A Tale of Two Islands features two videos, each of which offer a portrait of an island located in New York City. As we welcome New York City’s new mayor Bill de Blasio, we celebrate the synergy between our Mayor’s platform and how this program suggests the metropolis as a place comprising a multitude of different cities, locations, and stories – some fictional and some factual. Zeroing in on two islands in the East River – the quietly residential Roosevelt Island squeezed between Queens and Manhattan and the unpopulated North Brother Island, former home to Riverside Hospital and the infamous Typhoid Mary – the two videos in this program hover between historical biographies of places enmeshed within the fabric of a vast megalopolis and cloistered narrative fictions woven as islands of their own.
London-based artist Beatrice Gibson creates complex video works structured like musical compositions that are often choreographed with multiple interdisciplinary collaborators. Working with New York-based musician Alex Waterman, and referencing experimental composer Robert Ashley’s video operas, A Necessary Music weaves a portrait of Roosevelt Island that begins as a straightforward anthropological recitation and slowly devolves into science fiction. For A Necessary Music, Gibson and Waterman interviewed residents of Roosevelt Island and then asked different residents to relate back these texts, asking the residents of the island to both re-write and re-inhabit their own home. With Adolfo Bioy Casares’ 1941 science fiction novel The Invention of Morel in mind, Gibson and Waterman explore the strange temporality of science fiction – one of looking into the future retelling its own past – emphasizing the uncanny relationship between science fiction and reality. Narrated by Robert Ashley (1930 – 2014).
New York-based artist Frank Heath’s artistic practice is catalyzed by unexpected interventions into otherwise banal scenarios. Situated somewhere between prank calls and calls for help, Heath begins many of his video works with phone calls to dealers of various goods – flags, flying banners –to discuss what begin as innocuous requests. In Asymptomatic Carrier, Heath begins with a phone call to a flag fabricator, slowly revealing the fact that he is looking for a flag to wave above what has become his home on the otherwise abandoned North Brother Island. Discussing the island’s former use as a home to Riverside Hospital and the ways it could be possible for him to have inhabited this isolated place unaccompanied for the past forty years, the listener becomes an eavesdropper, drawn into a conversation nestled somewhere between imagination and reality.