Going Farming at P.S.1's Warm-Up Parties
My drinking education came mostly along a series of gravel roads in rural Missouri. Weekend nights saw a parade of letter jackets, halter tops, and tight jeans (to be worn with cowboy boots, not Converses) spilling out of beat-up trucks and rusty Escorts. And while I actually owned none of the above—sartorial nor vehicular—I still loved being among the caravan of cars following weathered tire tracks through the country, eventually gathering under the summer sky on washed-out bridges to plow through cases of Busch Light and (no, it's not just a stereotype) Boone's Farm. Unsophisticated? God, yes. But it's what you do when you grow up in a town with a population fewer than 2,500.
As a result, the setting of the recently unveiled Public Farm One—a/k/a P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center's ninth annual architecture-program winner, which sets the stage for summer's weekly Warm Up dance parties—well, it resonates.
Of 2008's five finalists, WORK Architecture Company was the firm chosen to realize its designs for "a new urban landscape." With a project budget of $70,000—and criteria that included elements of shade, water, seating, and bar areas—husband-and-wife founders Amale Andraos and Dan Wood eschewed the former winners' literal party predilections for a family-friendly urban farm, plunked down right in the middle of P.S.1's concrete courtyard in Long Island City. The gravel . . . the water . . . the greenery . . . the gravel . . . it all feels very familiar. And very much like a social scene I didn't think I'd have to revisit in my adulthood.
For others, though, the idea of an urban harvest capitalizes on both pastoral imagery and the current obsession with sustainable and recyclable materials. P.F.1 does both—but in a visually captivating way, evoking the look of an environmentally sound magic carpet that's landing squarely in the P.S.1 courtyard. Constructed as a honeycomb of large cardboard tubes, the top surface of the asymmetrical, V-shaped plane is a working farm, blooming with a variety of vegetables and plants (and on Friday, when the space officially opened, also providing sunny seats for a few resourceful climbers).
Benches and imaginative chairs are positioned in the shade of the farm, with curtains and fans offering more movement of air; the larger wing stretches over the courtyard's 20-foot-high center wall to allow for additional shade in the adjacent outdoor space. Form meets function in the supportive columns as well, offering cell-phone-charging stations, pockets of herbs, and those twisty scopes that allow you to spy on people without them knowing. The plants will be harvested and sold at an accompanying farmers' market during the parties. There's even a pool. Yeah, it's small—but it's cold and wet, providing a welcome respite from the concrete pen that is the remainder of P.S.1.
Since 1999, when P.S.1 merged with MOMA and Philip Johnson designed the first party backdrop for the summer music series, each incarnation has expanded upon Warm Up's origins as an "Urban Beach." WORK's initial sketches reflected that—but eventually changed radically.
As explained on the firm's website, the beach has embodied popular dreams of pleasure and liberation throughout the 20th century, dating from the first labor-paid holidays. Thinking about that creatively led them to a 1928 photograph called La Plage, rife with blue-and-white-striped bathing suits; that, in turn, made them consider the famous slogan of the May 1968 student riots in France: "Sous les pavés, la plage" (roughly, "Under the paving stones, a better life"). Instead of creating an environment to fit a fixed idea of holiday, however, they decided instead to redefine what that idea of holiday should look like, settling on the notion of "Sur les paves, la ferme"—meaning "Over the pavement, the farm."
Now, 40 years after the student riots, in the summer of 2008, Wood and Andraos imagine their urban farm as "a magical plot of rural delights inserted within the city grid that resonates with our generations' preoccupations and hopes for a better and different future." In fact, they're calling for a new "leisure revolution . . . one that creates a symbol of liberation, knowledge, power, and fun for today's cities."
As to be expected—oh, you architects and all your "visions"—that sounds a hell of a lot sexier than P.F.1 actually looks. And definitely sexier than it feels—because while that flying carpet looks great, it doesn't provide that much shade; this year's parties are going to be motherfucking hot.
But there truly is something youthful, innocent, and charming about the whole setup, maybe because it also works as a system separate from the facilitation of Warm Up. Last Friday afternoon, there were families and couples and friends and loners, reading and talking and splashing in the fountain. I guess it just seems more useful than the pretty constructions of the past—and the idea of helping when and where we can is something we just can't get away from these days. Especially since I don't soon plan to give up my long showers or air conditioning.
As for this year's lineup, which was announced last week, there's been some grumbling—but I suspect it's just for the sake of complaining, as usual. With the exception of the ubiquitous James Murphy, who it's kinda hard to get excited about anymore (he's everywhere, right?), options like Free Blood on July 12, Kelley Polar on August 16, and Matthew Dear on August 30 should bring the kids running. Warm Up parties take place from 3 to 9 p.m. every Sunday from July 5 through September 6. See ps1.org for a complete lineup.
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