NEW WINDSOR — There are no rooms in this house, only the space beneath its roof, which is confined and quiet save for the faint voices emitting from speakers to share stories. Painted bright red and trimmed with a black tar surface, “The Oracle of Lacuna” is an interactive installation, resembling a roof, that artist Heather Hart installed at Storm King Art Center as a site to contemplate and listen to largely overlooked oral histories. Sitting at the base of a gentle slope, on an open field in the sculpture park’s north wood, it is an unmistakably domestic structure: the crowning feature of a clapboard house, complete with shingles, dormer windows that serve as doors, and a chimney into which you can poke your head.
Since May, the house has played host to performances, workshops, and community discussions including sessions of Black Lunch Table, an oral-history archiving project by Hart and artist Jina Valentine. “The Oracle of Lacuna” is a house of exchange, whose name likens it to a place of messages, prophecy, wisdom, or truth; the word “lacuna” refers to a gap, and it’s that space between words that Hart explores: namely the holes in official, written histories related to the surrounding Hudson Valley.
Unlike the other artworks scattered throughout Storm King, Hart’s piece is less a sculpture and more of a site. It is the first iteration of Storm King’s Outlooks series (which invites emerging or mid-career artists to create new projects for the Center’s open season) that is specifically activated by programming and public participation. Visitors can climb up its roof to lie down and relax, or nudge themselves through a window to enter the shaded area.
Inside, though, is not what you might expect: far from homey, it is a raw space, with exposed wooden beams crisscrossing over your head. Near a central window is an iPad, where visitors can select and play recordings of roundtable discussions Hart held with residents from the park’s surrounding communities, historians, and Storm King administrators. The artist had presented each roundtable with prompts, from the broad — “What comes to mind when you think of a rooftop?” — to the specific — “What was the impact of the Stern Family and thus Storm King on this area?” or “What are the some of the communities that surround Storm King?”
Her conversations with Storm King’s leadership (including its director David Collens and members of its founding family, the Sterns) broach institutional issues including the park’s founding, female representation in its shows, and the public’s notion of the park as a place for the elite. Talks with residents are more personal, touching upon the history of slavery in the Hudson Valley, of black farmers in the area, and of the displacement of Native American communities. Among the voices you can listen to in the house are those of Karen Washington, founder of Rise & Root Farm; Odell Winfield, cofounder of the A.J. Williams-Myers African Roots Library; and Hudson Valley community organizer Aquanetta Wright.
To Hart, an isolated roof, as a space of in-betweenness, is an apt site in which to listen and to learn about these non-dominant, often unspoken narratives. “The Oracle of Lacuna” appears as buried yet growing, a sheltered sanctuary that is still exposed to the public. It is one of a number of roofs she has created following installations at Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park and The Brooklyn Museum (both of which also involved site-specific narratives). Hart has previously referred to the rooftop as a site where people can reclaim power and identity; she evokes this sentiment in a drawing, affixed to a signpost next to the house, in which a roof rises above a pair of open hands, seemingly shooting out into the sky. It is like an oracle a person releases, with complete control, out to the world.
At Storm King, the house is like an attic one might have explored as a child, except that, instead of dusty boxes, Hart offers an archive of voices. It’s a much more inviting version of another roof on Storm King’s land, Alice Aycock’s “Low Building with Dirt Roof (for Mary)” (1973/2010), which seems more like a hideout for one than an open, communal space. Hart’s roof provides access to oral histories that visitors to Storm King might otherwise never learn about, much less hear in person. In her transformation of this spot of earth, she is unearthing stories too, so that when we exit this house, we leave with a changed perspective toward the land beneath our feet.