eating picnic food and watching a movie that makes me positively glowy. I suppose it’s because I love the group experience of seeing a movie with hundreds of strangers, but I hate paying the $12.50 to do so in a theater. The outdoor film screening gives NYC back its raucous movie going adventures. The New York Parks Dept. has a pretty exhaustive list of the screenings happening this summer, but I’d like to spotlight the ones I think are particularly exciting!

The Bryant Park film series is one of the best known and therefore one of the most crowded. You need to get there when the lawn opens (5pm) and be prepared to use all your New Yorker bitchiness to get a spot. This year they’ve saved the best movie for last: Bonnie and Clyde on Monday Aug. 23rd. Watch this trailer and consider if watching in a group is worth the hassle for you.

The only really exciting film (for me at least) at Summerscreen this summer is the Labyrinth. God I love David Bowie. Sigh. Lucky for you the screening was postponed by rain and will be happening Aug. 18th, so you still have time to figure out what to wear when on hipster home turf!

On Wed. July 21st take a trip up to Van Cortland Park in the Bronx for a screening of one of the most romantic movies ever released- Casablanca. You and your significant other will be so wrapped up in the romance you’ll almost forget how long it will take you to get home.

The Summer on the Hudson film screenings on Pier 1 in Riverside Park South offer a lovely view of the water and free chairs (if you show up early enough). My two picks are Big Fish on Aug. 4th and Stranger than Fiction on Aug. 11th. Here’s the trailer for the latter; imagine watching it with the Hudson River in the background (sigh, I love summer in NYC).

The Rooftop Film Noir Screenings are new (at least to me) this summer. I find the idea of watching film noir from a rooftop in the W. Village extremely compelling. My pick is Sunset Boulevard on July 22nd.

Hudson River Park’s River Flicks provide cool breezes off the water as well as free popcorn! There’s only one film in the lineup I’d want to see this summer- Julie and Julia (Aug 4th). I’ve already seen it and I can assure you it’s nice light summery fare but be sure to bring a substantial picnic- all the cooking will make you hungry!

Also new to me this summer is the Red Hook Summer Movies festival. From their website it looks like the view behind the screen will be phenomenal- Lady Liberty is the guest star of every film! The films are mostly new to me as well so I can’t give any solid recommendations, though Splash looks ridiculous enough to be fun:

I’m not too keen on any of the movies screening at Socrates Sculpture Park in July, but the August schedule isn’t up yet so you should definitely check the site again later this month to see what comes up!

Rooftop Films, though generally not free, is one of my favorite summer institutions. The screenings take place in a variety of locations, not all on rooftops. My favorite venue by far is the Old American Can Factory, so if one of the screenings happening there appeals to you definitely go! I generally favor the programs of short films. July 21st they’re showing a program of Swedish short films, which I might skip were it not that I’ve seen one of the films (INSTEAD OF ABRACADABRA) and it was marvelous! I would also strongly recommend Animation Block Party (July 30th)- a wonderful night of animated shorts that I’ve attended 2 years running.

Last but certainly not least, my all time favorite venue for film screenings- Brooklyn Bridge Park. There is nothing more magical than sitting between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges watching a wonderful film with your friends. It is a truly New York experience. The film selection this year isn’t that great but I would say The Blues Brothers on Aug. 19th is the best of the bunch.

Happy watching!!

Nude with a Goose Strikes Again!

Nude with a Goose, the fledgling curatorial partnership of Berit Hoff and Shannon McEneaney, recently had their second exhibition. If you didn’t read my post about their first show you should check it out for all the background info… These lovely ladies have taken it upon themselves to singlehandedly bring to light the strange, beautiful and thought provoking art that is hiding in the studio apartments of young artists all over the city. At the same time they are creating opportunities to curate instead of waiting for the art world to give them their dream jobs.

Their latest exhibit, Exposure, brought together 60 artists for a one-night-only event that was part exhibit and part nightclub, with Essential (a 12 year old party/event organization) handling the second part. The works shown ranged from oil paintings to sculptures made with unrecognizable materials. I will just tell you a bit about a few of my favorites.

Elisa Garcia de la Huerta’s brilliant photography addressed the theme in a more subtle way than some of the other works. The vibrant colors exposed details of her images in such a way that the viewer was continually drawn back to them from far corners of the room. I haven’t been able to find them online but if I do I’ll provide a link- check back.

Carlton Sturgill‘s work connects to the theme in a more direct way; the semi-nude woman in his painting is faceless and inviting.

Carlton Scott Sturgill

Emily Johnson’s charcoal drawing is more disturbing the longer you look at it. At first it appears to be people stacked up in a formation like cheerleaders performing, but as you look closer you see that instead of torsos each figure has a second set of legs, making the structure a tower of legs alone. To me this plays with the idea of exposure in a unique way- the exposure of the viewer’s first impression as false. I have failed to find a website for Ms. Johnson but I will appeal to Nude with a Goose- check back.

Marisa DeMarco‘s painting of a face in black and white, framed by pink headphones, is lovely. The chord to the headphones is unplugged and pointing straight to the left, as though waiting for the right music to color in the person, to expose them, or perhaps to show that when we are unplugged we are exposed as colorless. The style feels very Pop Art and while thought provoking the piece doesn’t feel overly combative.

Finally, while I cannot explain how Abdolreza Aminlari‘s piece deals with the theme, I can tell you that I found it compelling. It reminds me of Etch a Sketch in a strange way, but also of experiments with magnets in my High School physics class.

Abdolreza Aminlari

I am looking forward to seeing the next show by Nude with a Goose and I encourage you to keep tabs on them in the future!