Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, October 06, 2008

New York notes--Eliasson Waterfalls

The Olafur Eliasson waterfalls are in place for a few more days in New York, until October 13th. I got a chance to look at them this summer and have been meaning to say something about it.

In my usual manner, I didn't plan very carefully, but set out on foot from a subway stop near City Hall in search of the waterfront. I knew they were there somewhere. Eventually, I got to the river near the foot of the Manhattan Bridge and could see 3 of them pretty well--a wide one under the Brooklyn Bridge, one pouring from a scaffolding on the Manhattan side north of the Manhattan Bridge, and one down by Governor's Island. At first the effect is "ehn." A bit of water pouring into the river seen from a distance. Unlike Eliasson's indoor works, they don't dominate the environment in any way. I'd seen the Eliasson show at MOMA a few weeks earlier, and it was filled with light and action spectaculars. It was all about creating environments.

So the waterfalls were just these little events in very complex open environments with a lot going on--traffic, boats, people going about their business, all sorts of sounds and smells. But if you gave it time and focused, you noticed the way the shapes formed by the pouring water changed as the wind picked up the water and moved it around, and as the light shifted as clouds passed by. It focused you on detail. And eventually I started to think of these as torrents, raging wilderness streams intruding into the urban environment. The sublime made present.

The waterfalls actually fit the title of the museum show, "Take Your Time," better than the show itself, which really didn't require you to take your time. You walked into each room at MOMA and the effects jumped out at you. It was fun to stay in those environments a while, but you could get a fair amount of the information on offer from your immediate observations entering the room. (This here's a pic of me and my mother at the show in a hallway flooded with yellow light, which had the effect of canceling out all of the colors. The shirt I'm wearing is a very loud plaid with bright red and blue.)

Once I got to the point of contemplating these sculptures as approximations of mountain streams inserted into the would-be orderly human environment, it occurred to me that in fact the experience was not that different than a broken water main, a fairly common distraction on most summer days in Houston, where the soil constricts and cracks open pipes.

Then again, when I flew into LaGuardia on later trips to the area, I'd look out the airplane window and could pick out the waterfalls from the air. That's something.


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