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DBN Supplies seeds and plants for the Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City

Quote from New York Times

The work may cause a rolling of eyes among the original Earthwork artists. Their works tend to be hewn from the vast expanses of Nevada and New Mexico, miles from anywhere or anyone. In contrast, the memorial has a slight theme-park preciousness and detail. It is earthwork as Pop Art, a miniature at full scale. But it also belongs to the tradition of the war memorial in the form of a deserted battlefield. Like those at Verdun and Gettysburg, it is a figure-less terrain in which the viewer stands in for the heroic statue. It commemorates human failure, human loss and human perseverance in a war fought with land, food and political might at the cost of at least one million lives.

The piece brings to fruition efforts dating back several decades to build a memorial to the famine in New York, where so many Irish immigrated to escape its reach. It began to take shape when Timothy S. Carey, president and chief executive of the Battery Park City Authority accompanied Governor George E. Pataki on a trip to Ireland, and the two men began to discuss Vesey Green, a half-acre square in Battery Park City, as a possible site. Upon their return, after the authority was formally charged with creating a monument, Mr. Carey selected a steering committee and hired Joyce Pomerantz Schwartz, an experienced art consultant, to guide the process of selecting the artist.

Battery Park City's 155 acres already include 13 large-scale public artworks, the Museum of Jewish Heritage (A Living Memorial to the Holocaust) and the New York City Police Memorial. Financed by the Battery Park City Authority, the new piece has only slightly run over its original $5 million budget, Mr. Carey said.

Mr. Tolle was among 13 artists selected from an initial review of 150 portfolios and one of five awarded a $10,000 stipend to create a model and proposal for the site. The selection of his scale model like the budget projection, it's surprisingly close to the final outcome was all but unanimous. He chose as collaborators Juergen Riehm and David Piscuskas of 1100 Architects of New York and Gail Wittwer-Laird, a landscape architect.

The only conditions were that the memorial be a contemplative space, retain the harbour view and incorporate text. The third condition reflected Mr. Carey's view that too many memorials and monuments become mute because they contain so little specific information about the events they commemorate.

Both Mr. Carey and Mr. Tolle relish the idea that the memorial can change and grow. Paths that form through the grass will be kept. Mr. Tolle devised an ingeniously flexible method of mounting the texts: they are silk-screened onto strips of clear Plexiglas that are simply leaned against the glass bands from the inside. When lighted, they appear to be etched, but they can be easily changed, injecting new facts about world hunger or additional history about the famine.

Mr. Tolle says that the project is "a synthesis of my interest in history, architecture and trying to make a memorial for a particular event that also lends itself to adaptation." He describes the memorial as "a little fragment of Ireland built on a heap of language," and this is almost literally true. Excluding the tons of earth that blanket the tilted concrete shelf and the irrigation system buried in it, nearly every particle of the monument has an Irish origin and a historical logic.

The 62 plants including wild yellow iris, nettle and blackthorn are specific to the Connacht bog lands in County Mayo, whose rural landscape inspired Mr. Tolle. The fieldstone house and walls were imported stone by stone from a farm in the area belonging to Tom Slack, a cousin of Mr. Tolle's partner, Brian Clyne. (Built in the 1820's, the house had a dirt floor until 1945 and was occupied until 1960; it was donated to the memorial by the Slack family.)

The slope of the memorial is dotted with 32 large stones, one from each of Ireland's counties, and an ancient pilgrim stone, carved with an early Irish Cross of Arcs. The surrounding plaza and the base are clad with Kilkenny limestone, a green-grey stone that is studded with small, white, featherlike coils fossils from the ancient Irish seabed.

The quarter-acre size of the monument adheres to the infamous Gregory Clause passed by the British Parliament in 1847, which decreed that cottiers whose plots exceeded that size would not be eligible for relief. The cottage is roofless because many farmers tore the thatches off their homes to prove destitution and qualify for relief.

The sentences that gird the limestone base from bottom to top have been gleaned from contemporary reports, newspaper editorials, parliamentary debate and parish priests and show how many people in the midst of the tragedy grasped its awful proportions. And also how many did not. In one line, the recipe for the soup ladled out in British-run soup kitchens (12 1/2 pounds of beef to 100 gallons of water) is compared with the recipe used in the soup kitchens established for victims of the famine by American Quakers (75 pounds of beef to 100 gallons of water).

The question of whether this elaborate artwork will have meaning beyond Irish history, or even beyond world hunger, is largely moot. It shows one instance and one cause of the immigration that has shaped and continues to shape New York City. It shows instances of suffering, prejudice and mismanagement so specific that they can't help but reverberate into our own time.

Mr. Tolle said he considered the tilt of the work crucial in separating the memorial from its setting. Without it, he said recently, "the piece would be a folly." But the slant that isolates the Hunger Memorial from its setting also establishes a crucial similarity. The Irish farmers tilled their land so intently that it became close to man-made, just like Manhattan. The cramped, oldness and eked-ness of the field, so unlike most American terra firma, itself communicates a sense of human determination and toil. It is a fragment from a man-made island placed upon another man-made island, one symbol of endurance atop another.

 

 

Gail Wittwer-Laird and Maxwell, Gail designed the landscape element of the Memorial with advice from Sandro Cafolla of DBN.

 

 

 

Index - NYIHMG - DBN and the Irish Hunger Memorial at Battery Park City

 

 

 

 

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