I wasn't able to see all 18 installations, but the ones I did have an opportunity to experience moved me deeply. The underlying theme primarily seemed to be that history is written by the winners, and here the artists are appropriating history in alliance with the losers, the marginalized, the unspoken for, and the condemned.
I started off going directly to The St. Cornelius Chapel that housed the video installation of Anthony McCall. Here McCall used a simple projector and vapor to create architectural cones of light. Projectors installed on the ceiling cast slow rotating beams of light which seemed to create walls when reflecting against the mist. There was a hushed reverence amongst the crowd of spectators who moved slowly through the cascading light beams. This exhibit garnered the loudest "oohs and ahhs" for its kinetic and visual excitement, though I found that the subtler installations on the island spoke louder to me.
"Insular Act" was performed by the Mexican artist collective Tercerunquinto. A few weeks before the exhibit opened they threw a rock through one of the islands historic buildings. The simple act was planned out through elaborate storyboards, and then filmed and photographed to prove it had actually happened. Soon after they threw the rock, a fresh pane of glass replaced the shattered one - and if the collective hadn't documented the act there would be no physical trace that it had ever happened.
Another installation/performance that occurred prior to the opening of This World and Nearer Ones was "Invocation of the Queer Spirits" by AA Bronson and Peter Hobbs. Here the artists performed a sacred ritual to contact the queer spirits that had once lived and died on Governors Island. The material remains of the seance were on view through peepholes carved out in locked doors - a metaphor of the marginalization of queer communities. Through the peepholes (drilled out at suggestive heights) one sees the burned down candles, empty booze bottles, tapestries, offerings, food, and ashtrays -- the ghosts of the happening that had occurred there. "Queer communities have often overlapped with the histories of psychics, spiritualists, witches, and shamans, as well as the histories of all-male communities such as explorers, traders, loggers, cowboys, and the military." (All of which Governor's Island had plenty.) The exhibit invites us to "Think again about what is valued and what is excised from our collective history."
Land of the Free Photograph by Josh Robinson
I was particularly moved by the video "The Land of the Free" by Judi Werthein. Here she collaborated with a group of Colombian musicians on a remix of the US national anthem. She gave the musicians a Spanish translation of The Star Spangled Banner and asked them to reinterpret the words to craft an original song. She films the front of the group and the back of the group which are shown simultaneously on a two-sided screen that hangs in the middle of the room. From the front we see the musicians in their colorful attire performing the song, and from the back we see subtitles of the newly interpreted anthem "You say you can see/Does the flag still wave over the land of the free?" The work suggests that cultural history is always subject to new translations; they may be appropriated, rewritten, and made to tell a completely different story.
You can watch a brief video of the original video here
Click Here to read about all of the works and artists of This World and Nearer Ones.