June 1 saw the launch of Stillspotting NYC in downtown Brooklyn, a Guggenheim interactive public works project in an empty hardware store that hopes to treat and vaccinate New Yorkers from the violent and loud din that surrounds them. The project is curated by David van der Leer. Stillspotting’s first installation is Sanatorium by Pedro Reyes.
It’s 4:56 p.m. Friday, May 27th and I’m sitting at Abeline Café on Court Street in Carroll Gardens. I just finished a phone interview with David van der Leer and Pedro Reyes about their Stillspotting NYC Sanatorium exhibit that will take place June 2 to 5 and June 9 to 11.
The focus of the exhibit is twofold: To confront the policy debate over noise pollution in New York City, and to generally encourage people to take a break from the city rat race.
“In a city where people are always running, I think it’s also important for them to take a step back,” says David.
The street outside Abeline is bustling. Large delivery trucks haul past every five minutes, kids noisily ramble down the sidewalk, friends yell each other’s names across the street. I find myself irked. I am having an impossible time hearing my phone interview. No office yet, interviews all over town. It’s difficult to find a quiet refuge when caught out of the apartment.
The interview trucks along with intermittent pauses while either side waits out random piercing spurts of sound: laughter from a nearby table, construction trucks beeping.
“When you come from Europe, you really notice how much quieter Northern European Cities are. They have stricter noise regulation,” says David.
In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg announced a noise regulation overhaul. He claimed this was the biggest overhaul in 30 years. David hopes to reinvigorate the debate and bring it to focus.
David chose Pedro for the project because he is a former architect turned artist.
“I think this project is interesting because it will give people a chance to examine themselves,” Pedro says.
It’s 7:45 p.m. on May 27th and I head to 1 MetroTech. I congratulate myself for being 15 minutes early. I’m nervous. I just had one of the most embarrassingly sloppy interviews of my life a few days ago… and it was with the Guggenheim. Amateur. I think to myself, “I can’t help it that Court Street suddenly became a train station.”
But now I’m early and things are going to be peachy.
I enter the storefront at 345 Jay Street: 1 MetroTech Center, North Side. I speak to the guard. “Hi I’m here for the Sanatorium press preview exhibit,” I say proudly.
“The what?” the guard asks.
“You have a room?” he asks.
“The storefront,” I say… still confident.
“Ha. Well, you are standing in the storefront. I don’t see anything here. Do you?” he asks. He’s actually pretty nice. I’m flustered.
Too embarrassed to call Lauren, the Guggenheim media person, I go up to the third floor and search around. The third floor is the NYC floor and the guard thinks my best chances are there. The third floor is also a maze and essentially filled with classrooms… it reminds me of what Ratner’s Atlantic Mall must look like… endless maze so young kids get caught up from store to store.
Anyway… I’m off topic.
I am rejected from the 3rd floor maze. I call Lauren. They are at the former Sid’s Hardware, also owned by Ratner and two blocks down from 1 MetroTech Center. Readers beware: Sid’s Hardware is the location of the exhibit.
I am late. Ohh. god. The Guggenheim hates me. I enter. The space is enormous. I remember my first interview with David and Pedro. “We needed quite a large space, which Metro Tech kindly donated. We also though Brooklyn was a good place to start, since it has such an expansive population,” said David.
A woman greets me. I tell her I’m a reporter. She goes upstairs and informs David and Pedro “the journalist” is here. David comes down the stairs. He doesn’t look over 30 years old. I explain to him the confusion.
“Oh, why didn’t you just call Lauren immediately?” he asks. I shrug sheepishly. “Well, the volunteers have all left. Looks like we will be giving you a bit of a personal tour,” he says.
Pedro pops out of nowhere. “Ah, yes. A personal tour. What do you think?” asks Pedro. They actually look excited.The Guggenheim doesn’t hate me? Personal tour? Yes. Yes. Yes. “Yep. Sounds awesome. Let’d do it,” I say.
Pedro and I reviewed seven out of 16 exhibits tonight. They are as follows:
- Museum of hypothetical lifetimes
- Goodou dolls
- philosophical casino
- synesthetic test
- vaccine against violence
- transmigration express
The project began raising money last year, an amount of which and sources from whom the museum prefers not to disclose. “These things are low budget but anything over a year accumulates a nice price,” said David.
Once the ball got rolling, it took Pedro four months to put together. He worked with one psychologist, Melvyn Bucholtz, who will present The Tuning Effect at the exhibit. Mel and Pedro were introduced through celebrity neurologist Alice W. Flaherty. Alice will attend the exhibit and explain the biological affects of the therapies. Pedro will outskirt the exhibit, camcorder in hand, taping his conversations with her regarding the “patients.”
