art

Old School NYC Photos

In last week’s NY Mag “Approval Matrix,” an item in the Highbrow/Brilliant quadrant caught my eye:

870,000 city photographs–some 150+ years old–are now available at nyc.gov

Curious about what kinds of photos were online, I went to the siteВ and learned this:В Between 1939 and 1941, and again between 1983 and 1988, the city photographed every building in the five boroughs for tax purposes. You can now purchase prints–or just sift through the online archives of 35mm photos taken in the 1980s.

I clicked on the Manhattan photos and searched for my current Washington Heights apartment. The archive contained photos of neighboring residences, but not mine.

Then I looked up my second-most recent address, also in Washington Heights. This time, a snapshot of my old building came up.

I’ll admit that the result didn’t wow me. The building is from 1929 and looks pretty much the same now as it did in the ’80s.

So I decided to go way back. I clicked over to the Queens photos and typed in the street where I lived from when I was born until I was 10. As the photos appeared, I instantly recognized old neighbors’ homes. And there was the house I grew up in, looking exactly how I remembered, with my family’s blue Volvo and my dad’s black van in the driveway.

I haven’t lived there in nearly two decades, so seeing the house exactly as it was felt surreal–a pretty cool (and slightly creepy) discovery!

(Photos via nyc.gov)

Flight Patterns

When I was in Chicago this weekend, I spent an hour at the Art Institute. Though that short amount of time didn’t allow me to see everything, I was able to explore most of the gorgeous modern wing, as well as two special exhibits: “Fashioning the Object: Bless, Boudicca, Sandra Backlund”В and “Rethinking Typologies: Architecture and Design from the Permanent Collection.”В They were both beautifully done, but one piece from the latter really wowed me.

“Flight Patterns” is an animated rendering of air traffic patterns over North America during one day (August 12, 2008). To create it, artist Aaron Koblin parsed FAA data and charted the courses of 205,000 different planes; the colors correspond to the type of aircraft model.

The resulting video is both beautiful and mesmerizing. The individual flight paths converge until they form a rough outline of the United States. Within that, you can see various hubs–like NYC, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles–light up as more of the traffic passes through them. I eventually had to tear myself away from the piece because I could have watched it for hours.

Watching the video at home isn’t the same as seeing it on a larger, gallery screen, but you can get the idea:

(Photo via The Art Institute of Chicago, video via Aaron Koblin)

Sleep No More

Last Tuesday, Reen and I had an extra special hobby night.* Instead of meeting for our usual happy hour, we saw Sleep No More. (And right in time, too. The show closes at the end of June.)

We’d heard nothing but good things about the production, which is basically MacbethВ set in a 1920s hotel–but the audience doesn’t just sit and watch. Clad in beaked masks and forbidden from speaking, they follow individual performers who run, dance, strip and act out key scenes in various floors of the hotel.

Going into it, I had no idea what to expect. Would I become a sweaty mess from running around? Or be able to follow the plot since I barely remembered Macbeth, despite reading it twice, years ago? And would it really be as amazing as everyone said it was?

I had the answers to my questions within a few minutes. After a drink in the hotel’s jazz bar, we were given masks, ushered into an elevator and dumped out on a random floor. From there, we wandered through the dimly lit rooms until a performer–who we later identified as one of the witches–ran by. We took off after him.

He led us to all the performers who congregated, three times during the night, at a key banquet scene in the ballroom. Once they dispersed, we latched on to Macbeth and ran after him around for the next hour. We watched him murder Duncan (or at least, we assumed it was Duncan), wash blood off his hands and romp around with Lady Macbeth. We saw Birnam Wood advance, watched Lady Macbeth go crazy and noted when the witches predicted Macbeth’s imminent fall. We also ate sketchy candy from jars in a sweets shop and stumbled upon a naked rave. I never quite picked up the plotline or figured out exactly who every performer was–but that’s not the point. Sleep No More is all about the immersive, voyeuristic experience.

