A quiet week. Very little input. So I thought I’d feature this story from the New York Times magazine, about Natalie Jeremijenko, whom we’d trivialize, just a little, by calling an artist, even though her work has been shown in top museums around the world:
Four years ago, the Australian-born artist Natalie Jeremijenko stood at the edge of Pier 35 in Downtown Manhattan, trying to start a conversation with some striped bass. Just north of the Manhattan Bridge, she and several collaborators dropped 16 tall buoys into the East River. The buoys were fitted with submersible sensors that monitored water quality and with LEDs that flashed when fish swam by, charting the Piscean passage. “I fell into the river four times installing it,” Jeremijenko recalls. “You have no idea, just standing on land, how ferocious those currents are!”
The installation, “Amphibious Architecture,” devised with the architect David Benjamin, stayed in the river for several months — a miniature skyline bobbing and blinking in the reflected glare of the real thing. With the piece, Jeremijenko was interested, she said, in “highlighting what’s under this pretty reflective surface that enhances real estate value but is actually a diverse, teeming habitat.” Viewers on land alerted to the presence of fish could send them text messages care of an SMS number. The fish then “responded” with texts of their own, chatting about themselves and their surroundings: “Hey there! There are 11 of us, and it’s pretty nice down here. I mean, Dissolved oxygen is higher than last week. . . .”
Some of us might giggle at that last bit, about texts from fish. But think about it. The messaging is fanciful, but the content isn’t. Anyone watching the installation can know how many fish are around it at any time, and what the water quality is.
Another of her pieces:
In 2003, when she was teaching in the engineering department at Yale, she collaborated with high-school students in the Bronx to install chemical sensors in toy robot dogs, setting the pack loose near an old Con Edison plant close to the Bronx River to sniff out underground pollutants. “I’m interested in creating spectacles,” she says.
At the Esplanade’s northernmost section, which will be known as the EcoPark, Jeremijenko and Benjamin were also installing a newer piece called “Mussel Choir”: a glee club of bivalves that, with the aid of sensors and audio software, would “sing” about the quality of the water as they filtered it.
About her background:
She holds bachelor’s degrees in biochemistry and physics, earned a Ph.D. in computer science and electrical engineering and began, but did not complete, doctorates in neuroscience, philosophy of science and mechanical engineering, the last one at Stanford.
Now she’s a professor of visual art at NYU.
But the key message here for people in classical music would be this:
She has the imagination of a think tank, the agenda of a nonprofit and the infrastructure of neither. In order to implement her ideas, she relies heavily on municipal programs, community organizations and the support of academic and art-world institutions.
But never, to judge from the story, does she work with anyone in classical music, even though her work involves sound. Her favorite music, the story says, is salsa. But can you imagine that she’d turn down an offer from the New York Philharmonic to collaborate?
I’ve been citing, in these Friday posts, musical projects that involve masses of musicians, unusual settings, bridges, the Eiffel Tower, all kinds of things. Projects that take music definitively out of the concert hall, and connect it with all of our lives.
But almost none of these projects are done by classical music groups. Time to change that! As I’ve also said, from time to time, visual art has exploded into a kaleidoscope of installations and conceptual pieces, something reinforced at a dinner gathering I was at last week, by a visual artist who said that painting and sculpture and other kinds of traditional visual art were taking a back seat these days.
And certainly the new kinds of work are widely talked about, as the Jeremijenko story in the Times shows. It’s time for all of us classical music to get on this train, to collaborate with visual artists, and — all on our own — to excite the world with all the new things going on with music and sound.