Sunday, January 1, 2012

Another Year Down the Tubes!

FIRST THINGS FIRST. We'd like to wish you a Happy New Year! We had all sorts of grandiose ideas for our new year's picture, but Johnny Depp was not available. Nor were our second or third choices, but we're persevering on all counts, and will report back on our grandiose plans in due time. Nevertheless, we were not to be deterred, and "borrowed" a local three-wheeled motorcycle, put on our candy apple red flashing 2012 glasses, and got two tourists to photograph us (via our usual exchange - you can photograph us with your camera if you also photograph us with our camera). Unfortunately, still photos don't capture the blinking action - we should have videotaped them. (That they even blinked at all was miraculous - we had to test four pairs to find two pairs that blinked as promised.)

Second, as of today we have exactly three hundred followers! We want to thank all of our followers, and we particularly want to thank the 300th person for choosing January 1st to take that leap of faith.

Third, a couple weeks ago we were quite stunned to discover that there was fun going on downtown without our knowledge or approval, and we set about to remedy that with all due speed. 'Fess up. When was the last time you had to don a crash helmet at a museum? Or had to sign a waiver of liability before interacting with the artworks in an exhibition?

The New Museum currently has an exhibition of the work of Carsten Holler, an artist who was originally a scientist, a fact reflected in his work. For the past twenty years, he has, in the words of the exhibition's visitor card, "created a world that is equal parts laboratory and test site". It would take a while to give him his due, so please click here for the New Museum's introduction to Holler and his work.

The best part of the "Carsten Holler: Experience" is a two-story tube which incorporates a slide, constructed through the concrete floors, to whisk visitors from the fourth floor to the second floor without the bother of stairs or elevator. It's a breathtaking one hundred and forty foot trip that takes five seconds and requires that one be helmeted, supine and - GASP - shoeless. Let us walk you through it (so to speak), and tell you of the other fun we had while there.

In the video below, you can see a visitor being prepared for her trip, and hear her screaming with glee (we think) on the way down.

There were logistical difficulties in filming each other entering and exiting the tube, but we managed to 'overcome' them, more or less, by making more than one trip. Participants are not allowed to take anything into the tube (although we were allowed our pocket cameras, as long as they stayed in our pockets as we descended) and are more than slightly disoriented after spinning downward at insanely high speed. Where's an intern or videographer when you need one?

The third floor is one of the best places to observe the proceedings because the top of the chute is transparent, allowing the briefest glimpse of visitors hurtling between floors. (See photo below) Truth be told, some museum-goers screamed bloody murder the entire trip - present company excluded, of course. (Valerie says: It's true. I couldn't slide and chew gum - I mean scream - at the same time.)

Metaphorically, the old year went down the tubes, so what better way to see it out than to personally escort it down a tube? We are so ready for a brighter, more prosperous new year.

Valerie went first, and had enough time to position herself to film Jean, who came down next. Click on the video below to see Jean make her appearance.

Then Valerie went down a second time so Jean could film her.

Visitors with epilepsy are specifically warned not to visit the second floor because of the constantly (annoyingly?) bright & flashing lights which emanate from the Double Light Corner exhibit. You cannot help but notice them if you watch the videos of our landings as we emerge from the tube. Imagine having to work in that lighting 8 hours a day!

Mr. Holler also had a mirrored carousel of swings installed on the fourth floor. We had seen a photo of riders flying around at an angle, and looked forward to whistling through the air. On the day we were there, however, the employees were insistent on keeping us strictly perpendicular to the ground. Phooey.

On the bright and spacious roof of the Museum we ran into this couple wearing these fabulous goggles.

It turned out these goggles, which are designed to help visitors explore the limits of human sensory perception, have mirrored sections which reverse one's vision, so you see everything upside down. We thought the couple looked so cool in the goggles, it was hard to say what was the greater impetus that made us rush downstairs for our own: the chance to see what life looks like upside down, or the chance to wear the cool goggles.

Once you've tried the goggles, you understand the need for the warnings posted around the museum.

On the second floor is a series of rooms dubbed the Experience Corridor in which you pass through carefully controlled participatory experiences. In this particular instance, we're wearing 3-D goggles which project an eerily silent walk at night through a snow covered forest. It was an intense and yet calming experience. In another room, if you rest your arm on the table (similar to the one seen here), and press a button, your arm experiences a feeling somewhat akin to having a woodpecker peck at it from underneath. The accompanying sound is woodpecker-ish, too.

One of the strangest sections of the exhibition is the Animal Group on the second floor. While visitors are invited to touch many of the other exhibits, they are only allowed to look at - not touch - the brightly colored rubbery animals and reptiles on the museum floor. Among the technicolor creatures are a Schiaparelli pink alligator, green hippo, milky white dolphin, blue ape, Pepto Bismol pink rhino and yellow seal.

There is an aquarium on the second floor which is constructed so that you lie down with your head in a cylinder and view the fish swimming around your head. Someone with a filmic turn of mind might think this is meant to evoke the experience of Luca Brasi (raise your hand if you saw The Godfather), who, you will remember "sleeps with the fishes".

Unfortunately, on the day we visited, the Giant Psycho Tank on the third floor was closed to the public. A big disappointment. How apt it would have been for us!

The giant white structure in the background is a tank loosely based on the meditation (aka "sensory deprivation") tanks of the 1970s and 1980s. In the old days, you floated in total darkness in a small pod-like tank filled with about 10 inches of warm, highly salinated water. Does anyone remember "Altered States" (Ken Russell's 1980 film of Paddy Chayefsky's novel which prominently features a sensory deprivation tank - and William Hurt's film debut)? In Carsten Holler's tank, it is the opposite of sensory deprivation; it is sensory overload: the white resin walls emit light like alabaster, so a floater would be in a big, bright space, conscious of members of the public just outside.

Even the elevators were a trip, their highly reflective surfaces providing the additional experience of watching fellow passengers and yourselves. And so, at the end of the day, here we are, reflecting on our experience.

The New Museum is located at 235 Bowery (at Spring Street) in Soho. The exhibition closes January 15.


  1. This sounds like a fantastic exhibit...but I doubt I could have resisted touching the pink crocodile.

  2. Oh Gosh! i've seen the adverts for this slide and thought I totally have to check it out, now I'm sure of it! What a swell way to ring in the new year!


  3. Oh wow, that is the coolest way to spend an afternoon! Happy New Year to you, and congratulations on 300 followers. I just recently passed 100 and was so excited :)

  4. Just loved your first blog entry of the New Year! Although I could only vicariously enjoy that very fun slide since I'm in Canada, I did get a real sense of it from your photos and videos. You two sure know how to have a good time and I'm glad you're taking the rest of us on the ride, too!
    jill in Ontario

  5. I came across your blog and remembered meeting both of you last year!!! I wanted to email you ladies and say keep up the good work! I met you at the Tim Hamilton fashion week afterparty at Scoop during fashion week last season! We talked for quite a bit and exchanged info. I really admire you're courageous style! We should definitely collaborate on our blogs sometime or at least meet for a cup of tea!

    Email me!

    Wishing you a happy and successful new year!

    Jared Allred
    twitter @midnightharlot