By Claire F. Hamilton
At different times Governors Island has been a garrison for George Washingtons troops, a keeper of Confederate prisoners, and home to thousands employed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Handed from the federal to city government in 2003, the islands future has been officially up for grabs since March, when Mayor Bloomberg announced that he was seeking fresh ideas for its use. On July 16th, an art exhibition called Set and Drift will be in and around the islands national monuments, which are just north of an abandoned town emptied in 1996 when the Coast Guard left. Organized by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, the exhibition was designed to frame the islands uncertain future in the context of its meandering history.
Six installations from artists who include Serge Spitzer, Leo Villareal and Jennifer Zackin will occupy the 22-acre, historic section of the island managed by the National Park Service.
Set and Drift borrows its title from navigational speech, set describing the angle and drift, the speed, at which a ship deviates from its intended course. Its kind of a controlled drift. You wouldnt necessarily aim for your destination, but let the current take you, said Jessica Sucher, associate curator at the LMCC.
Jennifer Zackins work will decorate the trees along Ligget Hall, built in the 1930s to accommodate an entire army regiment. The arrangement of her work, called Taps, is supposed to mimic the musical notation of a bugle call by the same name. The windows of a 19th century home once occupied by a colonel will be covered with drawings of period furniture by artist Anna Craycroft, whose work is also at PS 1.
Leo Villareal created light clusters to shine in patterns along the islands shoreline. His work, entitled Beckon, is expected to create the appearance of a shifting island to those gazing out from Lower Manhattan.
The L.M.C.C.s marketing manager, Ken Beasley, said the council was drawn to Governors Island partly because of its relative obscurity, being only a half-mile from Battery Park and surrounded by better-known islands. Its beyond public consciousness, he said. By ferry, the 172-acre island is a few minutes from Downtown.
Governors Island also appealed to the LMCC because of its modern history, said Sucher. (It is, among other things, the birthplace of the Smothers Brothers.) Abandoned homes, shops and fields marking the U.S. Coast Guards exit are like the remains of a nostalgic, idyllic suburbia, said Sucher. And leftovers illustrate different histories. In the grassy courtyard of the roughly 200 year-old Fort Jay are weathered metal rocking horses on springs.
While a walk around the island may prove educational, the art is just inspired, or in one case relocated. Serge Spitzers 1997 video work Thousand Islands will be screened inside Fort Jay, a defense built between 1794-1806. The video is said to be suggestive of violence, but also funny, ambiguous and theatrical, using Fort Jay as its stage. Thousand Islands deals with the strangeness of human behavior and is very much related to its location [without being] a literal interpretation of any event, said Sucher.
Other Set and Drift artists include Jesse Bercowetz and Matt Bua, who created a makeshift museum as an addition to a civil-war era officers house. An audio installation from artist group neuroTransmitter with Daniela Fabricius will broadcast from a tree fort added to Colonels Row.
The exhibition runs until August 13. On opening night only, there will be live music and a program of short films called Lost at Sea. The exhibition and screening are both free. The ferry runs Tuesday-Saturday and costs between $3-6.
Beasley said that the Cultural Council hoped to stimulate public interest in the possibilities surrounding Governors Island. The deadline for expressions of interest to be submitted to the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation city was June 20, and the state-city agency expects that in late 2005 it will issue requests for development proposals.