In January 2009, Doug and Mike Starn’s first public art project, a multi-part mosaic titled See It Split, See It Change, christened the MTA’s new South Ferry subway station. Less than four years later, their arboreal installation was threatened as water flooded much of the southern tip of Manhattan.
In the first few days post-Sandy, some of the most dramatic photographs circulating online were of the flooded South Ferry station, with murky, debris-strewn water filling underground tracks and tunnels and seeping all the way up the escalators and stairways into the formerly brightly lit downtown hub. Visible in almost every photo are parts of See It Split, See It Change‘s curving 250-foot-long wall covered with glass tiles.
Now that almost all of the New York City subways have resumed service, the MTA has begun inspecting its various underground art installations. Aaron Donovan, an MTA press officer, said that as of Wednesday afternoon about half of the MTA’s 200-plus Arts for Transit projects had been inspected, and so far all were in good shape. Subway art is often fabricated with durable materials like ceramic tile, wrought iron and brass. The Starns’ mosaics, for example, are made of layered glass tiles, the images “printed” on interior layers, thereby protecting them from the elements. Photos taken on Nov. 3 show the station littered with construction material, knocked-over trash cans and cracked floors, but See It Split appears remarkably unharmed.
Reached by email while installing the latest iteration of their project Big Bambú in Rome, the brothers note that, in an eerie coincidence, the water line on their underground map reached almost to Canal Street, submerging an area not dissimilar to what was flooded during the surge last Monday night.
“The map shows the shoreline, hills and swamps as they were in 1640, overlaid with the contemporary island,” they wrote. “Climate change will have its effect on our island in the long term and this was an early indicator of how dramatic it could be. We hope that the stains of the dirty sea water will remain; public art is alive, it exists in a very real world and the real world exists in it.”