“I’d like to create a sort of doctor show,” he said as he chuckled to himself. I could see him imagining him and Alice in white coats, walking around, discussing all of their patients. I chuckled too. This was going to be fun.
We start with the Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes.
“You had fun naming these… didn’t you.” I said. “Oh yea, I did,” Pedro said.
1. The Museum of Hypothetical Lifetimes is essentially an architectural model of the everylife. You have the cradle, mom and dad, childhood, high school, play time, college, the crazy years, work, retirement and the eventual exit. It is about three feet by five feet and looks like a maze – each section representing a different life category. Your job is to place objects in the maze that represent your life story.. in 10 minutes or less. And then explain your life to the assigned therapist. Mine included a ferris wheel arching over mom and dad, gold beads spanning middle school to early high school, an upside down house during the recession (end of high school), a boat passing through the exit of college and a single rose in a perfect rectangular vase in the middle of work. You infer the rest.
2. Next we did Cityleaks. Short and sweet. Write a secret, read a secret. The idea: anonymous gossip makes us feel good and so does writing down our secrets. Pedro and I would be the first to do this exercise and also the first to write our secrets. We mutually opted out in the interest of saving ourselves the embarrassment.
3. The Goodou Dolls. “Everyone knows about Haitian Vodou dolls. This is the opposite. Take a person you want to heal and sew five symbols on them that symbolize what they need,” he said.
“Oh, yippee. I’m going to do my sister!” I said as I quickly assembled my doll. “Now, you have to give that doll to the person and explain what you did,” he said.
4. Philosophical Casino. Magic 8 ball with epic Greek, German and Austrian philosopher quotes. You ask the question, spin the overgrown die and read aloud. You then interpret your question through the quote. “Will I be a famous writer?” I asked. “Honor has not to be won; it must only not be lost,” said Arthur Schopenhauer.
5. The Synesthetic Test. Pedro blindfolds you (or your respective therapist), spins you around in a chair and then makes you stick your tongue out under different colored lights. He claims he tasted light one day. He swears he was sober. He’s hoping to test his hypothesis on the exhibit attendees.
6. Vaccine Against Violence. This therapy is modeled after former Bogotá, Columbia mayor Antanas Mockus’s Vaccine Against Violence, where Pedro estimates Mockus vaccinated approximately 50,000 people in over 100 “vaccination” stations.
“This guys is the greatest guy ever. Bogotá had a lot of inter-familial violence. Instead of increasing the police force, Antanas went to the root of the problem: violent people are raised in violent situations. He set these vaccination stations up all over the city. People lined up around the block,” said Pedro.
The idea: Get a general stuffed dummy. Assign each person a balloon on which he draws the face of the person who has hurt him most. Send person into a soundproof room with the dummy and attached balloon head. Person screams and yells at the dummy to confront all the pain caused over the years. At the end, person beats dummy until balloon pops and the dummy “dies.” Afterward, give the person a tic-tac from an official looking prescription bottle. Voila! You have a violence vaccinated individual. I didn’t do this one either. I wasn’t feeling especially angry tonight. Although, if I attend the real thing on Thursday, believe you me, I’m whackin’ that dummy senseless.
7. Transmigration Express. Lay on a garage floor, close your eyes, and move your knees up and around while holding an inflated balloon between them and breathing heavily. Ladies: do not wear a skirt or dress. Think back to who you were 100 years ago. That doesn’t have to be the narrative. Point: connect with a part of you that has been lost. I thought I failed the test because I spent the entire time trying to imagine whether I’d be ballsy enough to help defend African Americans in Brooklyn’s struggling abolitionist movement during 1911. Apparently, I just needed some more time.
“Three or five more minutes and you would have known your answer,” said Pedro.
Both Pedro and David actually expect Sanatorium to be therapeutic, with a quiet space and introductions to several kinds of therapies.
“There will be therapies there rooted psychology, different cultures, art, and literature,” said Pedro. “We expect the exhibit to take at least two hours. We will ask people to turn off their cell phones and be as quiet as they can,” says David.
Sanatorium at 345 Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn.
Thurs., June 2nd to Sun., June 5th
Thurs., June 9th to Sun., June 12th.
For more info on Stillspotting projects, check out their press release.
Stillspotting NYC curated by David van der Leer
Sanatorium art installation by Pedro Reyes
Sid’s Hardware (1 MetroTech Center)
345 Jay Street (Downtown Brooklyn)