Groundswell at Olana: A Site-Specific Artistic Revelation
By Jamie Larson
For just a single afternoon, Saturday, September 13, the unparalleled viewshed at the Olana State Historic Site will serve as both muse and canvas for the site-specific sound and transmission focused artwork that is Groundswell. It’s the second installment of the unusual yet wonderfully balanced collaboration between Olana and the experimental audiophiles at Wave Farm and their station WGXC.
Olana Partnership Landscape Curator Mark Prezorski said those who missed the event last year are forgiven. “For us at Olana, nothing like this has ever happened before,” he said, standing atop a magnificent eastern view, one of many painstakingly preserved and restored by the Partnership. “We honestly didn’t know what to expect.”
With the award-winning success of last year’s Groundswell, there are certainly no excuses to miss your second chance. Prezorski, Wave Farm Executive Director Galen Joseph-Hunter and WGXC Outreach Coordinator Jessica Puglisi have designed an event that showcases work that is not just site specific to the art and history of Olana but specific to individual views and topography along the carriage road trail that visitors will walk while experiencing the exhibit.
Artists featured along the route are all new to this years event and are as varied as the “zones” of landscape they will inhabit. Zone 1 will feature Bryan Zimmerman, Michael Garofalo, and Laura Ortman’s piece “Black Mirror Picnic,” described by the artists as “an immersive installation and audio transmission amplified via portable radios which features live performances by Garofalo and Ortman on violin, mbira (thumb piano), synthesizer, on-site field recordings, walkie-talkies, and megaphone. Employing traditional Persian scales and time signatures, the soundscape includes all three artists performing song-poems and call-and-response vocals by the acoustics of the surrounding landscape and the writings of Church and his contemporaries.”
Down the path, overlooking a breathtaking view of partnership-preserved Mt. Marino wilderness, Hudson, and Vermont beyond, Kenseth Armstead will perform a piece, including original sculpture, about the African-American experience in the Revolutionary War.
Continue on and meet Helene Lesterlin and Jack Magai’s piece “Geographica,” a sound and dance-based work “inspired and informed by the art, life and personal letters and archives of Frederic Church and his wife Isabel.”
Joseph-Hunter said that Wave Farm is interested in experimental sound that is often environmental, which meshes in surprising and rewarding ways with the natural beauty of Olana. Prezorski added that the collaboration also creates an opportunity to remind visitors that Olana isn’t just the magnificent house on the hill but that Church’s vision realized is 250 acres of thoughtfully planed and preserved trails, views and natural splendor.
All down the carriage road, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., performances range from a three-piece drum ensemble to a work that takes place literally everywhere, broadcast live onWGXC 90.7 FM from Hudson for the duration of the event.
Interestingly, only one piece uses a view looking back to the mansion. And even then, Church’s home is only seen peeking out through the trees, it too an observer of the viewshed. All day, picnic lunches, beer and wine will be available at the center point of the exhibit, provided by Hudson’s highly praised Swoon Kitchenbar, but at 5 p.m. William Basinski will close out the day with a final performance, “Cascade.”
“I am particularly fond of performing outdoors in nature, particularly at this time of day,” said Basinski. “Cascade is an organic composition, which will hopefully allow the audience to relax and enjoy the magnificent view from this hillside clearing. One should gaze at the view, noticing the light on the water, the wind in the trees, the clouds, the change of light on the mountains in the distance. Perhaps, if we are lucky, the local birds will join in towards the end of the concert as they prepare to settle down for the night.”
When Church created the road used for Groundswell, he wrote: “I can make more and better landscapes in this way than by tampering with canvas and paint in the studio.”
It is often said, with no allusions of understatement, that Olana is Fredric Church’s masterpiece. The artists at Groundswell will be performing with an eye looking back to his intent and an ear to the future all while standing upon the graceful green shoulders of the Hudson Valley’s most revered artistic titan. And, if last year was any indication, we expect a day unlike any other.
Saturday, September 13, 2-6 p.m.
Olana State Historic Site
5720 State Route 9G, Hudson
Tickets: $20 pre-event; $30 day of event.
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