This past weekend I took my friend Josh to stillspotting nyc: To a Great City, an off-site exhibition from the Guggenheim. It was a self-guided walking tour that took us from Battery Park, Governor’s Island, the Woolworth Building, and finally the 47th floor in 7 World Trade Center overlooking the entire city and the newly opened 9/11 Memorial. For the first true fall weekend, it was the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon, whether an architect, designer, musician, or just art enthusiast – or looking to see some of the hidden spots of downtown Manhattan not available to the public.
stillspotting nyc is a two-year multidisciplinary project that takes the
Guggenheim‘s programming out into the streets of NYC. To a Great City is a collaboration between composer Arvo Pärt and the architects at Snøhetta. Each location features a sound installation (or iPod nanos). You’re recommended to visit each space multiple times at your leisure to understand how your perception changes based on circumstances such as time, stress, appetite, and sleep.
The Guggenheim Museum organized a collaboration between Pärt and Snøhetta in which the architects have selected—and in some cases subtly altered—urban spaces that embody the concept of a central tone and extend the perception of sound into the realm of space. Visitors will experience this confluence of music and architecture at five separate locations downtown that quietly celebrate the city, ten years after the September 11 attacks. The stillness and seclusion of these spaces heightens one’s awareness and recalibrates the senses.
The first spot at Battery Park was like a small oasis in a sea of tourists waiting for the Staten Island Ferry. We were given iPod nanos to listen to as we walked in the labyrinth. For a while I am sure I was doing it wrong, running into other visitors who found themselves in a deep trance. The music was classical and meditative. We were in a center of silence and felt like we were back in the times where meditation and spiritualism were not an afterthought.
The next two spots were on Governors Island, a destination that was a first for myself and Josh. We were taken inside the former magazine chambers at Fort Jay, with music that reminded me of chamber music and feeling like I was in the basement of a cathedral. I was also curious about whether each of the smaller rooms’ shapes had an effect on the acoustics and how we heard the music.
The next spot was at Southeast Bastion overlooking Governors Island and a view of downtown Manhattan. If you have never been on Governors Island, it is a paradise of historical reenactments. While we enjoyed walking and listening to “Mein Weg” through headphones and looking at the view, we both couldn’t help but stare with longing at the cannons thirty feet away. When walking over there, the juxtaposition of the cannons with downtown Manhattan and the music brought anxiety and a sense of hurry, as if we were facing battle or about to face the subway when it’s limited service.
The fourth spot was inside the lobby of the Woolworth Building. It currently belongs to NYU and is not open to the public, so being able to go inside was a privilege. It is so beautiful – so beautiful you can’t take pictures, so here are a few from the stillpotting nyc site. Here groups sat on the stairs and listened to the twenty-minute piece “In Principio.” I felt I was in a meditative trance, or it was the café Americano I drained beforehand. The decorative lobby transported me to a more archaic time, fitting to the music. Not many places in the city that have that same feeling as the cathedrals and museums I have visited in Europe. All I could think about was how in New York City, even for most of the United Sates, nothing is old or ancient. Places like this makes me want to search for more relics of the past in this city.
The climactic end of the tour was on the 47th floor of 7 World Trade Center . The empty floor only contained more weather balloons and an incredible view of the city. It was the highest view I have had overlooking the city that was not from a plane. Looking over how vast New York City is and overlooking the newly opened 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero made me think about how much the city has evolved in 200 years and how far it has to go. The space allowed a pause for reflection, which is also a rarity in this city.
I first came to New York City a year after 9/11. While I remember that day vividly (7th grade Social Studies class, all the teachers knowing what was happening and keeping the younger students in the dark) I could never relate to my friends who grew up in NYC and saw everything with their own eyes. In this post-9/11 New York, those who resided in the city beforehand might still nursing their wounds. In conversations about that day, my experience of not knowing the whole story until the afternoon left me panic-stricken with anxiety, with implausible scenarios my twelve-year-old mind never imagined were now possible, cannot compare with seeing your home fall apart. However, stillspotting nyc: To A Great City allowed me the chance to reflect on my own journey as a New Yorker. It’s taken me a couple of years, but somehow I have adjusted to the rhythm of the city.
This weekend is your last chance to experience stillspotting nyc: To a Great City. It runs from Thursday to Sunday. Get your tickets here.
More photos below!