Saturday, October 17, 2009

urban landscape lab- hear Kate Orff roar

Kate Orff and her folks at the Urban Landscape Lab had a kickoff for their Safari 7 Reading Room exhibition this past week.  Accompanying kegs of Six Point and local luminaries in the Architectural Literati, including Mitchell Joachim, was a fun and interesting series of big canvas posters and a beautiful, rough, plywood model of the parts of Queens traversed by the 7 train.

The exhibition is essentially the socio-ecologic findings of the group as they rode the 7 train from beginning to end, from Flushing, Queens to Times Square.  There is documentation of the book stacks beneath Bryant Park, the weedy species that proliferate in vacant lots, the cock-fighting industry out in "barrio gallenero", and the political intrigues behind the '64 World's Fair and its physical remnants.  There is nothing profound about the findings, nothing one could not put together with a wifi connection and an mta card, but it is all well-executed and presented sensitively and with a touch of mirth.  The star of the show is a huge- approximately 10' x 15'-model of the groundplane of Queens over which the elevated 7 train travels.  Really, it is the esoteric brain-child of someone who got very intimate with the CNC-router.  That is, there are many symbols and things represented which are not readily apparent nor interesting enough to try and figure out.  But it does have headphone jacks that invite you to plug in at each stop along the 7 train and listen to a podcast that was put together discussing some interesting factoid particular to that spot.

One can't help but wonder why the 7 train was chosen.  The "Lab" states the reason as being "The MTA 7 Line is a physical, urban transect through New York City's most diverse collection of human ecosystems, and a site of continuous public engagement. Affectionately called the International Express, the 7 line runs from Manhattan's dense core, under the East River, and through a dispersed mixture of residences and parklands, terminating in downtown Flushing, Queens, the nation's most ethnically diverse county."  Perhaps more importantly, the train is elevated for most of its route, which allows New Yorkers to actually perceive some of the things they are passing.  The fact the New York's trains are primarily underground affect the mindset here in the city in a greater way than is usually acknowledged.  People rarely move through the landscape here, instead spending their time in buildings and tunnels.  On the 7 train, this is not the case.

The exhibition is a fun and idiosyncratic trip along the 7 train.  The drawings are massive and easily understandable.  While not exactly plumbing the depths of urban ecological knowledge and experience, the exhibition does an amazing job of connecting the dots and making information, and stories, accessible.  Which is exactly in keeping with their stated objectives.  You can even buy cute, themed American Apparell t-shirts that say "citizen scientist" and "pocket park ranger".  I love the de-specialization and de-mystification-of-professions they are promoting here, making info and ideas accessible and encouraging synergy and interaction.  Jimmy Corner and the rest of the ivory tower elite better watch out- Ms. Orff and her ilk are coming for you.

I highly recommend you cruise through the office of Studio X to check it out.  It's on exhibit until the end of the year.  Here's to hoping that the Lab has many more wonderful exhibitions.

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