Art Review: Heather Nichol’s “Soft Spin,” Brookfield Place, NYC

I have a passion for public art. The city, especially, creates a powerful canvas for imagination and art. Living in NYC for the past few years, I have both intentionally and unintentionally participated in a lot of public art (I would argue that most of life lived here is participation in public art–what with the sheer amount of architecture and human interaction–but that’s another thought that I will save for another day). Suffice it to say, I constantly find myself in the presence of beauty and inspiration, and that is one of the major reasons that brought me here and that aids my endurance of this frenetic city lifestyle.

Heather Nichol, a Toronto-based artist and curator, is showing a site-specific sound and sculptural installation, Soft Spin, in The Winter Garden at the Brookfield Place New York in Lower Manhattan. Nichol’s installation challenges the everyday idea of the “sculpture.” These soft, rotating skirts-resembling-flowers paired with sound are sensual and sharp all at the same time. I was not a huge fan of the vocals. I would have liked to meditate under these flowers, and my thoughts were distracted and directed elsewhere. Since the expansive space amplifies the ambient noise of the bustling Brookfield Place already, I would have been challenged to meet my mindfulness, anyhow. Nonetheless, I rationalized the vocals as, at the very least, intentional (a quality I quite admire in an art piece and person).

This piece brings to mind the artist Janet Echelman‘s 2011 Ted Talk, entitled “Taking Imagination Seriously” (video below). Echelman centers her talk on explaining how she came to her current success with unorthodox city sculptures by way of a “failure” in her pursuit of painting. What I find fascinating about both Nichol and Echelman is that they had the ability to take something ordinary and transcend the original meaning of the given objects and spaces.

Both artists bring to cities what we all hope to do in our everyday lives. These undulating art pieces move and shape-shift with the wind. There are wonderful meanings that can be made from a more interactive, fluid art form. They become part of the environment. They change with our moods and with our attitudes. The space is illuminated by imagination, and I’m grateful for having participated in this study.

The New York Times recently reviewed the Brookfield Place and the surrounding neighborhood of Battery Park city, calling it “revitalized,” elevated to a “dynamic destination.” Paola Singer attributed this to the influx of high dining, but I’d like to add that it’s also the art. As I scoured the web for images of Soft Spin, I noticed a trend. Many young mothers (instagram: thebabybumpdiaries and monicastorch), indigenous inhabitants of this neighborhood, have been early evangelists of this art. This is what I’m talkin’ about! What is so lovely about public art is that it is for everyone–not just the hoity-toity traders who need a cultural outlet for their funds.

I also love that kids are interacting with art. Artists deeply seek to leave a legacy, and I think that one of the most fascinating and important audiences is the child. I grew up watching Sesame Street’s “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (which you can watch on YouTube). As an anecdote: when we were children, my parents took us to the Metropolitan Museum of Art often. On a particular trip, my younger brother (at age 5) strode up to a still life and, after regarding it for a moment, correctly identified it as a Cézanne. Parents, you won this one.

All in all, I feel strongly that the space is worthy of the sculpture. Bravo, Brookfield Place and Heather Nichol. I hope to see more inspiration in The Winter Garden as this space and neighborhood take new shape.

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