… urban atavism …

Installing Big Bambu. All photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

Installing Big Bambu. All photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art

The roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is pleasant place to visit this summer, shaded by an overarching bamboo bower, a dense network of bamboo poles that pretty well covers the surface of the open roof area. The artists and the rock climbers who help them put it together will be working on it over the summer – it’s thought of as a work that “evolves” – but already at the start of summer its overall web-like structure with a rising wave like focus that is the climbing ramp are pretty much in place.

Big Bambu installation by Doug and Mike Starn | Metro

Big Bambu installation by Doug and Mike Starn | Metro

It’s quite a sight: standing on the roof, surrounded by the bamboo, and looking out toward the green of Central Park (greener now than April when these installation photos were taken) and beyond to the vertical frame of concrete and stone buildings of varying heights, the buildings lit to lovely colors by whatever light happens to be in play. It suggests the exotic, the primitive – things far away in space from the big city, and long ago in time from today -– when nature grew untrammeled.

But that’s a fanciful illusion since all these things — park included — are man made. The bamboo poles are cut and lashed together, not rooted. No leaves. Enjoying it, one has to evade imagined nostalgia along to lines of “Too bad it’s not a real jungle.” The artists help bridge that disappointment by envisioning Big Bambu as evolving like life itself. “It’s an organism that we are just a part of – helping it to move along,” Mike Starm comments.

When you go, you’re likely to see Mike and/or Doug and some of the rock climbers at work up there on the heights. If you’re sure footed you can arrange to climb the ramp 20 to 40 feet above the level of the roof – with a guide – and get an even more dizzying view of the whole. The wave form, with its insistent association with movement, also softens awareness of its distance from what we conventionally think of as natural processes. I looked down, though, to the bottom of the roped poles, where the diagonally sawed edges barely touch the brick flooring, like the small, pointed feet of suspended dancers searching for a toehold, and wished I were in the country.

Yet it does change, at the hand of man, and as is said, “bridges realms of sculpture, architecture, and performance.” The breezes wafting through infuse Big Bambu’s dynamism with a metaphorical breath of life.

My hunch is that it’s spelled “Bambu” to both draw on and separate it from the Calypso song “The Big Bamboo” made famous by Harry Belafonte — and … Big Bambu … those syllables just have an appealing look as well as sound.

It comes with statistics:  ultimately it will be 100 feet long by 50 feet wide by 50 feet high Big Bambu installation by Doug and Mike Starn | Metro(when it opened on April 27th it  was 30 feet wide – it does grow); the network will finally consist of 5,000 interlocking 30- and 40 foot-long bamboo poles, lashed together with 50 miles of nylon rope and, the artists tell us, it takes about 3 minutes to tie each knot.

Something else nice to know – refreshments are available on the roof. So if you’re in NYC this summer, give yourself an atavistic treat and visit the Big Bambu. It will be on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum through October 31.

Big Bambu installation … it must have been a lot of fun to build it!

Big Bambu installation … it must have been a lot of fun to build it!