This past Sunday, artist Melissa McGill’s new project, Constellation, appeared in the sky over the Bannerman castle ruin. The historied castle is located on an island in the Hudson River, and McGill has placed luminous globes on tall poles above the ruin, giving the effect of a new constellation in the night sky. After flickering on for the first time, the lights will remain on for two hours each night for the next two years.
McGill is influenced by Land art, an art that is often ephemeral, as it is left for nature to take back or erode. Constellation suggests this ephemerality in the limits placed on its duration – two hours, two years.
But Constellation is also a project on the way things last, and the presence of the past with us. A book will be published in conjunction with the installation, and will include writings and poetry, some created especially for the project. One of the poems, “My God, It’s Full of Stars” by Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith, speaks of the connection of the past to our present lives, and the communion with others that is part of it. The poem’s third section begins, “Perhaps the great error is believing we’re alone, / That the others have come and gone–a momentary blip– / When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic, / Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel / Nor see.” Smith suggests we are surrounded by the life of other galaxies, and the past of our own world. She ends the section with the presence of her father, writing “I might be sitting now beside my father / As he raises a lit match to the bowl of his pipe / For the first time in the winter of 1959.”
Like Smith’s poem, the lights above Bannerman castle are a reminder that we are not alone and that the past is not just a “momentary blip.” The lights suggest the outline of the castle before it deteriorated, positioned where the top of the castle once stood. Also, the lights recall the belief of the Lanape Indians, (natives of the Hudson River area), in Opi Tamakan, or the Milky Way as the “White Road,” a road from this world to the spiritual one beyond. McGill’s Constellation presents us with both the past of the castle and the past of the area’s natives, and reminds us that the passing of time does not mean that we are isolated from what has come before.
For more images of “Constellation, ” check out the project’s Instagram feed.