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Counting up


Remember the Millenium and all that frenzy about the year 2000? I never got that. After all, Jan. 1 is just another day.

But I was very excited about one aspect of the hoopla back then — Jennie Shanker’s motorized, mechanized sculpture, “Count Down,” in Bird Park. Remember it? A big, odometer-like machine that involved letters instead of numbers. It spun on its axis generating an infinite array of letters — and a serendipitous assortment of words.jennie2

Shanker’s piece, loosely related to her thoughts about the Jorge Luis Borges story “The Library of Babel” (read the story here) was brainy and somehow seemed to dispell– to me at least — questions of future shock. What could be more stable than the alphabet? The slow procession of letters and words seemed to mirror the way things are in the cosmos. There’s a lot of noise and chaos and you’ll understand some of it…and some you won’t.

Well here it is 2003 and Shanker has made a new alphabet-odometer. This time it’s not motorized, it’s hands-on interactive and it’s installed in an outdoor classroom at William McKinley School, a Philadelphia inner city school.

jennie3 (The piece is one of several interactive sculptural elements in two new outdoor classrooms created recently by the School District and the City in big, multi-organization project involving the Mural Arts Program, City Play and others. Shanker helped design the outdoor spaces; made the sculptures and worked with a group of teens from the Mural Corps to create welded floral embellishments for new protective fencing. See my sketch today for more.)

jennie6I love to think of these mostly bilingual children spinning the alphabet wheels and producing English and Spanish words — and maybe finding some kind of peace and pleasure in the serendipity of it all. That’s my kind of millenial thinking. (all images are from the new McKinley School project, taken the day before its dedication–the odometer, in procees of being installed, is missing a few of its wheels)