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Staten Island, New York, United States

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Art on Staten Island: Lumen 2011

I had heard reports last year about Lumen, a multimedia arts installation festival,  from my friends. I live in the neighborhood where it was held and had stood outside the gates, pondering whether to go in or not. Nothing was visible from the street and I had just had news that my father was gravely ill, so was in no mood. I just went home.

So, I was determined to attend this year and see if it lived up to the hype. The publicity leading up to it was astonishing for a Staten Island art event. We are used to being overlooked by the mainstream media, despite a LOT of effort. The Daily News will cover us sometimes, but the NY Times sends us a Metropolitan section in our Sunday Times, which is all about New Jersey (?????) and NEVER includes Staten Island listings. However, this year Lumen was covered prominently not only in the NY Times (in a couple of places AND with a picture!), but also in Time Out New York. And those were only the items I saw.  The director of our arts council (COAHSI), Melanie Cohn, told me that it was due to the very hard work of two marketing interns from CSI. Kudos to them! 

Staten Island Ferry boats as seen from the neighboring pier.
Lumen took place from 6:00 pm to midnight. This being the time of the year with the longest days, that meant that this festival featuring projections and lights took place during some daylight hours. That gave us some time to check out the site itself, a nearly abandoned "public" space which includes a recently renovated pier with some public art, a couple of plaza areas with permanent tables and seats, several large fenced-off abandoned historical buildings that were to house the National Lighthouse Museum (now moribund) and one small but beautifully renovated building. This was the site for SICC's Art by the Ferry festival in 2010.

The Verrazano Bridge as seen from the pier.
The pier was the site for performance artists, although there was one lone dancer performing in the dark near the abandoned buildings. You never know, she could have been moved by the moment and the ambience and was actually a talented interloper. Anyway, I was more distracted by the view on the pier than the performance artists; one lounging in a tent, one getting her hair cut, another performing what looked like a Santeria ritual (I steered clear - the machete made me nervous).

Sculpture made from construction buckets

After the sun set, my sister (my companion for the evening) and I planted ourselves at one of the permanent tables and chairs. For the next hour or so, we just pivoted in our seats, taking in the action around us. We were perfectly situated to see several projections on both screens and buildings, a very effective but simple sculpture made from alternating red and white construction buckets, some costumed people and the crowd.

This woman had to have been influenced by Ana Mendieta
who did many "silhueta" installations. 
Ana was a grad student at the University of Iowa when I was an undergrad there. She was a big influence on my own work when I was exploring female empowerment images.

We were greatly entertained overhearing a 20 minute conversation between a young man with a cooler, trying to explain to his friends at the ferry how to reach the site. I was astonished that so many people actually managed to find their way to the site. Every obstacle possible is put in the way of the most direct route; blockaded areas, signs that say "danger", "no entry", narrow almost invisible passageways between fences, and car traffic from the ferry. Seriously. Only armed guards with guns could make it more intimidating (but they are usually in the ferry terminal itself). I digress . . . back to the festival.

On the walk back towards the ferry terminal there was an avenue of sorts, with installations at perfect intervals. I especially enjoyed the ones which used the buildings as part of the pieces.

Such a perfect evening and like all successful site-specific art pieces, it highlighted the site as much as the art. The only drawback was that it needed beer, as per last year. It was such a laid back hanging-out-on-a-Saturday-night kind of thing that beer would have made it perfect. This was a big topic of discussion among the friends we ran into throughout the night. The word was that the public organization that controls the site had given an ultimatum "Do you want beer or do you want a festival?" Too bad.

Many thanks to Ginger Lynne Shulick, curator, and to COAHSI for sponsoring this festival. LOTS of people, time, effort and dedication is necessary to pull an event of this scale off and make it a success. AND the luck of good weather!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer in NYC: Dancing Tango Outdoors

One of the perks of living in this city is all the free outdoor culture offered in the unique public spaces. I've only taken advantage of a couple of them this year, but the summer is still young.

