LOOKING FORWARD: GALE GATES o BROOKLYN, NEW YORK
Michael Count, "Looking Forward", stills from video projection
The line from Blake's London, And mark in every face
I meet/marks of weakness, marks of woe, felt painfully true living
in New York after September 11th. Tragedy transformed anonymity into empathy.
Every face was temporarily altered, but with remarkable strength and concern
instead of weakness. Visible marks of woe remained for a long time.
New Yorkers regard each other as bodies, rarely as faces. When living
in a city, strangers' bodies are either obstacles or passing objects of
desire. Right after September 11th, strangers responded to each other
with skittish, but genuine respect. That respect was signified as strangers
addressed and responded to one another's faces, not only to their bodies.
In April and May of this year, the Gale Gates Gallery, directed by Michael
Counts, projected the faces of hundreds of New Yorkers onto the historic
waterfront Clock-Tower in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Displayed on the four-sided,
14 foot clock face, the images were visible throughout Manhattan.
From afar, the faces fit majestically onto the cityscape. Belonging to
a range of residents from art figures and school children to relief workers
and fire fighters, they represented the city as a unified whole. Their
anonymity never undermined their intimacy. Even when actress Frances McDormand
or art critic Barbara Pollock appeared, their distinctness was unobtrusive.
Regardless of whose face was shown, each of the faces in Looking
Forward personified the city.
The project began as a public works installation with the faces silently
projected onto the Clock-Tower. It evolved into a one-night/one-hour collaboration
with local radio station WFMU and a series of photographs. When silent,
the projected faces seemed to participate in an inaudible dialogue directed
at the viewer. Watching them mouth their words felt like trying to follow
a conversation on a crowded subway car or congested street. But when the
radio station projected their voices, disappointment was inevitable. It
was revealed that the faces were talking about New York-their favorite
spots in the city, their reasons for living in New York, or their cherished
Manhattan moments. All New Yorkers feel like connoisseurs of the city,
and these stories were personal, but not especially original. While they
succeeded at conveying a degree of universality, they were not nearly
as universal as their previous silence.
The photographs taken by Aaron Diskin returned Looking Forward
to its original beauty. Independent of the Clock Tower project, Diskin's
images are hauntingly reminiscent of Robert Wilson's Surrealism at its
most touching. Only images so apparently unreal could truly articulate
the city's tragic disorientation. Diskin's camera smoothed the city scape,
turning the Hudson river almost unrecognizably silky. Taken at evening
or dusk, rich blues give each image depth and a sense of solemnity. The
texture of the images is warm, but the mood is contemplative. The views
are virtually uninhabited. People are occasionally seen below or around
the Clock Tower, but are utterly abstracted by their distance. Some personal
articles are visible through lit windows where they appear precious, yet
Without the context, the faces appear godly, comic, or horrific. In one
photograph, the city is the focus, presenting the unexpected detail of
a massive eye peaking from the clock face as a ghastly clue. In another
image, a couple glares disapprovingly outward like two disappointed parents.
In yet another, a beautiful black woman with glittery lip-gloss appears
as nervous as a heroine in a Hitchcock film. Yet whatever associations
they conjure, the images projected on the Clock Tower humanize the city's
New York, New York