Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, New York

This fall and winter in New York featured an ambitious citywide art project by Ai Weiwei called Good Fences Make Good Neighbors. Through fences, cages, netting and other forms of “barrier”, Ai Weiwei well-known landmarks as well as quintessentially “New York” locations into expressions of global migration – a complex phenomenon that includes refugee crises around the world as well as the fights for and against immigration in our own country. While the large installations at Washington Square and Central Park perhaps get the most attention, they are also scattered in smaller locations that are part of daily life in the city. We at CatSynth attempted to track down all the major installations and compiled our experiences into this video.

The large sculptural pieces in Washington Square Park and Grand Army Plaza at the corner of Central Park were the most impressive as iconic.

[Grand Army Plaza / Central Park]

The cage at Grand Army Plaza is quite literal, an easily identified barrier between those in the cage and the rest of the city going about its business outside. Of course, one can freely enter and exit this cage at will. The mirrored piece that fills the Washington Square Arch is more abstract, with the silhouettes of human figures forming a welcoming portal in the midst of an imposing fence. This one was the most aesthetically beautiful for me, with its play on reflections and light from the surrounding city.

[Washington Square Arch]

Many smaller installations were scattered around the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a neighborhood long associated with immigration and new arrivals to the United States. Indeed, the European Jewish side of my family settled in this neighborhood in the early 20th century, so it holds particular significance.

[Chrystie Street]

Ai Weiwei. #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #NYC Essex Street Market

A post shared by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

One could be forgiven for overlooking some of these (though the Essex Street Market installation is quite large). In fact, one at East 7th Street was just a narrow fence in the space between two apartment buildings. It took me a couple of minutes to locate it. And business at the boutiques and cafes at ground level went ahead seemingly oblivious.

We also made it to some of the installations in other boroughs, including the one surrounding the Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens.

[Unisphere – Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens]

The Unisphere is one of the remaining ruins from the 1968 Worlds Fair and with its positive (albeit cynical) message of global and international solidarity, its an apt setting for reflecting on the current migration crises and increasing nationalism worldwide. The borough of Queens has also involved since 1968 to become one of the most diverse places in the world.

And no artistic journey through the would be complete without Brooklyn. Fulton Mall – a section of Fulton Street closed to form a pedestrian mall and bus corridor – was the site of a series of installations adding fencing to some of the bus stops.

[Fulton Mall, Brooklyn]

One more Fulton Street Mall. Ai Weiwei #goodfencesmakegoodneighbors #brooklyn #NYC

A post shared by CatSynth / Amanda C (@catsynth) on

Downtown Brooklyn has become an important part of my own experience of New York in the past decade, and it seems fitting to end here, where older discount stores and new high-rise condo buildings collide. We will have to see how this ultimately plays out…

We end in the Bronx, where this billboard on the Deegan Expressway may not be part of the official presentation, but it made for a fitting conclusion.

[Deegan Expressway (I-87), The Bronx]

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors will be on display through February 18, 2018. You can read more about the project and its many locations here.

Weekend Cat Blogging 106: Unpopular Border Wall endangers Ocelots

Luna and I would like to use Weekend Cat Blogging #106 to warn our readers and friends about the dangers of a proposed border fence/wall through the Rio Grande Valley in Southwest Texas.

As the truck rounds a bend near the greenish-brown Rio Grande, a bobcat scampers ahead, disappearing into the lush subtropical foliage. Lizards dart about. A tortoise lazes in the sun. Somewhere in the forest, well-camouflaged by evolution, are ocelots and jaguarundi, both of them endangered species of cats.
These are some of the natural wonders in the Rio Grande Valley that Brown and other wildlife enthusiasts fear could be spoiled by the fences and adjacent roads the U.S. government plans to erect along the Mexican border to keep out illegal immigrants and smugglers.

We featured the Texas ocelot (a subspecies) in a previous WCB post on endangered wild cats.

Seeing a photo of an ocelot, it's easy to forget that they are wild cats and not some exotic breed. But they are wild cats, who are endangered. And they are not the only ones endangered by this misguided plan. The Rio Grande Valley is a success story of ecological restoration that could be destroyed by the Homeland Security border-fence plan. Usually, there would be an ecological review of such plans, but it seems Homeland Security can simply waive that requirement.

And if wild cats and unique ecology, the local communities, including the cities of Laredo and McAllen and towns in between are all against it. They have lived with their neighbors across the river for a long time and the communities on both sides of the border are intertwined, socially and economically. And people there are pretty upset about this, as illustrated in this Houston Press article:

They don't like the fact that Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff can circumvent the same federal environmental studies they would have to undergo if they wanted to put in a road or a bridge. He has specially granted waiver powers, and if he wants a fence, he gets one ? no matter how many dead birds and ocelots are left behind to clean up.

They can't stomach the representatives they've met in the Department of Homeland Security, from Chertoff on down, who seem to them to be unreasonable, untrustworthy creatures, arrogant in manner and not always inclined to truthfulness.

Most of all, Allen and others want to know why the same federal government ? the one that for years ignored their repeated requests for an interstate (“We're the only area with 1 million population that doesn't have an interstate”), $10 million to repair their levees (“We'll be like New Orleans when Katrina hit) and money to help them improve their public schools ? all of a sudden has untold millions of dollars to plunk down on a fence that none of them want.

And now the people and wild cats of the Rio Grande Valley find themselves caught in the middle of the big immigration debate, indeed it was coming home on the radio last night that we heard this story.

We at CatSynth have some strong opinions about the immigration issue, but we'll save some of that for later – actually, that photo on the NPR article is begging for some LolCat treatment. For WCB, we simply want to let our readers know about the wild cats and people endangered by this plan. We urge U.S. readers, and especially Texas readers, to contact their representatives to try and stop this, or at the very least have it go through the same local and environmental reviews that any other major project would require.

For some non-endangered kitty fun, please go visit the big WCB 106 Roundup hosted by Kate and Puddy at A Byootaful Life. Puddy is having some fun hunting a pencil. We're also finally adding ourselves to the Friday Ark #143 and Carnival of the Cats #169.

Mills College Musicology Professor Detained and Deported

The usually staid American Musicological Society is suddenly in the midst of an immigration and profiling case:

In August 2006, British citizen Dr. Nalini Ghuman was detained for 8 hours at San Francisco airport after returning from a month-long research visit to the UK. Professor Ghuman had previously held F1 student visas since September 1996 while earning a PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. She has been employed as an Assistant Professor of Music at Mills College since 2003, and was in possession of an H1B visa, issued in London, valid until 31 May 2008.

Instead of being allowed to return to her home in Oakland to start her fourth year at Mills, Dr. Ghuman had her visa revoked and was denied re-entry to the country where she has lived, studied, and worked for 10 years. A distinguished music graduate of Oxford University and of Kings College, London, Dr. Ghuman is completing her book focused on the influence of India on English music in the early twentieth century.

Mills College has an excellent program in new music, avant-guarde, electro-acoustic and otherwise. But I gather Dr. Ghuman's focus was much more traditional – she was a “classicial musicologist.”

The most plausible theory about this case is that we have yet another case of mistaken identity with someone on a security watch list. It's probably not a case of running afoul of some guard's taste in music, though we at CatSynth recommend that you say country music and hip-hop if they ask.

The site includes a sample letter that people can send to their representatives, and to Mills (which has been quite supportive of Dr. Ghuman and probably a bit bewildered by the whole case).