Outside Trinity Church, perched on the empty flagstone courtyard facing Wall Street, lightly rests Steve Tobin's bronze sculpture, Roots. Recovered from the suffocating rubble of collapsed concrete and shattered glass from the 9/11 attacks, this massive root structure from a seventy-year old sycamore tree fell into St. Paul's churchyard in downtown Manhattan, missing the church itself and surrounding tombstones. The roots remained. Transplanted as a symbol of hope and memorial of struggle, to me the sculpture looks like an anatomically correct heart with chambers, veins, aorta, exposed for the world to see it survived, still pumping life. Decorated for Christmas, I notice a glittery star suspended in the center of the skeletal root canopy, blowing in the wind. Interior light from the church's stained glass gothic window mottles the bronze surface in a slight spectrum of color. A permanent fixture, Tobin's sculpture is not part of the Phenomena Project's exhibition, All Insignificant Things Must Disappear, but it is.
Before entering the church gallery, I walk through a quiet Wall Street and in front of the barricaded New York Stock Exchange is a robust evergreen tree trimmed with colored glass balls with NYSE imprinted in the center. Peace and love, common messages scribbled on ornaments and cards, are replaced with an acronym of commercialism. A family stops to take a photo in front of the tree. The Roman temple-like façade of columns and friezes of trade figures are bathed in a glow of red light. Rather than warm, the light casts a foreboding shadow, as the green ticker of letters and numbers over the side door continues to run like hieroglyphics.
I head back to Trinity Museum and enter All Insignificant Things Must Disappear, an exhibition curated by Darren Jones of the Phenomena Project, a NYC-based non-profit organization whose mission is "to raise awareness and initiate dialog on important social and cultural issues through the medium of contemporary art." A collection of thirteen international and American artists, the show becomes an invocation of prayer, self-reflection, identification, and further investigation into what do we truly possess?
Could this show have been exhibited in any other gallery around the world? Yes. Would it have had the same significance? No. Jones selected the Trinity Museum as a venue with as much intention as Marcus Agrippa administered the construction of the Roman Pantheon in 27 B.C. A temple to worship all gods, a stream of natural light permeates through the rotunda’s oculus from the cosmos into the interior structure. As the hour, day, and year progresses, the light moves, illuminating a section that previously lay dormant in darkness. Each artist in All Significant Things Must Disappear offers a perspective, their own ray of light, on the new socio-economic landscape that has brought people to their knees in despair wondering when will their fate turn? In what form will we emerge from the ruins?
A small square alcove, past the church's altar, the room contains a dichotomy of material and spiritual commentary. The first image to your right is a 44x70 yellow, red, and black photograph set in apostrophes by Ellie Krakow entitled Sunset. The quintessential image of beauty, we often look to the sun as a guiding force for direction. Every day, every person in the world has the opportunity to experience the writing of the sun on our face, rising and setting. But often due to our schedules and obligations, we separate ourselves from the light, going through the motions of the day as if each morning, afternoon, and evening were the same moment. Each sunset's colors, like our lives, are different and in a state of constant change.The blazing colors in Krakow's sky at the end of the day could be mistaken for heaven or hell. The photo makes a statement by asking "where does God exist?"
Moving into the gallery space is a series of gothic windows in which artist Jo Yarrington created a site specific installation called The Money Changers (More Money Than God). Within the opaque-glassed windows diamond grid pattern, Yarrington affixed red, yellow, and blue duraclear photographic film with images of hands. The South facing windows' hands come from 15th and 16th century masterpiece paintings depicting Christ driving merchants from the temple. Perhaps the only biblical episode in which Jesus reacts in anger, striking a whip in the air and overturning tables as he rids the temple of thieves, he purifies the space only for prayer. On the Easterly set of windows, Yarrington juxtaposes the disciplinary hands of Christ and the defensive hands of the merchants to the modern hand gestures of stock brokers on the trading floor. Orchestrating economic rises and falls, the restless energy emitted from Wall Street's fingertips is a daily occurrence. One image shows a broker covering his eyes in distress. Who is pulling the strings on Wall Street? Are the brokers actually puppets or masters of their own destiny?
