Sunday, April 10, 2016

Once again I find myself lying on my back in NYC

For the second time in 24 hours, I found myself lying on my back in a public space in New York City.

The first time was in SOHO. We had gone to an art opening that we thought would be installations of light and sound, but was instead three sets of googles, remotes and headphones dangling from a ceiling of an art gallery. After standing around a very hot room and gradually getting closer to having a turn, they closed the gallery. So that was a failed experience.

My son Victor suggested we check out the Dream House. The internet told us it was closed, but we walked to the address and were buzzed in. We climbed up two flights of creaky carpeted stairs as an incense smell intensified. A young woman in a sun dress (this is March) greeted us and asked us to take off our shoes, remain quiet, take no pictures, and to please make a donation. 

She then opened a door to a small apartment glowing in blue, magenta and purple. In the main room about ten people were sprawled on the floor. A giant sound of buzzing, humming and beating filled the space. 
Most chose to lie on the floor, some wandered, some shifted around slowly because changing your position changed the sound. Did I mention that it was really hot and the incense smell was overwhelming? (At least that explained the gatekeepers outfit). I lay on the floor, I walked, I stretched, I put my head against the window. We probably were in there about 30 minutes, and there were always at least 10 people in the room. It was not as I imagined it, (I had thought it would have more rooms with different sounds in each room), but it was interesting and more rewarding than the gallery show we had come from.

The second experience was at the Whitney. Laura Poitras' show "Astro Noise" is about surveillance in the post 9/11 world. The show consists of projections, documents and video clips, some large, some small. One room had a carpeted platform in the middle and a large projection on the ceiling. The projection is of surveillance footage of the night skies over Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan. Once your eyes adjust to the dark, you realize that people are sprawled on their backs on the platform. So you wait till someone leaves and there you are lying on your back in a museum in New York.

It's kind of mesmerizing watching the stars shift across the sky in the company of strangers.  But the best part of the installation is when, several rooms later, you walk into the final room and see that an infrared camera has been broadcasting the unsuspecting viewers lying on the platform to the public.
Surveillance indeed.

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