written for the Roosevelt Borough Bulletin, May 2007

Roosevelt Arts Project 20th Anniversary Event: Art Walk in the Woods

Brad Garton
May, 2007

As part of the RAP Twentieth Anniversary celebration, we decided to take seriously the idea of art "rooted" in Roosevelt. Working with Roosevelt artist Victoria Estok and several 'honorary' Roosevelt residents from the Columbia University Computer Music Center (where I work), we designed a path through the woods behind the Roosevelt Amphitheater. This trail, the Art Walk, was then populated by art "installations" situated within the wonderful natural environment that threads through our Borough.

An art installation is a creation that combines sound, image, sculpture and physical location with the intent to produce a unique and often surprising experience. The pieces along the Art Walk certainly fulfilled this intention! The Walk began with a video presentation of Terry Pender's Playground, a visual depiction of blurred images of children playing in a virtual environment. Further along the Walk, Jeff Snyder had positioned two large cymbals in a piece called Percussion. The cymbals were driven into resonance by a feedback system, with the result being an ethereal, floating set of melodies flowing through the woods. My piece, family, was a set of four laptop computers positioned on stumps and trees, gently playing a set of soft, sustained chords. Sam Pluta's Academic Computer Music (concert for one) was most intriguing. It consisted of a set of nearly 100 small loudspeakers (1-2 inches in size) that hung like a multi-stranded vine, or maybe a land-locked jellyfish, over the path. Each tiny speaker was programmed to emit small beeps, so that walking under the 'tendrils' became an experience of a dynamic audio space. Participants exiting the Walk were treated to the "hidden choir" of Daniel Iglesia's untitled, a subtle piece that transformed a fallen log into an apparent sound-generating system.

By far the most compelling piece -- especially here in Roosevelt -- was Victoria's work Audio as the Realm of the Dead. The piece consisted of a bench overlooking Empty Box Creek, a very peaceful setting, with several loudspeakers playing recordings of departed Roosevelt residents softly from beneath the bench. It was a well-executed and deeply moving installation. Many of those who went along the Walk spent a long time soaking up the warm memories of past friends and neighbors.

One final expression of gratitude: the Walk would not have existed were it not for the efforts of Deirdre Sheean, who literally (along with Victoria Estok) built the Art Walk pathway. Combined with the glorious cooperation of the weather on Saturday, the Art Walk was a delightful addition to the 20th anniversary festivities!

NOTE: Additional description of this event can be found in my blog here.