I’ll admit, there were times when running–literally sprinting–after performers did get tiring and tiresome. (And sweaty!) I felt a little weary of the gimmick toward the end. And at a few points, when there were too many other masked viewers around, I wanted to push my way through them and scream “I want to see!” so I could actually catch a glimpse of the performers.

They truly made Sleep No More such a cool experience. Sure, the dramatic lighting, intricate sets, eerie music and overall production values were top-notch. But the performers were amazing. They were clearly seasoned dancers. (I later read that all but three had serious training.) And the conditions they had to perform in were incredibly difficult–dimly lit rooms filled with props and just inches away from all of us bumbling, masked viewers getting in their way. Yet, they were fearless. They lept, turned and threw themselves over furniture and onto each other. I never once saw anyone break character. And all for little reward, too. At the end of the show, there’s no applause or bow–the audience simply files out in (stunned) silence. But I imagine that for them, just being part of such a unique experience is gratification enough.

(Top photo via Sleep No More’s Facebook page; middle photo via NYMag)

*hobby night = drinking after work on Tuesdays.

Reimagining Times Square

This week’s New York MagazineВ contains a really interesting piece about a $45 million plan to overhaul Times Square. According to writer Justin Davidson, the project will begin next fall with the goal of making the area a safer, cleaner, less congested place where New Yorkers may actually want to spend time:

Curbs will vanish. Pedestrian areas will be leveled and clad in tweedy concrete tiles that run lengthwise down Broadway and the Seventh Avenue sidewalks, meeting in an angled confluence of patterns. Nickel-size steel discs set into the pavement will catch the light and toss it back into the brilliant air. Instead of perching on metal chairs, loiterers will be able to sit, lean, sprawl, jump, and stand on ten massive black granite benches up to 50 feet long and five feet wide…the square will be de-В­cluttered of the traffic signs, bollards, cones, and boxes that cause foot traffic to seize up. With any luck, crowds will gather and mingle only in the center plain between the benches, leaving free-flowing channels on either side for the rest of us,В who have somewhere to be, people!

Like most New Yorkers, I try to skirt Times Square at all costs. Due to unavoidable day-to-day circumstances, though–working in an office right in the middle of it, needing to cut from east side to west–I’ve found myself there more than I’d have liked, over the years. My typical M.O. is to weave around gaping tourists and get out as soon as possible. But I’ll admit that I’ve had surprising moments when I could see the appeal in the whole gaudy, flashy, over-commercialized, crowded sensory overload.В During a particularly long, cold winter, I was shocked to find comfort in the brightness and buzzy energy as I’d rush across the southern end of the square, several times a week. And when you think of how tourists must feel when they first step into Times Square, surrounded by all those lights and people, you can imagine that it must be exhilarating. (Or, at least I can. I remember how wowed I was the first time I saw the Hong Kong skyline which, like Times Square, is just a slew of neon signs set against a dramatic backdrop of buildings, when it comes down to it.)

Tourist empathy aside, I don’t know if I’d ever intentionally spend time in the area. Even with the planned changes, I don’t think it’ll appeal to me. There’ll still be the massive chain restaurants, over-the-top signs, blatant commercialism, crowds. But if, like the NY Mag article hopes, the new design eases congestion, contains the masses and opens up thoroughfares for us locals, then I’ll gladly welcome it. I’m fine handing over the bulk of Times Square to tourists–as long as I have somewhere to walk.

(Image via NYMag)

Hemingway’s Words of Wisdom

The other day, I came across these awesome printsВ via Sho & Tell.В I loved all of them, but the one above stood out to me.

I’m not badass like Hemingway. I don’t sit in my cube typing and swirling a cocktail. (Though there are days when I wish that were the truth!) But as someone who makes a living with words, I appreciate the sentiment.

Every writer knows that your best work comes out when you’re uninhibited and honest and not censoring yourself. In fact, years ago, another writer friend and I used to joke that the best way to write was to pretend you’re drunk and don’t care–and then go back and clean it up later.

It also helps if you truly care about your subject…but if you don’t then maybe that’s a case for taking Heminway’s advice and having a drink or two before getting down to business.

Image via Obvious State