This past weekend, Governors Island, the tiny plot of land between Manhattan and Brooklyn that was formerly home to a military base, hosted the eighth edition of Figment, an annual participatory art festival that drew over 25,000 people over two days to don free costumes, paint, draw, sculpt, drum, dance, and engage in other artistic activities.
If you find the number of works at a traditional art fair overwhelming, Figment is even crazier. There might not be any blue chip canvases for sale, but art is spread out over a number of acres, installed inside the old quarters of Coast Guard families and on the lawns outside, with more to see around every corner—and, much like at an art fair, a good deal of it is fairly conceptual, albeit in a more hands-on vein.
And don’t forget the crowds: instead of celebrities and well-heeled collectors, the island is overrun with young adults, many decked out in outlandish outfits and colorful costumes (Kostume Kult hands out free get-ups for those who neglected to dress the part), and families with young children. It’s hard to pick out the artists from the visitors, especially when the event is designed to engage the public, and artists who aren’t officially participating are welcome to bring their own projects along.
Although there was a great deal to do an see during Figment’s opening weekend celebration, there were a few recurring themes, such as communication. Taking the theme quite literally were Small Talk, a performance by Unkonscious Kollective, and FreeConvo‘s eponymously titled outdoor living room of inflated couches. Tim Gamble offered a less direct means of communication with Wind and Waves on Wood, an ecologically friendly take on a message in a bottle in which visitors burn messages into driftwood before setting them adrift in New York Harbor.
Other projects, such as Jobpath NYC‘s Postability and Pollitos Unidos’ Q&A With Strangers, encouraged visitors to the island to engage in a written conversation with one another, the former through hashtagged and thematic postcards delivered at random via courier, the latter through the creation of a communal quilt.
Other artists chose to go with more visually engaging work, such as Noodloo, a multi-colored sculpture woven by Columbia School of Architecture students Eileen Chen, Jenny Lin, Gabriel Calatrava, Martin Lodman, and Susan Bopp from swimming pool toys (as seen at East Village pop-up gallery the Allies). When artnet News saw the piece, Lin had just finished repairing it, and was doing her best to keep delighted children from clambering on the lightweight structure, although most Figment offerings are indeed climbable.
Taking a completely different tack was Hack Manhattan‘s Facetron 6000, a photo booth that employed an intriguing hybrid of modern technology and obsolete gadgetry, hooking up a laptop to an electric typewriter loaded with dot matrix printer paper, typing, letter by letter, ASCII art portraits. Parents were seen patiently explaining the retro hardware to their children, who, predictably, couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the whole concept of life before computers.
Though much of Figment’s art is only on hand during the two-day festival, there are several large-scale commissions that will remain on view at the Parade Grounds throughout the season as part of the Summer-Long Sculpture Program. Particularly striking is CRD Studio‘s Governor’s Cup, a collection of plastic cups that have been woven together with zip ties to create low, curving walls, surprisingly comfortable seating, hanging curtains suspended from evergreen trees, and, at least during the festival, fanciful capes.
Visitors also seemed to be particularly drawn to Oreen Cohen’s A Sharper Lens, a steampunk-y assortment of sculptures constructed from discarded materials such as rusty metal, old tires, wood, and glass. A faux-canon, referencing the island’s past as a military base, is actually a functional, larger-than-life kaleidoscope, through which one can see the newly completed One World Trade.
As per Figment tradition, the Parade Grounds also hosts a unique Artist Mini Golf Course, which looked to be more soundly constructed this year than in prior iterations. Each of the 10 holes is New York City-themed this year, touching on issues such as New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s George Washington Bridge scandal, CitiBikes, Occupy Wall Street, and community gardens.
artnet News also checked out the newly opened 30 acres of parkland on the island’s south side, which is largely free of Figment shenanigans. There, lounging in the new Hammock Grove and strolling along the water’s edge, the island makes for a much more relaxing experience than the frenzied, noisy activities nearby. As artnet News reported back in April, several new public artworks have been commissioned for the new area, as well as the park’s final phase, slated to open next year.
As if the verdant green lawns and picturesque architecture weren’t enough to entice you to take a ferry ride over to the bucolic art lovers’ paradise that is Governors Island, there is also the new Governors Beach Club. In addition to free beach volley ball, ping pong, and Foosball—and beers at Manhattan Island prices ($7)—the concert venue offers the jarring but strikingly unique visual of a sandy beach with the Lower Manhattan skyline for a backdrop.
The city’s easiest summer getaway is open seven days a week for the first time this season, which runs through September 28. The ferry, which leaves from both Brooklyn and Manhattan, is only $2 round trip, and is free weekend mornings at 11:00 and 11:30.Follow artnet News on Facebook.