Television in Dirt: Art in Madison Square Park


In the middle of Manhattan, where New Yorkers are never tired but always sore; in the middle of Madison Square Park, where tourists buy burgers but birds snatch them away; in the middle of February, when the weather is freezing but not quite snowing; I saw something new. A television in dirt.

Jacco Olivier, an artist from Amsterdam, photographs his paintings as he paints and repaints his pieces in order to create a stop-motion animation. Think of it as claymation—like Wallace and Grommet—but with paint, so that after the frames are compiled into video, each brushstroke actually moves and the painting comes to life. There are six of these pieces scattered through Madison Square Park for the winter, but I only found five of them. I swear I tried my best to find them all, but after several laps around the park and consistently mistaking trash cans and electrical boxes for art, I gave up.

Olivier planned for these pieces to amuse New Yorkers for the winter, hoping that his moving paintings may bring color to a snow white winter. This year, however, there was hardly winter, so the TVs weren’t sticking out like they were supposed to. I made sure to hang around the park till sunset to make sure I gave each piece a chance to shine.

I looked down at the television in the dirt. The monitor was scuffed and dirty, but still displayed three by four feet of wild moving colors. It was like looking out the front window of the Magic School Bus driving through a child’s veins. I drove past spinning cells, and the blood was changing color. But the cells would only spin; they wouldn’t change shape. Although its parts were dead, the zooming image was alive. It took me closer and closer to what I would only be able to see with a microscope: life, where you wouldn’t expect life. After three minutes, the loop ended at the cue of what looked like a squished flaming cockroach. The screen blurred to orange then faded to dark blue so it could repeat the rainbow of swirls and splashes and swells.

I picked off some of the dead grass at the corners of the television to make sure I didn’t miss anything. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a sponge or soap. I watched it loop half a dozen times and then decided to give it some space and come back to it later.

The other pieces were less cellular and more animalistic: a leaping frog in one, a butterfly in another. The most confusing one was an octopus coming out of a banana. Or maybe it was a yellow ladybug struggling on its back. The best piece was honored with placement next to the Shake Shack and projected onto a large screen. It was a deer, with an occasional blue shadow and a grey spirit trying to leave its body. “I like this one,” said the man next to me.

I came back to the television in the dirt. The sun had set, so the screen was lit up a little brighter; the colors dazzled more cheerfully. The blues were less depressing, and the yellows made me smile. The moving painting glowed with life.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said my fellow viewer—a wrinkling, shrinking old man. He was right. I hadn’t seen these kinds of “paintings” in a museum, let alone a public park. This wasn’t the walk in the park he was used to. Imagine if it had been snowing. The park would’ve been a lot more cold and solitary. It would’ve been dead. I could’ve liked that, but I liked Jacco Olivier’s version just as much. He demands more. The painting needs to move. The park needs televisions.

On my way out of the park, I looked again for that last sixth piece. It wasn’t the patriotically painted pinecones. It wasn’t the elevator-looking bathroom. And it wasn’t the hollowed out tree trunks posing as flower pots. But it was probably at least as beautiful as these.

Alex Ige is a guest writer at the Empire State Tribune

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