October 26, 2010
As much as I may gripe about Manhattan and New York City, there is one distinct advantage to living here — the artistic community. There are few other places in the world where one can observe such an impressive collection of art of all kinds. Yes, the museums are a tremendous influence on the art scene here, and are one of the reasons such an active art community exists; however, my favorite kind of art on view here can be seen by just walking down the street. The public and outdoor art of New York City is such a treat to run across. It infiltrates the environment, it catches you off-guard, and it makes you stop – a small feat in itself in this city – and think.
The newest additions to this scene, and to the twilight landscape of the city, are courtesy of Jim Campell, a highly-awarded new-media artist from San Francisco. His first work, “Broken Window” sits near the South entrance of Madison Square Park. It is a low-resolution video wall, only about 7 feet high, faced with frosted glass bricks, displaying video of what appears to be one of the adjacent streets during the day, with pedestrians, cars, taxis, and trucks intermittently crossing the field of view. Although the scene is immediately familiar, the the juxtaposition of the daylit scene against the nighttime landscape immediately pulls the viewer in, and the slight blur makes it seem almost dream-like. I stood watching the scene for a good few minutes, just waiting to see what crossed into the frame next.
Continuing on deeper into the park, floating delicately above the Oval Lawn, “Scattered Light” is not nearly as bright or compact as “Broken Window,” but it has just as magnetic a pull. The nearly 2,000 LED bulbs suspended in space quietly twinkle against the darkness while the city roars on just beyond the treeline, creating a peaceful nighttime spectacle to enjoy on a cool fall night. Approaching from the North or South, or at any angle to the installation, the points of light appear to float in a random order in space, twinkling like the stars in the sky. Move around the sculpture to the East or West, however, and order suddenly emerges from the chaos — the twinkling patterns are formed by the shadows of people crossing through the sculpture as if it weren’t there at all! The random patterns of light and dark become defined by the random patterns of Manhattan foot traffic, reflecting the surrounding landscape and echoing the sentiments of “Broken Window” at the entrance to the park.
These are complex effects to describe or try to capture in a photograph, so I have included a short video of both installations for those who can’t see them in person. If you live in New York City, though, I highly encourage you to visit, even if Madison Square Park is a bit out of your way. It energizes and inspires me to see a lighting installation in such a prominent public setting — I hope the trend continues! Enjoy!