Dionisio González

Central Park is essentially a void. A 4000 x 800-metre void. It was conceived on the basis of an idea of spatiality where density was to be developed, but it is the density of the buildings of Manhattan, in their hyper-developmentalism, that has traced out that recreational rectangle for the dispersion of homo faber. That is, the park is a void because it works as a courtyard inside the urban prisonization. Urban planning imprisoned by the circulation of goods and the needs of capital inside the disciplinary city. The city calls for constructive evolution, however much its natural drift may tend towards the informational city, or else it turns into archaeological territory. Within it, the void, the residual and the excess are spaces for opportunity. Leonardo Lippolis tells us how the void is also a space of the possible. How “the absence of a limit suggests a hope of mobility and nomadism, of free time and freedom, where that which is full is organised in accordance with the demands of functionalism”. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted and the architect Calvert Vaux designed Central Park as part of what was called the Greensward Plan in 1857. But to summon up the void, it was necessary to expropriate lands and evict small communities of Afro-Americans and German and Irish immigrants who lived in modest districts of Manhattan such as Seneca or Harsenville. We should ask ourselves why, behind a public project, there is always an initial period of expulsion and devastation. Why the intermediate – in this case small communities - or the primary or the geological are not operated on as bases for creation. Not only to negotiate them, but to incorporate them as models of identity into the course of that design.
Walter Benjamin said that “The labyrinth is the right path for the person who always arrives early enough at his destination. This destination is the marketplace”. As early as in 1939, Benjamin foresaw that the metropolis was the melancholic proscenium on which the twilight of a dying civilisation prostrates itself. With the help of the exiled lnstitut für Sozialforschung of Frankfurt, he managed to obtain an American visa, and began making plans to meet up with Adorno, Horkheimer and other members in New York, naming a text he was working on “Central Park”, in anticipation of his settling in the United States. A destiny he would never come to fulfil. In 1972, five months before his death, Robert Smithson wrote the article “Frederick Law Olmsted and the dialectical landscape”. In it, Smithson analyses Central Park, tracing a route through the urban and the natural as a moving mass, instability as a medium, and the spontaneous as the lure for opportunity. Smithson reminds us that Olmsted is a precursor of dialectic materialism applied to the physical landscape. That is to say, this dialectic understands that the object cannot be interpreted in isolated form, but in a multiplicity of associations. Because for dialectics, nature is indifferent to any formal ideal. “In another sense”, says the author, “Olmsted’s parks exist before they are finished, which means in fact they are never finished; they remain carriers of the unexpected and of contradiction on all levels of human activity, be it social, political or natural”. Within this multiplicity of relationships, Holden Caulfield, Salinger’s famous character from The Catcher in the Rye, repeatedly inquires:
“You know those ducks in that lagoon right near Central Park South? That little lake? By any chance, do you happen to know where they go, the ducks, when it gets all frozen over? Do you happen to know, by any chance?
A question that is doubtless posed by association, as in the story “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” Salinger writes “The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid“. Mark David Chapman had heard John Lennon sing –Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can. Later, through the Los Angeles Times and New York Daily News magazine Esquire, he found out about Lennon’s possessions: the house in Palm Beach, the 19-metre yacht moored in Long Island or the mansion with a sloping roof in Cold Spring Harbor. As a result he felt he was a hypocrite, an impostor, and he wanted to cleanse his fictions. And to do so, he devoted himself to one of them - Holden Caufield - and decided to embark upon a misinterpreted paperback novel. So on 8th December 1980, he emptied the cartridge of his revolver, shooting the singer in the doorway of his home, the Dakota building, opposite Central Park. Mark David Chapman had bought a new copy of The Catcher in the Rye and re-read it shortly before committing the crime; he leafed through it immediately after shooting the musician. He also read an excerpt of the escapades of Holden Caulfield to the jury in the trial he faced. From Smithson’s dialectical viewpoint, in the manner of Frederick Law Olmsted or Uvedale Price, one would think that it all formed part of the park and its infinite connections. Just as the memorial perpetuating John Lennon does, in one of his favourite spots for walking in Central Park, opposite the Dakota building, called “Strawberry Fields” after the Beatles’ song. Also dialectical are the flowers Lady Gaga offered up to John Lennon at the memorial, placing them on the mosaic symbolising “Imagine”. Without a doubt the dialectical landscape includes the penthouse at number 40 South Park Central for which Lady Gaga pays 220,000 dollars a month. Dialectical too is the maisonette located opposite Salinger’s or Caulfield’s duck lagoon, roughly where Benjamin and his ‘complete’ Passages should have lived.

Based on 4 visions of Central Park: Walter Benjamin, Robert Smithson, J. D. Salinger and Lady Gaga, the idea of the refuge is proposed as a monument and aerial extension of the park by way of a dialectical resource. The photographic series “Thinking Central Park” presents small constructive “actions” in the park that operate as cabins or huts which, as Bachelard pointed out, constituted centred solitude. The series “Dialectical Landscape”, in black and white, seeks a radical conception of the urban landscape. In turn, it is a tribute to Smithson, who had a passion for orthophotographs and aerial views from where one contemplates the movements of the earth and the transformation of territory.