Monday, September 22, 2008

Eliasson's Waterfalls

Late yesterday afternoon we headed down to the South Street Seaport to take a boat tour of Olafur Eliasson's "Waterfalls", the four tinker-toy type scaffolding structures that stand on the East River --at the Brooklyn Bridge and Pier 35 (near the Manhattan Bridge), between Piers 4 and 5 (near the Brooklyn Heights Promenade), and near the Governors Island ferry station. Each has a cascade of water pouring down somewhere between 90 and 120 feet from the top of the scaffolding.

Part of what I wondered about as I went to see the structures was whether or not we'd be able to experience them as art. Becca and Kathy had briefly seen Christo's "The Gates" in Central Park a few years ago and we were all still trying to fit that into any kind of artistic understanding, so my expectations weren't high. When it came to "Waterfalls", however, I'd read that what Eliasson was trying to do was to create an experimental setup that would engage us with water in new ways, making water explicit rather than letting us take it for granted. Since I love being anywhere on, in, or near water, I thought it would be easier to engage my senses in this exhibit.

It didn't happen though. The noise of the water falling just blended in with the noise of the traffic on the roads and the waterways. And the structures that pumped the water up to their heights just looked like much of the other scaffolding and building projects elsewhere in the city. The only one of the four falls that engaged me at all was the one under the Brooklyn bridge. As we got closer to it, we could see folks standing up on the walkway in the bridge trying to look down at the waterfalls. The scaffolding there seemed to become part of the bridge's design and to complement and complicate the bridge's structure.

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