Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Key to the City

When Paul Ramirez Jonas visited PSU I was mildly intrigued, but throughout his description of his newest project, Key to the City, I was confused why anyone would make a key for something that wasn't already locked.  My semi-anarchist-tending self just didn't get it. Many months later, while in NYC for the Smack Mellon show, Ariana encouraged me to go to the Key to the City Commons at Times Square. I was vaguely intrigued- more because Creative Time was hosting the project, less because I was interested. Joining us was Ariana's lovely friend Paloma.

We stood in a short line during a torrential rain storm, hot and steamy rain like we don't get out west.  We were greeted by a nice young woman who turned out to be an art history PHD candidate at CUNY, studying with Claire Bishop. We were led to shelter and given instructions, then led to another tent where the three of us were indoctrinated with keys and passports. One had to give the passport and key to another, with written wishes. I indoctrinated Paloma with the spirit of New Pal-dom. Ariana indoctrinated me in the spirit of Making Things Happen. Paloma indoctrinated Ariana. Off we went. The ritual was delightful, and inspiring as it clearly touched thousands and thousands of people by its prime location. Paul had sent a letter to us after his visit asking many questions about the "public", including how many in a public was enough.  Many thousands seem like a really successful amount to me.
We were also charmed by the design and layout of the passport. It is virtually a well-instructed invitation to explore parts of the city you might not have considered. There are locations in all five boroughs, and one is expected to find a variety of things behind the locked doors. Surprises, delights, flashbacks, and even pastries.

We went to Gleason's Gym in DUMBO as it was an obvious convenient location. Gleason's, we found out during our visit, is the oldest gym in NY. It smelled like man sweat and old basketball gyms from my childhood. The testosterone was thick. The floor squeaked and some guys were boxing in a ring. Others were practicing their left hooks on punching bags (I need one of those). There were a few really friendly guys who were interested in why we were there and added a few anecdotes about the place. We opened a locker in the back corner that held a pair of gloves and some other memorabilia. Not as magical as my experience and the next stop, Cabinet magazine, but still a new mind-opening experience.

Back in NY many weeks later , I decided to have a boroughs adventure. I went to the Queens Museum to see J. Morgan Puett's installation, and ate Indian food at the Jackson Diner on 74th & Roosevelt in Queens. I headed back on the F train to Brooklyn's Carroll Gardens, so I could visit Cabinet Magazine. I lived in Park Slope in 1987-88, so Carroll Gardens, a nearby neighborhood, brought back an eerie deja vu.

I found my way thanks to the handy map and directions in my Passport. I went around the building to a box in an alley. I unlocked the box with my big shiny key, and suddenly some old-timey circa 1920's song played, something about a bubble. There was a message printed inside to "look up". I did, and there above me flew big shiny bubbles, blowing in the wind. As long as the cabinet was open, the bubbles blew and the song accompanied it. There was also a small sign directing me to "not leave anything in the box". I guess they didn't want my old chewing gum.

There was something so remarkably delightful about that adventure and discovery. It made me feel ridiculous for not having been to Carroll Gardens in the year I had lived in Park Slope or the many times I have visited NY since. It got me out of my comfort zone and into discovering a random neighborhood in Brooklyn through a mundane journey. And the bubbles...

Paul Ramirez Jonas, I am now a fan.

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