Photographs by Yik Chung, Written by Justin Brunelle
On a sunny Friday afternoon in the northeast corner of Central Park a languid tune drifts in and out of ear’s reach amongst the children in strollers, the sunbathers, the model in the photo shoot, and the boys and girls flirting after school. The charming music comes from a small boat filled with select members of the Grammy-nominated Metropolis Ensemble and is a performance entitled S.S. Hangover from the white-hot Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. Part endurance piece and part comical ambiance, the same five-minute composition by Kjartan Sveinsson (Sigur Rós) cycles for hours on end as the boat circles a tiny island in the Harlem Meer. The melodic score played by a brass sextet is soothingly triumphant, never boisterous, as it harmonizes with the chirping birds of late Spring. It is a conceptually perfect, a “kinetic sculpture” as one astute viewer said.
S.S. Hangover was originally conceived for Venice Biennial of 2009 and is recycled here in New York as part of Creative Time’s “Drifting in Daylight: Art in Central Park” an exhibition of eight installations and performances working together to create a cultural atmosphere in the once nether region of the Central Park. An experience that is filled with delightful surprises, the project continues through June 20th with performances enacted on Friday and Saturday between 12:00 and 6:00pm. The event itself also marks the celebration of the Central Park Conservancy’s 35th anniversary. The conservancy has transformed many areas of the park during this time and helped restore the more pristine qualities of the “Greensward Plan” of its original designers Olmsted and Vaux.
One particular amazement in “Drifting into Daylight” is the migratory dance/theater-in-the-wild performance by Lauri Stallings + glo, aptly titled “And all directions I come to you” (2014). Set in the varied terrain of the North Woods section of the park that includes a picturesque waterfall in a cool ravine that is totally enlivened by Stalling’s direction. Either isolated or as a whole, the disciplined performers create a feeling of silent contemplation through movement that is measured carefully while remaining pleasingly unpredictable. The result is a romantic happening that is one part magic and two parts organic response, while conjuring the mystique and obscurity of wood nymphs.
Exiting the park along The Pond on the west side I was struck by the perfect diction of one particular elderly stroller. “You are true blue Ethel…How is your sex life?” My ears perked up for the reply as I turned to catch a glimpse of Gene Hackman and Angelica Houston look-likes. It was then I realized I was caught in a scene from the Royal Tenenbaums, the famous Wes Anderson film. It is part of David Levine’s “Private Moments,” where actors reenact a variety of scenes from classic cinema shot in the park, from Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway,” to one of my all time favorites “Marathon Man.” Amused, I pondered the beauty of the moment as the actors meandered off the path.
It is my conclusion that one of the most joyful things about life and art is the discovery of something new. “Drifting in Daylight” succeeds in this way, bringing moments of great pleasure to Central Park, a place where we go to rediscover the beauty of nature and relieve ourselves of the pressures of the grid.