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Summer Arts on the (Other) Island

Figment! On Governors Island!

It’s almost (officially) summer! But summer has (unofficially) been here for at least a few weeks, what with Memorial Day, summer concerts, the heat of the concrete streets and sudden afternoon downpours. However, my favorite indication of the onset of summer is definitely when Governors Island opens on weekends, all summer long. I love the place – I held a game of Zombies vs. Commandos on Governors Island last year and wrote a blog post all about the game and the history of the place!

I brought a Middle School from Florida out to Gov Isl as part of their tour. We enjoyed the wide-open views of the harbor, the artist-invented games of mini-golf, and the giant Mark di Suvero sculptures. Little did my tourists know, but I spent a weekend volunteering on the island before it opened to the public, when I went to build the FIGMENT pavilion.

Mark DiSuvero's Figolu Photo credit Jerry L Thompson for WNYC

FIGMENT is the largest participatory art festival in New York that is completely volunteer-driven. Everyone – from lawyers to nurses to teachers to Starbucks baristas – EVERYONE volunteers to make sculptures, performances, stages for dozens of bands and djs, and create an atmosphere of open-minded participation. Their motto is, “What are YOU bringing?”

Last year I brought my hot-to-trot dance skills when my friend Colleen Culley of Move Into Greatness choreographed an environmentally themed dance performance. This year, I brought my woodchip-stuffing skills in order to help create the City of Dreams Pavillion, called Burble Bup. I spent a day out on the island in mid-May with a dozen other volunteers stuffing woodchips into giant neon-colored stockings. We then tied up each stocking, creating 10-foot-long building blocks, each one weighing a good two hundred pounds!

Burble Bup by Bittertang

Governors Island is no stranger to bizarre, large-scale art, and I’m definitely an experienced member of volunteer corps when it comes to intriguing projects. Last year, I helped out at The Archeological Dig, when a Belgian theater company “uncovered” a small town on the island with history dating back to the 1600’s that had been abandoned and buried in the 1950’s. With falsified documents, photos of citizens and realistically half-buried cars and houses, I helped by duping of hundreds of visitors (who had to wear hard-hats while touring the “active archaeological site”!).

On the last ferry back from this year’s FIGMENT, it was my great pleasure to be in the presence of Ohio Mike, a friend of mine who’s performance was to create his 10,000th matchbook portrait, in just four years. In the presence of so many artistically open-minded people, I found myself just itching to get out to the grand-daddy of performance-art fesivals: Burning Man, here I come!

By Jonah Levy

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