Aug 12, 2009

Tent City vs. Art Exhibition

It's interesting to note two simultaneous projects involving domed tents in NYC this summer.  

One is Fritz Haeg's installation at X Initiative in Chelsea that involves 8,000 square feet of domed tent space made available for spontaneous, temporary habitation.  Haeg's letter, widely disseminated to his "dearest friends in New York" is an invitation to "make yourself at home." THE DOME COLONY is populated by four large geodesic tents that can be "taken over, squatted, colonized. Set up a clubhouse, a headquarters, a home away from home, a temporary studio, a living room, a lounge, use it as a place to host friends, stage events, make work, rehearse, organize an on-going series of meetings, or regular gatherings, performances..."  Until October 24th, anyone can participate in any "legal" activities within these dome tents.

The other tent city is Nils Norman's project commissioned by Creative Time for their new initiative PLOT09: This World & Nearer Ones.  Placed among the architectural ruins of New York's Governor's Island, the tents are abandoned and empty, intended to resonate with the "nomadic, impermanent architecture of activists-from the sixties counterculture movement to the 2005 camp in Crawford, TX that protested the war in Iraq-as well as the homeless encampments that have recently emerged in Sacramento, Portland, Reno, and other cites." Norman's tents  are intended to act as "a reminder that once-vibrant strategies for activism and alternative living have passed into obscurity, and that structures are sometimes as malleable as symbols."

The comparison of these two projects articulates a divided reading on the cultural potential of tent cities.  While there is a certain appeal to action in Haeg's indoor work and a resounding echo apart of Norman's outdoor installation, I'm not sure what to make of either project.   Do they do what they intend to do?  How do they operate within the context of an art exhibition?  What is the rift between actual use and symbolic gesture? What is the social history of the tent city?  Is it a collective story or is the cultural significance of tents and tent cities as divergent as these two projects? 

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