PLOT/09 Presents a Public Art Extravaganza on NYC’s Governors Island

This summer, Creative Time launches New York’s first public art quadrennial, PLOT, with The World & Nearer Ones, an exhibition on Governors Island featuring 19 individual artists and artist collectives from nine different countries. Minutes away from Manhattan and Brooklyn by ferry, Governors Island in New York Harbor was home to the US military for more than 200 years, but now its fortresses, officer’s houses, chapel, theater, and other sites hold contemporary art. Exhibition curator Mark Beasley divides the work, which engages the island’s history and future, between indoor and outdoor locales — making the discovery of the artists’ projects an adventure.

Light and sound are popular mediums for several of the featured artists. Anthony McCall uses video projectors and haze machines to construct parallel sculptures that move slowly through the darkened Saint Cornelius Chapel and eventually, almost imperceptibly, trade places with one another. Krzysztof Wodiczko presents a video installation — deep in a dark, dank munitions room in old Fort Jay — of a candle flame that flickers with the voices of soldiers recalling the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Elsewhere, Susan Philipsz amplifies sound from an outdoor speaker, singing “By My Side” from the musical Godspell, asking, “Where are you going? Can you take me with you?” of the not-so-distant Statue of Liberty.

Judi Werthein incorporates another symbol of American patriotism, the national anthem, into the two-channel video installation La Tierra de los Libres (The Land of the Free), which captures two views of Columbian refugees singing their own lively version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Adam Chodzko tackles patriotism, or at least duty, with his video installation Echo; presented in the ballroom of the former Officer’s Club, it mixes tales of a swapping game, which “military brats” supposedly played, with imaginary reflections by current staff and both newly shot and found-film footage. Contrastingly, The Bruce High Quality Foundation satirizes the island’s resurgence as an art destination and the current economic death of the art world in Isle of the Dead, a 19-minute zombie film shot and screened in the abandoned movie theater.

Words play an important role in a number of conceptual and performance works. Lawrence Weiner stenciled the phrase AT THE SAME MOMENT on the Manhattan ferry terminal entry dock, referencing the relationship of the island to NYC. Mark Wallinger playfully added simple signs with the words GOATS and SHEEP to railings on the left and right sides of the boat in Ferry. Tris Vonna-Mitchell gave a storytelling performance on the opening weekend, where he spewed out words at a rapid, shorthand pace, juxtaposing historical happenings in far-off cities with facts from Governors Island. Patti Smith and her daughter Jesse provide Message in a Bottle, a poem and music piece about the island that can be heard on an iPod, while Jill Magid‘s performative concept to pause the ferry midway, in order to consider the surroundings, remains a proposal in the show’s guidebook.

Of course, a large public-art exhibition wouldn’t be complete without some physical sculptures. Teresa Margolles, who’s representing Mexico in the Venice Biennale, offers Muro Baleado (Shot-Up Wall), a cinder-blocked façade transported from the artist’s crime-ridden home city of Culiacán — also known as “Narco City” — that bears the marks of bullets and blood. Nils Norman pitches a group of weatherworn tents that symbolize protest sites and homeless camps; and Klaus Weber releases the island’s demons in Large Dark Wind Chime (Tritone Westy), an oversized chime that hangs in a central tree. Tuned to the diabolus in musica tritone — a tone that has a dissonant and melancholic effect — the chime lets out a haunting sound, one which seems to come from deep within the secluded plot of land, rather than from the winds that blow over it.

PLOT/09: The World & Nearer Ones continues through the summer. For the ferry schedule, visit the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation website.

Image: Installation of Anthony McCall’s Between You and I in St. Cornelius Chapel, Governors Island, 2009. Photograph by Charlie Samuels, courtesy of Creative Time.