New sculpture adds more dystopia to East River Park
An art installation, “Joined an Avalanche, Never to be Alone Again,” opened October 4 at the foot of the temporary Corlears Hook Park bridge. The piece features gravel, corrugated steel, core samples, repurposed fencing from the FDR–and asphalt.
At a recent walk-through, the DDC Public Artist in Residence Carlos Irijalba explained that the asphalt is “green,” meaning it is recycled from street repaving operations. But to those who walked by while it was being installed, it smelled anything but–yet another pollutant added to a stark landscape that has been stripped of its greenery, leaving only fencing, steel and gravel, and asphalt, lots of it.
For a community missing its park, grieving the loss of hundreds of mature trees and open green spaces filled with memories of picnics, music, games and simple relaxation, we are given art that is essentially indistinguishable from the East Side Coastal Resiliency construction site.
The repurposed fencing blends into all of the other fencing, keeping us from what used to be public green space; the smell of its asphalt blends into the daily smell of dust, exhaust and endless construction materials; its gravel is another stretch of gravel along what used to be grassy lawns and bushes alive with pollinators. Its title is displayed on a construction billboard and has no connection to anything.
Its installation required trucking in yet more construction materials, “harvested from the city’s infrastructure,” releasing more pollutants and carbon into an area already overloaded with pollutants and carbon, and dumping asphalt onto the one of the last remaining bits of espanade. The asphalt is meant to look like a wave. It is unsealed and unpainted, a wave-like pile of loose asphalt that is already disintegrating into an estuary that is expected to keep accepting all of the environmental insults we pour into it. The detritus of this piece may eventually be found in our lungs, in fish and bird stomachs, and at the bottom of the estuary and eventually the ocean.
And yet, if you question this art piece, you’re told you don’t understand “art.” Because you only live here, in a community famous for its artists, poets, dancers and musicians. Because maybe you’re an artist yourself who has seen–or even created yourself–so many magnificent pieces that make you more aware of the brilliant possibilities of art when it is organic to the community and the landscape.
You remember artists like Agnes Denes, who planted a wheat field in view of the World Trade Centers, Cecilia Vicuña who traced the fall of milk along the West Side Highway to see where water goes when it drains into the river, Kathy Westwater, who created a collaborative dance of poetry atop Fresh Kills in Staten Island; the Smokehouse Associates and William T. Williams who painted powerful abstract murals in Harlem.
From our own neighborhood, the marvelous Eileen Myles has tirelessly written incredible poetry and essays driving home the loss of this park. Emily Johnson recently led a powerful tragic performance along the fences and destruction of East River Park. So many more artists have worked diligently and with vision to understand the communities in which they were working and the ecologies of the landscape about them.
Instead, we got asphalt, fencing and gravel. More of it.
–Photos by Pat Arnow
You can visit anytime, or if you wish to speak to the artist or representatives from the Department of Design and Construction, there will be an artist walk through on the next two Saturdays: 10/7 and 10/14. Information and tickets here (though you don’t really need tickets). You can tell DDC staff what you are thinking about this project and how we need art that does not simply glorify construction materials.
The installation will be removed November 15.