A few weeks back, I hopped a ferry to Governors Island, along with hundreds of others, to answer a casting call for “Isle of the Dead,” a film produced by The Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) for PLOT09: This World & Nearer Ones, Creative Time’s summer extravaganza that opens to the public this coming Saturday, June 27th. The project, a typically ambitious, sprawling affair, was organized by Creative Time’s Mark Beasley, a British critic and curator whose sharp wit aligns smartly with the sensibilities of the nineteen artists he invited to (literally) take over the island with a series of temporary, site-specific projects. (The island’s colonial and political history runs deep: In the early 17th century, Governors Island — or “Noten Eylad” — was one of the Dutch West India Company’s first settlements. The U.S. military occupied the land from 1783 until 1966, and the island was declared a national monument in 2003.)
But back to Bruce: 5 buildings normally closed to the public will be opened for PLOT09, including a musty, disused theater where “Isle of the Dead” was filmed. Due in no small part, I’m sure, to the zombie flash mob trend — rumor on board the ferry was that such an improvisation was to take place that day – about nine hundred responded to BHQF’s call for “zombie extras.” “We don’t even know these people!” insisted one member of the collective, whose anonymous ranks tend to fluctuate in number, as hundreds poured onto the island. Corralled by a team of Creative Time volunteers dressed in white with “BRUCE” scrawled across their T-shirts in black Sharpie marker, the masses made their way past several works-in-progress — including Nils Norman’s Temporarily Permanent Monument to the Occupation of Pseudo Public Space, an abandoned tent city based on nomadic architectural tropes that has just been installed in order to “age” before the opening — toward the waiting members of BHQF. Though a few overachievers arrived in full-on costume (think: Night of the Living Dead), the rest slathered one another’s faces and arms with fake blood from plastic picnic bowls (I abstained). And it was show time.
Following the invocation of one megaphone-wielding BHQF operative, the crowd filed into the dark, dank theater, breaking into a spontaneous chorus of theatrical groans while settling into their seats. Their antics were an inadvertent warm-up for the task at hand: On cue, we would sing along, karaoke-style, to a down-tempo version of the singer Brian Adams’s lite-rock anthem, “Summer of ’69,” set to a slideshow of seminal works from the era (Chris Burden’s Shoot (1971), Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964), and documentary shots from the Art Workers Coalition’s protests were among them). The irony wasn’t lost in the drone: By simply slowing the song, BQHF had transformed the 80’s classic from feel-good to frightening — a wry bit of commentary on the current state of affairs (artistic, and otherwise). Giggling along to the bouncing cue at the bottom of the screen, the crowd was none the wiser.
[Trailer for “Isle of the Dead” courtesy Bruce High Quality Foundation and Creative Time. Stay tuned for more PLOT09 coverage from Art in America … ]