The Encampment by Thom Sokoloski on Roosevelt Island
Between 1828 and 1955, artist Thom Sokoloski tells us, Roosevelt Island was the site of a small pox hospital, a lunatic asylum, a workhouse, and a penitentiary. In an effort to recapture a bit of the "collective memory" of the thousands of men, women and children who were confined to and, mostly, died in miserable conditions within sight of Manhattan, last weekend Sokoloski erected The Encampment, consisting of 100 19th-century "expeditionary" tents at Southpoint, an open grassy area normally closed to the public on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island. Each tent was lit from within, and each featured an installation by a different artist. The show was only open last Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, from 7:00 until 1:00 am, and Bo, Co and I traveled across the river last night to take it in.
We had a great time getting there (I pitched it as an "adventure", and didn't reveal the destination... had I said "art installation two subway trains away" there's no way I could have gotten them out the door ), and even more fun walking around and peering behind the 100 closed tent flaps and feeling surprised or creeped out or moved or, too often, disengaged, by the visual stories told therein. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of repetition in the executions, an empty set of clothes being the most common.
But, really, there's no way we're going to complain about all these people going through all that effort to do something cool. (Well, that's entirely true. I definitely can complain about such things.) The night was foggy and cool; the setting unusual; the gutted small pox hospital guarding the entrance appropriately sad and ghostly; the Manhattan skyline beautiful, as always; the collaboration as a whole an impressive sight; and when the music played—a pair of trumpets doing a mournful call and response from either end of the encampment; a woman strolling through the tents, clutching a (fake) dead infant and singing a lovely dirge in a unknown language—the show had that great "nowhere else I'd rather be" feel to it.
The Encampment was part of the Open House New York weekend, and it was the only such site we got to this year. The train ride home was total nightmare, and given other stories I've heard today, we can only hope that the next time a city-sponsored event entices people to visit far-flung parts of town, they ask the MTA to please cooperative.