A Connecting Network or Why I Love Being Enlightened
When identical twin brothers, Doug and Mike Starn, burst onto the art scene fresh out of school in the 1980s as a single artwork entity known as the Starn Twins, it was not a case of love at first sight for me. I wasn’t impressed with their deliberately aged photographs, torn up and then scotched taped back together or later with their huge images of oak trees, shot from underneath as if a child was gazing up mesmerized by the tree’s limbs branching out like a web of neurons. They were powerful and yet, where was all this disjointed, multiply imagery going? What was the point? I couldn’t see it, though in fact I couldn’t forget it either, and so it lodged like an incomplete thought in the back of my brain. But it all came together for me two weeks ago when I climbed up the stairs, rounded the corner and found myself gazing up through a sea of bamboo reeds, into the under-story of a sculpted world sprouting from the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art--Big Bambú.
Rising above the dense green treetops, above the hard-edged New York City skyline, I found myself climbing into their rickety, organic, growing microcosm. A woven net structure made of varying sized bamboo poles lashed together with colored nylon rope. This fabricated world, balanced on the Metropolitan’s roof—for in no place is Big Bambú actually secured, it is miraculously, free standing—towers 50 feet into the air. A series of narrow pathways, along which guides lead groups up into a metric-like scaffolding, is under constant construction. Big Bambú will not stop growing, it does not stop growing, until October 31th , when the Starn twins and their crew will begin its deconstruction. Until then, eight to fifteen rock-climbers continuously lash poles together, assembling this growing labyrinth. Although the Starns consulted a structural engineer and an architect to transcribe their drawings, Big Bambú is not following a set plan. A truly evolving architecture, it is controlled chaos at play, which the Starns supervise, but do not dictate. It includes a sitting area initially started when one of the workers, wanting a place to rest, fashioned a seat for himself from the bamboo at hand. The Starns then decided to incorporate his ad-hock chair adding their own bench and boom box to create a symphonic living room in the sky.
Like the Roman twins, Romulus and Remus, (who in the mythical story of founding the city of Rome, first survived being set adrift as babies along the Tiber River in—ironically enough to recall here--a woven basket of weeds) our Starn twins have given birth to a new world.
And Big Bambú has the feeling of a creation myth in the making. Like strands of DNA, the identical Starn twins (who consider themselves one artists) structure alludes to the ability of cells to reproduce themselves and to the intricate web of neural paths inside the brain. So yes, it does come back to those early photographs scotched taped together, and the images of branching tree boughs, whose central theme was the idea that our modern world is an expanding web held together by connective tissue. It wasn’t about photographs, I finally realized. No one remembers what those images were. It was about the scotch tape.
In the case of Big Bambú, this web of connective tissue is not just created by the bamboo poles and rope, but by the shared experience of the viewers. Strangers when we started out, by the time I climbed down from Big Bambú twenty minutes later, I was on a first name bases with all the ten members of my expedition group. After all, we’d ascended up into the Starn’s basket-like world and shared a moment suspended in the sky. Which is the point of this work, and maybe of all great works of art, a shared moment of connection, through art, with a larger picture. The art itself is a lens that moves between artist, object and viewer and out into the world. “Only connect!” E.M. Foster beseeched in the final chapters of Howards End, “For without it we are meaningless fragments . . . unconnected arches that have never joined into a man.”