What Does the Forest Say?

On 09.05.14, attendees of all ages joined the Center for Architecture, Friends of LaGuardia Place, Manhattan Community Board 2, and the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to celebrate the theme of AIANY 2014 President Lance Jay Brown, FAIA, “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision” with Christopher Janney’s public art installation “Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations.” On view at LaGuardia Park only through 09.11.14, it functioned as an “urban musical instrument.” Park-goers could trigger photo-electric sensors in one of 16 electronic “trees,” producing a score of melodic tones and environmental sounds.

The sounds of the “forest” always changed, depending on the number of participants interacting with the trees. The score was also altered according to the time of day: croaking frogs and crickets in the morning, and marimbas, percussion, and swarms of fireflies at night, when the installation sparkeld with twinkling LED lights. “Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations” never played the exact same composition twice.

Although the installation was short-lived, the impact that interactive art can have on the way people occupy public space became increasingly evident as passersby stepped out of their routines to interact with the communal instrument. Almost immediately, “Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations” became incorporated into the lives of many New Yorkers, with groups of NYU students sitting on the matching red benches, and parents bringing their toddlers to ”play” the trees. Groups of children, led by instructors, occupied LaGuardia Park for a few hours every day, as the installation piece became incorporated into a nearby school’s lesson plan.

“The “Open to the Public: Civic Space Now” exhibition left the Center for Architecture, walked across the street, and established itself LaGuardia parklet plaza in the form of “Sonic Forest,”‘ says President Brown. “It is gratifying to know that it was so appreciated. So many people stopped, lounged,  talked, engaged, and in the end wished it could have stayed on.  Many of those who enjoyed the experience never  knew how precious that little space was. They do now! We hope that all the programs and events that informed the “Civic Spirit: Civic Vision” theme now have a long-lasting and profound effect on how we view and make our city.”

Similar sentiments were voiced by DOT: “‘Sonic Forest’ allows New Yorkers to experience LaGuardia Place in a new way,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner of Urban Design and Art Wendy Feuer. “People interacting with the piece create a magical space, especially at night. DOT Art relishes working with accomplished artists like Chris Janney and organizations like AIANY, whose leadership shares our mission of creating interactive streets to make them great.”

“Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations” was also complemented by a panel discussion, “Artists and the City,” which featured designer, landscape architect, and performer Vito Acconci; artist Monica Banks; Sonic Architecture founder Bill Buchen; and composer, artist, and architect Christopher Janney of PhenomenArts. AIANY President Brown moderated the discussion, which focused on artists stepping outside their studios and making their work on the streets. If you missed the talk, a recording will be made available to the public through our Vimeo account soon.

Event: Sonic Forest: Civic Celebrations
Location: LaGuardia Park, 09.05.14 – 09.11.14
Artist: Christopher Janney, PhenomenArts
Organizers: Center for Architecture, Friends of LaGuardia Place, Manhattan Community Board 2, and the NYC Department of Transportation
Sponsors: IBC Groups, The Institute for Performance Sculpture, Mark Moran Solutions, Porcelanosa, and Reed Construction Data