Off-Site Exhibition Series Exploring Stillness Concludes with Bronx Edition

stillspotting nyc

After identifying, creating, or transforming “stillspots” in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island into public tours, events, or installations, the two-year multidisciplinary project stillspotting nyc comes to a close this month in the Bronx. For this fifth and final edition in the stillspotting nyc series, taking place October 13–14, Charlie Todd and Tyler Walker of Improv Everywhere, along with audiologist Tina Jupiter, present Audiogram, a unique 65-minute interactive audio experience and theatrical group hearing test designed specifically for the South Bronx.

To celebrate the off-site exhibition series, a stillspotting nyc finale event will be hosted by the Guggenheim Museum and Unsound—creators of the celebrated New York festival—and take place in the Peter B. Lewis Theater of the Guggenheim Museum on October 9. This finale will feature a variety show of talks, performances, films, readings, statements, and personal reflections by architects, artists, planners, scientists, politicians, philosophers, and musicians as a final meditation upon the issues explored within the five editions of the series. Program visitors will have the opportunity to join architect Charles Renfro, artist Jana Winderen, writer Robert A.F. Thurman, and more in a conversation about how man-made environments can be reconceived, reshaped, and redesigned to provide increased opportunities for calm and stillness. They will be invited to revisit elements of the site-specific commissions from each of the five New York City boroughs recreated in the Guggenheim rotunda during the evening of the stillspotting nyc: finale.

On the occasion of stillspotting nyc’s culmination, David van der Leer, Assistant Curator, Architecture and Urban Studies, answered questions about the series and how he views its potential for ongoing positive change in New York City.


How did you come up with the idea for stillspotting nyc?
The project was born out of deep disappointment with noise in cities—since I am not so much the activist type, I have always been trying to address things such as this in more poetic ways. Ten years ago when I was studying in Rotterdam, I designed “Still,” a social club where people would come together to enjoy a quiet moment. It was a theoretical design project that I forgot about after school, but that quickly surfaced when I moved to New York six years ago. I lived in Dumbo right under the Manhattan Bridge with its heavy traffic and its endless noisy trains, and the only thing I could think about at times was the noise that seemed to be everywhere around me—an issue, I realized quickly, that is problematic for many New Yorkers. Stillspotting as a possible project direction first came alive as a title of a short article I wrote for Pin-Up magazine about an almost monastically quiet store in Soho where I suggested people go if they needed a place to tune out—even if they couldn’t pay for the actual fashion. I began scoping around the city for similar spots, or spots with a potential to become quiet, and from there one thing led to another.

If you could recommend one thing to make the city more “still,” what would it be?
The stillspotting nyc series has been a very subtle project with beautiful installations by artists, architects, composers and the like. This is all to make everyday New Yorkers more aware of the soundscape they are living in, and to entice them to start dreaming of a less noisy and stressful environment without the feeling they need to constantly escape the city or tune out the noise with even more noise. To make the city more still, we need to ask our city representatives to institute stricter noise regulation guidelines in order for real change to happen. Hopefully a project such as stillspotting nyc can be a catalyst in this important process.

What are you most excited for regarding the stillspotting nyc finale event on October 9?
Over the past two years, stillspotting nyc has turned into an eclectic project with participants from a wide variety of disciplines. We could have easily turned the finale event into a dry symposium, but instead we decided to turn it into a variety show of sorts with personal reflections by artists and architects, newly commissioned sound pieces by composers and sound artists, readings, discussions with the Commissioner of DOT and other specialists, the restaging of some key elements of the various borough editions (in case you missed any of them), but well . . . secretly I am very much looking forward to our signature stillspotting nyc cocktail that we will be serving that evening.

Why did you choose to create this project outside of the museum environment? What are the benefits of this kind of program versus a more traditional museum exhibition?
Stillspotting nyc is part of our Guggenheim Architecture and Urban Studies programming that, instead of looking at cities from the safe space of the conventional exhibition set-up in a gallery, goes out into the city, out into the streets. I hope that by taking our program out into the city we can connect to different audiences that may or may not scrutinize cities very deeply, but that do live in them on a day-to-day basis. Why would thinking and creating for cities start and end with city officials, architects, and designers? I believe that as curators we can play a role in the development of ideas, not only ideas by artists and architects, but also ideas of inspired city officials and most importantly ideas of the many different inhabitants of this city as you see in the Create your Own section on the stillspotting nyc website.

What has been your favorite part of the series? Was there anything that particularly surprised you about the findings?
I love how a project like this one can really help people see their everyday lives in cities in a different way. At some point during the run of Sanatorium (the Brooklyn edition by artist Pedro Reyes) an elderly woman walked in after attending a service in her house of prayer. She mentioned she was not finding the calm there that she needed so desperately, and that she was hoping to find it in the Sanatorium installation. She had such a good time that she came back the next week.

What will you miss the most about working on this project?
It has been very rewarding to me and Sarah Malaika (Stillspotting Project Associate) to see repeat visitors that come back for new editions around the city. To some of our most eager visitors each new edition has become something of a collectible that they want to have added to their list of quiet moments for the year. We have gotten to know many of these people over time and I hope to see many of these stillspotters at our closing events in October.

How do you hope stillspotting nyc will have an ongoing effect on the city of New York?
Noise and anxiety have a big impact on our lives: much bigger than we realize or are willing to admit. They affect the way we interact with others, the way we behave, and they can have a serious impact on our health. If we could think and act more consciously about noise and anxiety when we design city spaces, and infrastructural systems, or when we develop legislation and economic models for cities, we could improve our everyday lives drastically.

This may sound incredibly soft, but noise and anxiety are actually serious issues that come with hard facts and figures. For instance: think of all the millions of Americans that suffer from noise-induced hearing loss as a result of loud traffic, and noise in city environments and the problems this generates for us as a society. Noise induced hearing loss comes with implications on our health care system, on our financial situation, and, as a result, has political and social effects. The same could be said for anxiety.

Stillspotting nyc is an attempt to get more attention for the levels of noise and anxiety we live with in cities, and the effects this has on our everyday functioning. The project does not deliver readily available results per se, but is rather meant as a starting point of discussions on many levels ranging from your granny-on-the-corner to city officials with the hope for a better future.

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Marxz Rosado, The Process for Attaining the Signature of Pedro Albizu Campos in Neon Lights (Proceso para conseguir la firma de Pedro Albizu Campos en luces de neón), 1977–2002

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