I decided it was time for my three-month-old son to experience his first monumental art installation. The occasion was Christian Boltanski’s No Man’s Land, which fills the massive drill hall of the Park Avenue Armory with thirty tons of discarded clothes.
Upon entering the hall the first thing you see is an imposing wall made of rusted biscuit boxes that complicates access to the space beyond. And then there’s the sound: an almost deafening background of heartbeats surrounds you and ushers you into the main hall. Loudspeakers are mounted on posts surrounding the clothes on the floor, each one looping through a different heartbeat. The multi-layered percussion is at once soothing and disturbing in its monotony. My infant son starts to fall asleep and I can relax and enjoy this trip.
Once you clear the wall, the spatial experience of the main hall is oneiric. Maybe I fell asleep as well? Imagine a hall tall and large enough to fit a zeppelin or a DC-10 jet airliner blanketed by a grid of discarded clothes lying on the ground. The orderly formation resembles a city plan—perhaps New York—made by blocks of apparel divided by streets and avenues. In the center of the space an open square is covered by a fifty-foot (15-meter) pile of clothes that exacerbates the eeriness of the environment.
As you walk through the corridors and wander around the thousands of pants, shirts, sweaters and skirts left on the floor you can’t avoid thinking of the missing people that must have been wearing them. It looks like a rapture had just occurred, the bodies of the former occupants transported somewhere far away to no man’s land.
A large crane is docked behind the cloth pyramid, and at 5:30 pm it turned itself on, grabbed a couple of pants from the top of the pile, lifted them to the top of the ceiling and dropped them again as if it were tossing a salad. With this installation Boltanski creates a stage for your thoughts to wander, like a dream does.
Christian Boltanski – No Man’s Land
Date: May 14th – June 13th, 2010
Open Hours: Noon – 19:30 (Thursday 14:00 – 21:30)
Closed on Mondays (except Memorial Day)
Place: Park Avenue Armory
Address: 643 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10065
Tel: (212) 616-3930