Wed, Nov 01, 2017 - Page 13 News List

Walling in the world

New Yorkers ponder ‘Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors’ installation in ethnically diverse Queens

By Chris Fuchs  /  Contributing Reporter In New York

Metal frames of various shapes hold together the netting in Ai Weiwei’s Circle Fence, pictured here late last month in front of the iconic Unisphere of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens, New York.

Photo: Chris Fuchs

Kids jumped on it as they would a trampoline. Adults laid on it, some wearing earphones, some reading a book — even one smoking a cigar. Most weren’t sure what it was.

As debate rages on over border security and building a wall between Mexico and the US, a fence of its own went up this month in one of the most ethnically diverse corners on earth, the New York City borough of Queens.

The Unisphere in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is among the spaces in New York chosen for Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, an outdoor exhibition prepared by the human rights activist and prominent Chinese contemporary artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未).

Ai brings his work to the Big Apple, long a berth for immigrants, after traveling to more than 40 refugee camps in 23 countries while filming his documentary Human Flow, an exploration into the global refugee crisis.

That one of his fences encircles the iconic globe of the 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair — a structure built to symbolize a spirit of world unity — holds significance for some who visited it one unseasonably warm Saturday late last month.

“Especially being around the Unisphere and the whole world being in the background of this, I think that’s really nice,” said Erin Little, 29, of Manhattan. “Bringing it into Queens, you can find anything and everyone here.”

Ai Weiwei: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors is presented by the Public Art Fund, a nonprofit, and opened on Oct. 12. The title takes its name from an old adage quoted in the Robert Frost poem Mending Wall, in which two neighbors discuss whether a stone partition is necessary for separating their property.

The exhibition features fence installations at, among other locations, Manhattan’s Washington Square Arch and the Doris C Freedman Plaza at Central Park, in addition to the one in Queens. In all, it includes related works at bus shelters, on lampposts and at private buildings at more than 300 locations across the city’s five boroughs.

“Collectively, these elements comprise a passionate response to the global migration crisis and a reflection on the profound social and political impulse to divide people from each other,” writes the Public Art Fund.

LAID-BACK WORK

While the Manhattan sites have received a lot of attention — including protests from some over the Washington Square Arch structure — the Flushing Meadows-Corona Park one has flown largely under the radar, park-goers here said.

At first blush, the undulating netted fence, constructed with rope and interconnected with metal frames of various shapes, resembles a hammock.

And, of course, a natural response to seeing a hammock is to lay down on it.

That’s exactly what Liu Pin, 36, was doing while his wife, Zhang Bin, watched over their four small children who jumped and climbed all over Ai’s installation.

“It’s comfortable,” said 30-year-old Zhang, speaking in Mandarin.

The couple, immigrants from Fujian Province, China, knew about Ai, a frequent critic of Beijing whom the Chinese government once arrested, detained and stripped of his passport, returning it only in 2015.

But neither had heard anything about the exhibit, they said.

“This is the first day we saw this,” Zhang said.

Liu added that he initially assumed it was something provided as a government benefit for leisure.

Zhang and Liu, of Queens, were not alone in their confusion. Colin McGivern, who was with his wife, Gin Cheng, and their two children, were also stumped when asked about the installation.

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