As I was riding down on the bus, I was worried. The MTA let me down, a bus that was supposed to come by my house at 6:47 am did not show, I had to catch the 7:01 am bus instead, and that meant that I wasn't going to make it to The Central Park Boat House by 7:30, I was probably going to be about five minutes late. I didn't want to make a bad impression by being late on my first day, even five minutes late.
HA HA HA HA HA HA! I could have been an hour late and it would not have been noticed. Had I been an hour and a half late I would have had much shorter lines in which to stand. We stood in line to get our identification cards and our "uniforms." If I have to say that if there was anything I could call a disappointment on this first day, it was the uniform. We had been told they had been designed by Christo, so I think everyone expected something a bit more flashy. It is a grey-vinyl smock with The Gates logo silk-screened on it. On the plus side, it is water-resistant, which is probably going to useful later this week.
The rest of the day was rather like working on a feature film crew. Hurry up and wait, be at this specific place at this specific time so you can stand around for hours. It's not going to matter that more than half your day is wasted by organizational SNAFU's, you are still expected to produce a full days worth of work. Yes, that's the life of a Christo and Jean-Claude art-maker.
Christo did take a moment to give up some answers to the questions he was most expecting we might have to field while doing the installation. They were:
- What is this?
- It is an Art project.
- Why is it called The Gates?
- Central Park is surrounded by gates, every major entrance to the Park is gated, the original Central Park artists, Olmstead and Vaux, felt that gates were important. There was actually a plan to put gates, metal gates that opened and closed, around the park but it was never realized.
- Why are The Gates rectangular in shape?
- This mimics the shape of the city blocks that surround the park. Arched gates are not as loyal to the environs.
Also like working on a film crew, the work, when you get to do it, is fun. My only real prayer about my experience with the project was that I get on a good crew, and I did. My crew is populated with very intelligent, mature, and committed people, almost none of whom actually live in NYC. I felt very comfortable with a couple of them, and comfortable enough with all of them to make it very likely that I am going to enjoy this week. That was a relief.
The work is very easy, really, if you do it in a team. You couldn't put up a gate alone, but with eight people doing it it's easy. After some initial messing around, we fell into a routine and started putting up gates in five minutes or less. We were expected to put up 20 gates in a full day, in less than half a day we put up 24. What was limiting out production were things we couldn't control like a shortage of supplies and organizational SNAFU's. This is new, no one has done this before, and there were some sort of stupid problems with supply distribution, but they got handled. It just held our team, which was working unusually fast and effectively, up in a way that was mildly frustrating.
Lunch is also a huge consumer of time, there's really only one place for everyone to gather to eat, in the Central Park Boat House, and while I don't understand this fetish of centralization, i.e., I don't understand why we all have to eat together, I have to admit the food was pretty good. They had a vegetarian choice, thank Buddha. I had a pesto pasta primavera, some rice and beans, a big salad, some steamed broccoli and a chocolate chip cookie, which was still warm from the oven. So, as disappointed as I was in the fact that this took 2 hours away from installation because of problems with transportation and food distribution, I would have been pissed if the food had sucked. It didn't so I wasn't.
The Gates look awesome, even without the curtains unfurled. They follow the natural lines of the park pathways, and their saffron color stands out against the grey-brown of the dormancy of the Park in winter. I think this is going to be Christo's most amazing work in his career thus far. This is history I am participating in, people are going to be talking about this for years.
Lots of people were taking pictures. We had the documentary film crew for a short while, but the part of the Park I am in is a rather unglamorous oft-overlooked section just west of the reservior. My section runs from 86th to 90th street, from the western border of the Park to the western border of the reservior. We have one long run of pathway over which to install Gates, and a couple of other short runs. I expect our crew will be finished early, probably by Wednesday evening if the weather holds out, and then our crew will be dispatched either together or broken up to other areas running behind. They told us this might happen, and I think we are going to be able to put up 40 or more Gates in a day if we have what we need when we need it.
We put up 24 today, we have 76 left to install, and it seems very likely we can get that much done in two days. Our section is also sort of easy, it is a low pasture really, though we will have some tough places later on, these mildly challenging areas only get a Gate or two here and there. There are many other parts of the Park that will present much more of a challenge to installation crews. As much as resting on the laurels of our unusually high productivity would be fun, I actually hope I do get to work in some other areas, it would be fun to have installed some Gates all over the Park, or at least in more than one area.
The one thing that I had to punt from my personal life for the week in order to get all this done, post these essays, and work at my day job a bit every night was going to the gym. I was worried I might go a little soft or gain a little weight, that's not a worry after today. I feel like I work for a living again. I feel like I used to feel when I came in from working the ranch or the warehouse as a kid. My body is getting worked, and surprisingly, it's a very pleasant feeling to come in after a day of mild physical labor. Things feel good. Stay tuned.