Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Core Sample on Spectacle Island

Well, Columbus Day has come and gone and so has the 2007 ferry service out to the Boston Harbor Islands. It will start up again in May 2008, just in time for the release of the Boston Harbor Islands guidebook I'm writing.

Last Friday, I took a last trip out on the ferry to Spectacle Island. It was your typical fall weather— in Miami. It was in the upper 80s and kind of humid. Not exactly apple picking weather, but it was island weather.

One of the reasons I went out to Spectacle was to check out the "Core Sample" art project that was part of this summer's Art on the Harbor Islands exhibition from the Institute of Contemporary Art. "Core Sample" is an interactive audio walk around Spectacle Island created by Teri Rueb. It was pretty cool, since it used Global Positioning System technology to broadcast the program on headphones that I picked up at the visitors center. (Hence the photo that looks like I'm in an iPod commercial.) The sounds, inspired by the island location and its checkered history, constantly changed as I hiked around the island. There was the gentle lapping of waves, the roar of aircraft, claps of thunder, New Age music, and voiceovers from former residents of the island and a senior research scientist describing the vegetation. (At times, snoring can be heard over the voiceovers. Not sure if that's a commentary on the speakers or not.)

In a nod to the island's use as a vacation spot and an illegal gambling den in the 1850s, there is the sound of a ball coming to rest on a roulette wheel. (That's followed by a Benny Goodman tune, which would be out of date if it's still referring to those old hotels.) Cattle can be heard at times, too, alluding to the rendering operations that were based on the island in the 1800s.

I liked this audio walk. The big padded headphones really let you get into your own world. You feel secluded, just like an island itself. The sound effect studio must have been a fun place in putting this installation together.

The ICA exhibition on the islands also included an undulating sculpture designed by Office dA on Georges Island. I have to agree with this review in The Boston Globe that it was puzzling to put this sculpture in the nearly windowless powder magazine building at Fort Warren. It so dark in the building that you can barely see the translucent sculpture.

On Lovells Island, artist Anna Schuleit developed plans for a series of huge outdoor drawings etched on glass mounted in the gun emplacements of Fort Standish along with hundreds of feet of mirrors just offshore around the island. Neat ideas, but like many plans for the islands, resources were too limited for Schuleit's ideas to become reality. So the exhibit on Lovells Island consisted of drawings, proposals, and mock-ups in a yurt by the dock, more a wistful look at what could have been than an uplifting installation. Hopefully, the resources will be there sometime in the future to see these concepts realized. Installation art like The Gates in Central Park can be cool. Would be nice to see something like that in Boston.

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