New York is a city of ephemeral monuments. There’s only until next Friday, May 14, to see the four-channel “digital playground” that avant-garde filmmaker Ernie Gehr has fabricated in Madison Square Park. Four high-def, flat-screen video monitors ring the Shake Shack in the park’s southeast corner, facing outward and showing footage of the park and environs taken by Gehr last summer.
The piece is called “Surveillance” and, as befits its title, it exists remarkably unnoticed, blandly coexisting with, if not camouflaged by, the midday crowds chowing down on burgers and fiddling with their iPhones. (At dusk, when the park is emptier, the monitors take on a ceremonial aura and their own greenish iPhonic glow.) Once people realize that it’s not them but other people on the screen, many lose interest. Too bad.
“Surveillance” offers the quintessential urban spectacle — human flux — complicated by an elegantly simple device. Gehr tucks another, not quite identical, rectangle inside the image. As the camera slowly moves, spaces open in trees and tables are reconfigured, a second subway entrance materialize in the pavement and a bunch of guys line up… next to themselves. Sometimes the image is delayed, producing a form of flash-forward coming attractions; other times, the image is flipped to create an odd mirroring effect. There are four 20-minute sequences that rotate clockwise from monitor to monitor. The most visually dramatic seems to have been shot looking down from the top of the Flatiron building to wreak perceptual havoc with the geometry of the intersection below; it’s a sensational image, although the best show is simply watching people (and squirrels) hang out in duplicate on the video screen with that framed spectacle itself framed by the wider world.
There’s only until Sunday to see another transitory New York monument, Louis Faurer’s nine-minute, posthumously discovered Time Capsule — coincidentally located inside another café, namely the one in the downstairs gallery at the International Center of Photography. The celebrated street photographer’s lone motion picture, Time Capsule is a densely edited montage of things glimpsed in or flickering over the so-called Crossroads of the World. Faurer’s recurring image is of shadows limned against the vast fields of electric bulbs that made 42nd Street famous. It’s a lost scene: Populated by hitters, hippies, and hustlers (as well as tourists), the movie is a phantom history of the ’60s. The ghosts seem a little lost in the ICP. I’d like to see Time Capsule in the context of today’s Disneyfied Deuce, presiding larger than life, in faded black-and-white, over the midtown flux — a permanent memory installed on the Jumbotron at Times Square.