As the economy collapsed, tensions between Wall Street and Main Street came to a standoff, each pointing fingers at each other in blame. The middle class continues to drown in a sea of debt, the chasm between the rich and poor widens, the media covers optimistic gains and unsettling futures, resentment mounts, politics divide, speculation breeds insecurity, and all of these messages clutter our minds causing a state of disbelief in everything and nothing.
Underneath Yarrington's "stained glass" installation of financiers' shouting hands, rests a soft-soled pair of red patent leather shoes with bulging blue compasses replacing where the Abraham Lincoln's head would be peeking out of classic penny loafers. The Road Less Traveled by Sandra Eula Lee is a witty piece on how easily we could navigate through life if we only knew where we were going. The shoes remind me of Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and her walk on the yellow brick road to visit the Wizard of Oz. Upon discovering the Wizard is a farce, Dorothy realizes that what is real is imagined and what is imagined is real, just as what is significant is insignificant and what is insignificant is significant. Truth lies within the self.
The gallery walls contain works of art composed of light and reflective material as well as repetitive grid patterns contrasted against sacred and profane images of nature, establishing an atmosphere of ordered chaos. Slavs and Tatars, a group of polemics devoted to social and political activism through art and originating from an area east of the Berlin Wall and west of the Great Wall of China, bring their modern reclamation of history and storytelling to Wall Street. A mosaic mirror piece, Resist Resisting God, the message is encoded into the medium. When facing the mirror, a person becomes fragmented from every angle. Impossible to know the whole story or truth, we believe in the pieces of information or proof that we can see. Yet there exist voids within us that can be filled with light which will in turn create a perfect body.
In the center of the room are Gisela Insuaste's soaring architectural constructions so fragile and airy that they become practically unnoticeable. Mimicking the New York City skyscraper skyline, the delicate timber frames of Camino, often fall during exhibition by viewers mistakenly walking into them or by a gentle breeze. The collapse of these towering structures has become an integral part of understanding the significance of the insignificant that even the most seemingly powerful beings contain points of weakness.
Echoing and at the same time contrasting the vertical parallel lines of Insuaste's Camino is Jo Wilmot's 70x59 forest painting of dark evergreens. Wrapped tightly around a single tree trunk is a sparkly jeweled ring with a floral center and entwining snake band. Conjuring images of the Garden of Eden, the work contains mysterious elements of the male and female. The viewer's eye is attracted to the ring’s beauty as it tells a story and the trees become mute, listening. Wedded to ideologies, the tree becomes a finger, but it remains unknown as to which element we associate most closely with -- the tree or the ring? For which do we have more empathy? The painting reads like a contract to me, a testimony of inheritance, and Jesus' Sermon on the Mount sharing the beatitudes comes to mind.
When researching Steve Tobin's Root sculpture, I came across this quote: "The Trinity Root is the most significant work that I shall ever make," said Tobin. "I hope that it gives solace to the millions of people who visit Ground Zero from all over the world, and from the community of Lower Manhattan, particularly on the five year anniversary of the day that changed the world forever." (Quote Source: Trinity Root Memorial)
Time passes and we are approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11 in 2011. We are in the season of giving and All Insignificant Things Must Disappear makes me think about what we share with one another. What is our purpose here on earth? Do the works we perform have meaning not only for ourselves but for others? How can we connect to each other beyond the material world and what will we leave behind to share with future generations? - Michelina Docimo
List of Artists:
Sandra Eula Lee
Kate V. Robertson
Slavs and Tatars
All Insignificant Things Must Disappear
The Social Sphere and the Post Economic Landscape
Trinity Museum (inside Trinity Church), 74 Trinity Place, New York, NY
November 13th - December 31st 2010
Gallery hours - Mon-Fri 9:00-11:45; 12:45-5:00 - Sat. 9:00-3:45 - Sun. 12:45-3:45
Ms. Docimo is a certified sustainable building adviser and writer. Her focus is on sustainable architecture, art, and design. Her writings have appeared in ARTES, D'Art International, and other venues.