Begins one of Emily Dickinson’s poems. And “When it comes, the Landscape Listens,” reads the final stanza. With Light On Sound a very different landscape than Ms. Dickinson’s original is listening up—the streets of Flushing, Queens. Listening to what—you might ask? The neighborhood, the people, the memories, and the many voices of the multicultural wealth of Flushing. Light on Sound is an interactive poetry installation that invites community members to both listen to poetry and share their own. How on earth does this all actually work, and what brings Lewis Latimer, poetry, lampposts and telephones together—you might wonder? Well, let’s break it down.
You may know that Lewis Latimer was the inventor of the carbon filament for the Incandescent lightbulb. And that he also helped draft the patent for Alexander Grahm Bell’s design of the telephone. You may not know that he was also a poet—to boot an inventor with verse, if you will. In his poetry Latimer spoke freely about his experiences as a black man in 19th century America, confronting issues of race and social justice in pieces like “Ebon Venus” and “Unconquerable” (Latimer fans you know where it’s at – #unconquerable). 150 years later his house still stands in Flushing; and while Latimer himself no longer lives there, LatimerNOW keeps his legacy of invention and community alive. Following some brilliant brainstorming, artists Jessica Houston and Maya Pindyck pieced these various elements together to create Light On Sound.
First, Maya and Jessica hosted three poetry workshops with Flushing residents of all ages and origins, who came together to talk, think, and write. The artists then recorded the workshop participants reading their original poetry in the language of their choice. Next, the New York City Department of Transportation installed plaques on numerous lampposts around Flushing. Some display poems written at the workshops while others read “Poetry Calls You” in English, Mandarin, and Spanish and display a telephone number for passers-by to call in to hear poems or to record their own. Seen one around yourself?
Visitors can also listen to the poems in the Lewis H. Latimer House Museum via two sound-sculptures by Jessica and Maya. Simply flick the switch, and voila! Poems spring through the air or into your headphones while the bulb shines brightly.
Being such an immersive and inclusive installation, Light On Sound demanded an equally special opening reception. Thus, the Poetry Celebration was born! From 6-9pm on Thursday August 13th, Residents and community members gathered to read poems and to listen—and naturally to eat some delicious dumplings on the side. In order to make sure members of the deaf community could also participate in the celebration, CART (computer-aided real time transcription) services and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters were provided. In addition to community residents, local Queens poet Maria Terrone and former Queens Poet Laureate Paolo Javier joined the reading.
And Douglas Ridloff—deaf poet, performer, and Artistic Director of ASL Slam—transfixed us all with two beautiful sign poems—expanding our perceptions of poetry and the act of listening. After a wonderful evening, we all set home inspired to keep the verses coming.
And we want YOU to join in! Dial 646-604-4671 to listen to a selection of 20 poems or to record your own. The Artists will be periodically rotating the poems as more are submitted to the growing archive.
Light on Sound is presented by the Historic House Trust’s Contemporary Art Partnerships program with the Lewis H. Latimer House and LatimerNOW. The installation was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts with generous support coming from NYCDOT, NYCParks, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Light On Sound runs from August through to October 2015.
About the artists:
Jessica Houston explores questions of perception through the prism of art, architecture and nature. Her site-specific installations, videos, drawings and paintings often use the phenomena of color, light, and sound to respond to and alter existing architectural spaces. She has created site-specific works for the New Jersey MOCA, Asbury Park, New Jersey; the Castello di Corigliano, Puglia, Italy; Governors Island, NY, NY and The Albany Airport, Albany, NY.
Maya Pindyck engages the material of language, affect, and social space through a practice that includes writing, drawing, installation, and research. She is the author of the poetry collections Emoticoncert (Four Way Books, forthcoming), Friend Among Stones (New Rivers Press), and Locket, Master (Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship Series).