With the High Line getting the lion’s share of attention lately, Hudson River Park feels more neighborhoody then ever. Last night’s opening of public art installation by artist/performer Jon Morris of Windmill Factory felt pretty down home with everyone sprawling out on the grass around Morris, who explained the inspiration for his light show which sits out in the water.
Growing up in Beria, Kentucky, Morris could see the stars, but in New York light pollution made the experience impossible. His idea was to sprinkle a little stardust onto the Hudson in the form of solar powered LEDs attached to the tops of pilings from a long departed pier.
New Yorkers are in the midst of a deep infatuation with their industrial past. Call it nostalgia, call it reappropriation, call it what you will, but nowhere is it better exemplified than in the High Line. And so there’s probably no one better to comment on new art using old infrastructure than Charles Renfro, of High Line-designers Diller Scofidio+Renfro. Renfro recalled how Morris approached him with the idea of placing lights on the pilings about two years ago. Renfro asked him a few key questions: Have you contacted anyone at the Army Corps of Engineers? (No.) Do you know anyone from Hudson River Park? (He did, a friend of a friend who knew somebody.) What about the technical logistics? (He knew someone who worked at Google.)
The friend from Google became one of the key players in the installation. Adam Berenzweig is used to dealing with rooms full of computer power, but here he was dealing kilobytes and radio technology, that go under water twice a day at high tide. “It was pretty thorny,” he said.
The biggest surprise about the project is the relatively low cost, around $25,000. And that it was completed in two years, from concept to execution. Renfro said he was surprised that the project got past Riverkeepers, the the Hudson’s ever-vigilant oyster bed protectors.
At the river’s edge a panel overlooking the pier sends a signal out to the lights, which respond by forming a constellation. When not acting as Orion, the lights dim and flicker gently, shifting from cobalt blue to white. The scene is quiet and subtle, perhaps best happened upon rather than sought out.