Monday, June 21, 2010

BIG BAMBU on the Met Roof

The roof of the Metropolitan Museum is a magical place, with or without the bamboo forest that has lately sprung up there.  Is springing, continues to spring, rather, because the BIG BAMBU project, by brothers Doug and Mike Starn, is an installation that won't be finished until it's, well... finished (on October 31.) I got to the Met last week just before the museum opened, planning to be first in line for tickets to take the free walking tour up and around the forest on a bamboo plank trail that is being laid higher and higher as the months go by. I was already in a magical state of mind, having walked across Central Park, through the Rambles and the woodland areas where you feel like you're somewhere in the backwoods of Kentucky rather than under the shadow of a zillion tall buildings, so I'd almost forgotten that in New York you are never, by law, first in line for anything. I took my place on the steps behind tourists clutching City Passes and listened to a multitude of languages while I waited. Not first, but early; the line for the tour inside the museum was only a few people long. But there are rules for this tour and I'd worn the wrong shoes - no open toes. I talked them into giving me a ticket and swore I'd go back home and change, but after a look at the threatening sky, I figured it would rain before I could manage that, so I went straight to the roof to see what I could see. There was almost no one there yet - you know you're early when the snack bar isn't even open! It is truly a forest - a step or two off the elevator and you're in a cocoon-like mesh of bamboo. The effect is both unsettling and soothing - the bamboo brings to mind Chinese painting, giant pandas in Asian lands - it's out of place not only in the heart of a major city but in American consciousness (though the bamboo used for the project is American grown.) It is exotic, but as you walk between, among, and through the stalks they provide a slightly swaying vertical reassurance, as if you are in a secure place where dangerous open spaces can be kept at bay. Staring straight up through the mesh to the sky far above is a perspective that seems a natural experience similar to being in an actual forest, but also places you in some kind of abstract drawing, with seemingly random criss-crossings that you know were carefully planned by the artists.  I was interested to see that the bamboo hangs loose - if any individual stalk rests on the floor it is by chance. The stalks are tied together with various colors and weights of climber cords which are wound tight enough to convince you that the structure will hold, but limp hanging ends are everywhere, adding color and a bit of careless aesthetic.  Because the exhibit is in process every day of it's existence, the work is also on display. I watched a small wiry man hard at work; for a while he had his radio on, blaring an incongorous ordinary worksite noise into the magic atmosphere. Behind a wall a man with a saw was readying the next set of bamboo stalks. There's an area left open on the roof terrace so you can sit and contemplate the tightly woven but lacy structure as it rises over the man-made wilderness of populous Manhattan.  I'll go back for the tour sometime before the exhibit ends; I look forward to the climb into the clouds.

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