In a series of three site-specific installations, artist Aaron Asis is highlighting the historic structures of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery. His first piece in unSeen Green laces through the 1911 chapel, which was designed as a Gothic tribute to Christopher Wren’s Tom Tower by Warren and Wetmore, of Grand Central Terminal fame. With fuchsia parachute cord weaving over archways and resting on door frames, even emerging out on the façade, the work is intended to encourage a closer look at the building’s architectural details.
Harry Weil, manager of programs at Green-Wood, told Hyperallergic that there are no official details yet on the next interventions by Asis in the cemetery. “However, what I can say is that the two other projects will continue to thoughtfully engage Green-Wood’s built environment after close study and investigation,” Weil said.
The current installation lasts two weeks, with musical performances bookending it. Both feature percussionists Owen Weaver and Dennis Sullivan performing Tristan Perich’s “Impermanent.” Perich is best-known for his pieces using 1-bit electronic speakers, such as “Microtonal Wall,” which was part of the 2013 exhibition Soundings: A Contemporary Score at the Museum of Modern Art and features 1,500 of them. “Impermanent” has just two suspended on either side of tubular bells; Weaver and Sullivan play the bells lightly with mallets to create a drone of sound in the space.
At the opening performance, the music rarely got above a murmur, often drowned out by the shifting of the audience in the church pews or on mats sprawled on the stone floor. The 1-bit speakers punctuated the ripple of the quiet bells with high-pitched notes, their electronic sound able to pierce the heaviness of the space. It made me think of hearing church bells from a tomb. We were in a cemetery, after all, surrounded by at least 600,000 graves.
Cemeteries were designed as gathering spaces for grief and memory. Green-Wood, for instance, was opened back in 1838 as a place for picnics, carriage rides, and strolls away from the crowded city, as well as a burial ground. The cemetery has recently hosted readings, performances, and other events in its chapel and on its 478 acres, but it’s exciting to see Green-Wood also experiment with contemporary art. Such experiences can encourage a new type of congregation at the cemetery, while still respecting the people interred there. UnSeen Green has a light touch, not overtaking the delicate stained glass of the chapel or distracting from architectural highlights like the crowning oculus. It will be interesting to see how Asis, who has previously created installations in complex sites like the 30th Street Station and St. Andrews Chapel in Philadelphia last year, continues to interact with its built environment for mourning.