A Late Summer Day On Governor’s Island
by Greg Stewart
A beautiful Saturday morning sky opens up to me as I drive through the crowded, hectic streets of Brooklyn from my home in Bushwick to the pier on the Western edge of the peninsula. The sun creeps slowly, much like the wheels of my car in the traffic-ridden avenues. I’m heading to Governor’s Island with my family today. For those who have never been to my city, it is a series of islands, big, small, and long. Governor’s Island is situated just south of Manhattan, and West of Brooklyn. There is a ferry that runs out of Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 6, just north of Red Hook. The Island’s namesake comes from the fact that the Royal British Governors of New York once resided on the island. It was renamed from Nut Island, after its many oaks, hickory, and chestnut trees, in 1784. The boat ride is hot in the noon sun, but the breeze and the pleasant views of the towering skyline delight the mind and the eye as we cross the Buttermilk Channel.
My brother and his wife, as well as my mother and myself all disembark onto the gorgeous little island around 12:30. Unbeknownst to us, this weekend has a lot of activity. The Governor’s Island Arts Festival is going on, as well as some WWI re-enactments. We had all been to Governor’s before, and we all knew that there were always surprises awaiting. Along with these, there was a rather important event in the world of food for New York City. The Vendy Awards is held every year to decide which food truck/street vendor has the best food in the city. Sadly, the entry fee for this event was $100 a head, so we just enjoyed the atmosphere and the delightful smells emanating from the lawn they occupied.
Our first plan of action was to rent a four-person bike and cover the whole island. We got to see the magnificent views of the Statue of Liberty, the heaping lump of land that is Staten Island, and a great angle for the New Jersey coastline along the Hudson. The geographic wonders of New York never cease to impress. After our sight-seeing bike ride, we took a walk around and ended up in an old building. Many of the buildings on the island have a military history. After all, it was a fort designed to protect New York Harbor. Whether it is the Castle Williams former prison where the everyday New Yorker can imagine what life was like for prisoners from the 19th century, or Fort Jay, the star-shaped brick fort right in the middle of the island active from the late 18th to the late 20th century. The site was originally just an earthen fortification outfitted with eight cannon during the Revolutionary War. Named for the New York Governor John Jay, the fort now stands as a monument to history.
I found the Art Festival to be of great interest. It spans across many abandoned buildings and throughout the lawns in front of them. The general theme of the art could be called contemporary, with objects ranging from live paintings to holographic images projected on glass. There were multimedia aspects, with short animations and interactive exhibits.
I got a chance to chat with David Nelson, an artist whose rather stunning images I would describe as intentionally vague portraiture created with the assistance of digital media. Nelson cheerfully approached us and we easily entered into a conversation about his work. He explained his process; he took photographs of his family in neutral poses and made a very coarse color separation. He then projected each image onto the canvas surfaces and painted the images with a ketchup bottle. He is interested in systems that obscure and reveal at the same time. He removes information to add meaning in order to create images made more evocative by their specific lack of clarity. Indeed, the idea of repurposing and reimagining how one can make art was a prevalent theme throughout this little festival.
The afternoon drifted along as we ambled through grassy fields, historic buildings, bizarre art exhibits, even actors wearing military gear playing marching tunes from ages past. A variety of New York sites were represented in an encampment with participants discussing with passers-by how the culture of the 1920s’ was affected by the First World War. The hours passed pleasantly, and after enjoying the peaceful atmosphere on this idyllic sister of Ellis and Liberty islands, we took leave for our return to City Life.
Editor’s Note: Governor’s Island is open Mon-Fri 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat. and Sun. It is accessible by ferry every day of the week during the public season (May 1 – Oct. 31), and if you arrive for an early ferry the fare is free. The 172-acre island is a National Park, and for those of you who carry a National Parks Passport, you can get yours stamped here.
About the columnist:
Greg Stewart writes the Around New York column for Ragazine.CC. He is an intern from The New School for Social Research. You can read more about him in About Us.