The tango community moves outside in the summer.   Many of us are still mourning the original outdoor Milonga at the South Street Seaport. That was a victim of real estate-development, like so many other good things in this town. Also, I believe the Seaport Museum had something to do with the upkeep of the pier and they have fallen victim to the economy in recent years.

The rustic wooden surface of the pier was always a challenge to dance on, but became dangerous toward the end, with splinters and holes. But the ambience was hard to beat; the Brooklyn Bridge, the stately tall ship Peking docked next to us, the moon and the stars . . . all irresistible to people already under the romantic spell of the tango. Tango has its cliques, but EVERYONE showed up at the seaport.

My first outdoor milonga this year was at the Christopher Street pier. We dance there under a pavilion,which functions to contain the music, keeping it from drifting on the breeze out to the Hudson. 

The wood on this pier is new and we only have to worry about spiked heels getting caught between the boards and a little bit of slipping on the smooth surface. There's always a breeze off the Hudson to cool us down after the warmth of the sun, the exertion and the closeness of each other. 

When the sun sets (ah, the sunset) it cools down even more. The lights from the Lackawanna terminal in Hoboken, the Empire State Building, and The Statue of Liberty are all in view. 

Sometimes we are so taken with the ambience and good company we almost forget to dance.
This time at the pier I was happy to see that some of my regular "pier partners" were there. Some of them I only see at this milonga. Although we knew each other by sight, the names had slipped from memory and we had to re-synch our movements to each other.

The other outdoor milonga I love is at the Shakespeare statue in Central Park. I actually like the surface of the blocks for dancing, with just the right amount of traction. The area is usually swept clean and a little talcum powder applied. Sometimes a guitarist and bandoneon player provide us with music. The cool leafy surroundings and handy benches make it very inviting. Unfortunately, Saturdays are difficult for me to drag myself in for another day of commuting into Manhattan after what is usually a full day of running errands (which I do all on foot) and garden work.

This year there is a new outdoor milonga at Union Square Park. The reports have been positive and it sounds like everyone is showing up in the kind of numbers that used to frequent the seaport. I'm planning to check it out this weekend. I'll do a report.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Suitcase Show and Sale of Tango Collages

I've been graciously invited to exhibit and sell my tango collages on June 6th, 2011 from 6:00 to 10:00 at  Casa de Tango, a milonga hosted by Anthony Blackwell. I will be at the milonga with my antique suitcase packed with collages inspired by the tango. Casa de Tango is held upstairs at Central Bar at 190 E. 9th St. in New York City.

This milonga is very intimate and friendly. I always maintain that a milonga's tone is set by the host. The first time I went, Anthony made sure I was comfortable and introduced me to some of the people there. Due to those introductions, I danced with some really fabulous partners I probably wouldn't have before. The gender balance there is good, too. And, I think because everybody is very visible in the small room, people get to dance.

There's a camera flashing constantly during the milonga (now I know how celebrities feel with paparazzi), but it's a great marketing tool. Anthony will then post tons of pictures from each milonga on Facebook. I know I'm not the only one who scrutinizes the pictures, not only to find myself in them, but also to see if friends and dance partners were at the milongas I didn't attend.

Anthony has been promoting the sale on Facebook as well as on his website http://www.blackwellassociates.com/. Last night I was passing out flyers for the sale at the milonga at Triangulo and people were remarking that they already knew about it from his efforts.

I still have a lot of preparations for the sale this weekend; matting, labeling, etc.  And, knowing me, I will probably want to complete a couple more collages, because I can't help myself. Here are a couple of the collages. All are small and under $100.

(c) 2010 Denise Mumm, Collage #39
7½"x11", paper lithograph, collage on paper

(c) 2010 Denise Mumm, Collage #44 10"x7 1/2", paper lithograph, collage on paper
More peeks of the work I will be selling can be seen at my Etsy shop http://www.etsy.com/shop/DeniseMummArt and more about me and some of the more expensive (but still affordable!) work I do can be found at my website http://denisemumm.com.