BEACON, NY — “All right, folks, Beacon will be next … Beacon next, Beeeeaa-con Beacon Beacon,” says a Metro-North conductor in my headphones. The man’s sing-song voice is recorded, but I am actually on the Hudson Line train, listening to the final track of a travel mixtape created by the Dominican Republic–born, Berlin-based artist Isabel Lewis. It’s one of nine tracks, each composed by Lewis to accompany a segment of travel between stops on the journey from Grand Central Terminal to Beacon.
The town’s Long Dock Park, located along the Hudson River and a mere 10-minute stroll from Dia:Beacon, is my final destination, the site where Lewis is hosting what she refers to as “occasions.” Commissioned by the Dia Art Foundation, Occasions and other occurrences fills a lush, forested area by the shore with small and surprising happenings that subtly awaken the senses to the surroundings. These include an offering of raspberry lemonade before entering the park, music DJed by Lewis that thumps softly from an assortment of large speakers, and a troupe of dancers who sway slowly amid the wilderness. I imagine these occasions — occurring on Saturday and Sunday afternoons through July 17 — are more laid-back than the ones that take place on Friday evenings at Dia:Chelsea, where the room that holds them resembles a posh lounge. Lewis has apparently transformed it with minimal couches, hairpin-legged tables, air plants intertwined with wire, and even “scent-scapes,” thus inviting relaxation but still maintaining the atmosphere of a formal gathering space (you can make reservations for these).
At the open-air site in Beacon, all human activity blends freely and beautifully with nature. Lewis’s Hudson Line Mixtape prepares you for this experience, serving as an elegant tool to help you transition from the busy realm of Manhattan (assuming you board, as I did, at the start of the train line) to the breezy Hudson shore. It begins, from Grand Central to 125th Street, with the natural sounds of the train: the punching of tickets and the clicking and shuffling of unseen mechanics, all of which swell into a catchy beat. Other segments offer electronic tracks — some fitting for a club — that enliven the passing landscape, setting different and often unexpected paces for the fly-by views of houses, waterways, and woodlands. At one point during the mixtape, I hear screeches that recall rusted train parts mingling with the real-life beeps of games played by my neighbors; at another, the shrill cries of birds.
After the train pulls in at Beacon, an unanticipated guide appears to orient me towards the occasions: a dancer, who swirls slowly in an underpass for a few minutes before inviting us to follow her to the park. While receiving my lemonade nearby, I hear slow, sensual sounds and African rhythms, which accompany the calls of wind chimes that emerge softly from waving trees. I approach the grove and watch casually dressed dancers move to the music with drawn-out gestures that trace shapes around branches, plants, and tree trunks. At times they gather in groups, but each remains in his or her own world.
If you come to the park expecting a performance, the sight may be underwhelming, looking more like a bunch of friends has arrived at the spot to groove, very slowly and intensely, with Mother Nature. This does not seem like a performance. Yes, simple wooden benches designed by Lewis dot the shore, inviting an audience, but the areas they face aren’t necessarily where you’ll find dancers; some just turn towards the open river. I find myself settling in — on a fallen log suspended over the water — to take in my surroundings, and the dancers eventually become a natural part of the environment. They create incidental motion around me, just like the waving of the leaves in the breeze, the rippling and splashes of water, and the bopping of a nearby parade of ducks about to enjoy a dip.
Witnessing these seemingly improvised gestures is an appreciated change from the traditional visit to Dia:Beacon, where you know what to expect and how to behave within the institution’s walls. Even if the dancing on the shore gets repetitive, Lewis has created a quiet realm that draws you in and invites you to let go, linger, and share chance moments with strangers. For city dwellers in particular, the occasion is a rare one. As I stand up to leave, I watch a trio of dancers gradually sweep their limbs through the air — and, out of the corner of my eye, glimpse a fish leaping from the river, displaying its own twirl before returning with a splash.
Isabel Lewis’s Occasions and other occurrences continues at Dia:Chelsea (535 W 22nd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) and Long Dock Park near Dia:Beacon (3 Beekman St, Beacon) on weekends through July 17.
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