1st Annual Morningside Lights: The Imagined City
MORNINGSIDE PARK, NEW YORK, NY
SEPTEMBER 29, 2012.
DESIGN, CONCEPT, and DIRECTION: Alex Kahn, Sophia Michahelles
COMPOSER and BANDLEADER: Nathan Davis
ARTISTIC and TECHNICAL SUPPORT: Sean Mair, Vanessa Poggioli, Brenna St. George Jones
PRESENTED by COLUMBIA UNVERSITY'S ARTS INITIATIVE and MILLER THEATER: Director, Melissa Smey
On the evening of September 29, 2012, a strange and luminous city suddenly emerged amidst the winding paths of Morningside Park.
As artists-in-residence at Columbia University's Miller Theater, PAW helped develop a master plan for an annual illuminated procession in the park, which we dubbed Morningside Lights. We chose The Imagined City as the 1st annual theme, and led public workshops to create an illuminated ambulatory cityscape,. We asked participants to envision a building or other structure from their idealized urban space, finding inspiration in sources from St. Augustine to Star Trek. Over the course of the week-long residency, hundreds of self-appointed utopian builders from every background streamed through the open doors of Miller Theatre, as artists, architects, schoolkids, professors, green activists, and random passersby pooled their imaginations and their labors to create over a hundred illuminated structures, ranging in size from handheld flying taxi-cabs to 12'-tall towers.
In some sense, every city is imaginary. The formation of buildings and streets, plazas and parks, bridges and tunnels, signs and traffic patterns is nearly always guided invisibly by an over-arching vision of how we should live, or more specifically, live together. Such imaginings may dwell in the fringes of allegory (Thomas More and Italo Calvino), utopian folly (Corbusier's “Radieuse”), or science fiction (the myriad cloud cities of Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.), while others rest firmly on the bedrock of economics and urban planning. The imagined city often embodies "top-down" plans, which in practice might become the salvation of a city (Olmsted's Central Park), the downfall of a neighborhood (Robert Moses' Cross-Bronx Expressway), or a beloved non-sequiter (Wright's Guggenheim). Yet even the city that arises without a plan – organically, like roots of a tree – reflects a shared vision of space, an inherited vernacular approach to co-existence. Invariably, the imagined city lives in a perpetual state of fertile discord between ordered social engineering and organic grass-roots inhabitation. When Olmsted and Vaux designed Morningside Park in 1873, they could not have foreseen the diversity of communities who would one day occupy its borders, nor the contentious debate that would unfold (and continue to evolve) about how the Park and its surroundings would best serve those communities. "The Imagined City" sought to further the re-imagining of Morningside and other urban spaces through a single act of shared creation and performance.
On the night of the procession 800 people gathered to guide the Imagined City along the dark pathways of the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed park, moving to the rhythm of a site-specific soundscape created by composer Nathan Davis (and radio simulcast on WKCR). At various junctures the lanterns assembled themselves, on cue, into improvised streets and blocks, allowing paraders to wander among the buildings of a newly imagined city. Then, just as quickly, the city would deconstruct, only to re-form itself anew further along the route.
Morningside Park, once a gem of American landscape design, later a flashpoint of conflict between the University and local neighborhood, had in recent years earned a reputation for crime and violence. Many participants commented that simply walking through the park at night – normally unthinkable – was an empowering act of reclaiming lost space. Others reflected on the historical resonance of creating of an collectively imagined city, on the site where real battles over urban development had been fought. Whatever the source of inspiration, Morningside Lights seems destined to return next fall and become part of the ritual landscape of upper Manhattan.
|VIEW PHOTOS from MORNINGSIDE LIGHTS: THE IMAGINED CITY|
|COLUMBIA SPECTATOR FEATURE on MORNINGSIDE LIGHTS WORKSHOPS