Volume 18 • Issue 24 | Oct. 28 - Nov. 3, 2005

Photo by Lisa Bateman

See for yourself: A bystander peers into Lisa Bateman’s public art installation on Broadway and Leonard.

Through a PVC pipe, darkly

By Sara G. Levin

Before crossing the southwest corner of Broadway and Leonard St., a scruffy young man eyed Lisa Bateman’s most recent public art installation without realizing exactly what it was. The white PVC pipe attached with metal straps to a blue construction barrier looks as if it could almost be a normal part of the construction site behind it.

Hunching his shoulders under a beige Carhart jacket, the young man slapped one of his buddies on the shoulder and asked, “Hey, what is that thing over there?”

His friends dismissed the question with raised eyebrows.

“Why don’t you go look in?” one of them suggested, noticing the viewing lens at the top of the tube. But then the light turned green, the young man shrugged, and the three of them decided not to waste time before crossing the street.

On a quick-paced Monday morning, not many people noticed Bateman’s Periscope, much less took the time to look through it. Such is the hustle of a brisk fall day. But viewing something so unexpected would have been worth the time it took to peek inside.

Peering through the lens is immediately disorienting. Instead of a realistic window into the world below, the panorama displays an iconic 1949 Ford Sedan rotating on a pedestal bathed in neon green light. The green bounces off surrounding mirrors making the light around the Ford throb, like the hovering face of the Wizard of Oz.

Stepping back, you are still on the noisy corner where jackhammers stab the sidewalk and hurried people rush past. But returning to the viewing piece of the Periscope, the unexpected suburban icon—a classic family four-door—takes over the visual space. The alternate world might make you chuckle at having practically stepped through the looking glass, seeing something so impressive that makes no sense in the surrounding place and time.

According to Bateman, sensing the juxtaposition between her suburban image and the gritty city is meant to be part of the experience.

The artist and painting professor at Pratt University was inspired to create something that was as much a tribute to her father (who passed away around the time Bateman conceived of the piece two years ago), as to the city’s changing landscape. Bateman consciously chose the car and color for symbolic reasons. The ’49 Ford happened to be her father’s first car, and came to embody the sense of security and homogeny she grew up with in the suburbs of Virginia.

“A car like that was a symbol of status and money, so it’s a play on the idea of a heavy consumer culture,” said Bateman, who has done numerous public art projects throughout the city, including murals in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and a work for the MTA. Though she loved her father, she recognized that he was influenced by the shallow consumerism of suburbia. Bateman wanted to get away from that, and found salvation in the rich diversity of New York City.

However, she said, the same ideas and values of wealth, money, and superficial status are now changing the community she once found haven in. According to Bateman, the soon-to-be apartment complex on Leonard and Broadway, which has replaced a parking lot, is an example of a different kind of community.

“Manhattan’s become a very rich, white suburban culture,” Bateman said. “It’s very disturbing for any of us who live on the edge, who want to have mixed dialogues with cultures we don’t know about.”

The Periscope project was sponsored by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and will be on view until Dec. 11 at the southwest construction fence on the corner of Broadway and Leonard. For more information, visit www.lmcc.net/EventsandExhibitions/periscope.html.


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