Cultured Magazine

April/May 2015

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144 CULTURED GOLDEN AGE Architect David Adjaye and Teresita Fernández sit down to discuss the artist's largest public project to date, Fata Morgana, a golden canopy hovering above Madison Square Park. David Adjaye: What is Fata Morgana? What is the significance of the name? Teresita Fernández: A Fata Morgana is a type of superior mirage that occurs in nature and that appears to hover just above the horizon. I was interested in this idea of distortion on a grand scale and how I could make a sculpture that optically shifts our expectations of this big, six-acre urban site. Distorting the landscape seems to me like the ultimate visual abstraction… ambitious in a sort of ridiculous, but enthralling way. My title is also a reference to a book of the same name that the Cuban artist Wifredo Lam illustrated in the 1940s. As a Cuban-American kid I grew up knowing who Lam was from a very early age. I've always loved how Lam's abstractions seem to be hiding images in plain sight, this kind of camouflaging of figures in the landscape. I liked the connection it had to my ideas for the piece and the title kind of stuck and had a personal resonance for me. DA: Brilliant. I love what you said about camouflage and the landscape, which is kind of a military term. Most people want their art to be present in the landscape, so what you said is actually very counter-intuitive. TF: Places, cities, landscapes are not just about what you see but also about what you don't see. In my work, I've always been very interested in this idea of blindness—of something hiding in plain sight. DA: Blindness? TF: Yes, of how something can, for example be large in scale, in numbers, but disappear or become hidden and not visible. I was fascinated with the idea of making a monumental sculpture that could essentially dissolve and disappear and then later reappear, like a mirage. Camouflage is essentially a kind of blindness. If you think of blindness as just degrees of "not seeing"—like shrouding, squinting, peeking, glimpsing—these too are all a kind of minute "blindness." Sometimes you have to dim something in order to amplify it and really see it. I'm playing with a lot of those sensibilities in my work; the idea of camouflage is so seductive because it's really this notion that something is palpably present but not accessible to the human eye—you feel it but you don't see it. With Fata Morgana it was about putting this huge object in the park and watching it continuously appear and recede. The idea is that the piece doesn't end at its measurable, physical edges but that it seeps into the city. I think I'm always trying to make physical sculptures that behave like cinematic dissolves. DA: It seems monumental, but it's interesting because when you talk about it you talk about it from the experience of park visitors. I would imagine it's probably super visible from all the buildings around in this urban context as well. It seems it has an invisibility at the ground-plane, but a super-visibility from the more panoptic view from a Manhattan tower or skyscraper. Did you design it 'in plan' or did you design it as the experience? TF: I designed it primarily as an experience for the ambulatory viewer, for people on the move. I wanted to focus on the arteries of the park, on access and interaction... The walking paths that define the park were, for me, like a little microcosm of the larger urban circulatory system of NYC that it nests within. Fata Morgana was conceived as a real-time portrait of how people move through and use the park, a mirror to urban activity. The walkways are covered with a canopy of hundreds of golden, mirror-polished reflective discs that reflect everything and everyone who passes underneath them. I wanted the piece to be animated, charged, active—not just while one is underneath it but from a distance as well. In this way, people are placed in the simultaneous, overlapping roles of both spectator and participant, looking and moving intertwined. DA: But also from above, Teresita, no? TF: The first thing I did for this project was to go to the top of all the buildings that face the park. These were, at one point, the tallest buildings in the city; this was Uptown before skyscrapers existed in Midtown! The Flatiron Building, originally the Fuller Building, was a groundbreaking skyscraper when it was completed in 1902. It was one of the tallest buildings in the city and one of only two skyscrapers north of 14th Street. I love that cities are living, breathing things. I kept thinking of our history of constantly looking up in New York. Fata Morgana hovers precisely on that plane above people's heads; it's as though the connection of the grounded, walking park visitor is also synchronized and correlating to what is aerial, above. In fact, if you look at images of real Fata Morgana in nature, they appear exactly like that, as these kind of horizontal bands of images that stack up on top of one another vertically.

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