A Tale of Two Islands

This is your last weekend to catch A Tale of Two Islands, the double-feature screening of Asymptomatic Carrier by Frank Heath and A Necessary Music by Beatrice Gibson with Alex Waterman. Each video in the program presents a portrait of an island often overlooked within the collection irregularly-formed floating land masses that together comprise New York City. Within these portraits, you can hear the stories – and the music – that waft outward from each island when the wind is just right.

Frank Heath’s contemplative and often humorous video opens with an anonymous caller loudly rejected by six disconnected phone lines, finally rewarded by an employee of New York Decorating Co. – a flag-fabrication and decorating company – reciting the standard sizes of flags available for purchase. Revealed slowly through an increasingly absurd telephone conversation is a fictional narrative of a man who has inhabited North Brother Island in isolation since the closure of its resident Riverside Hospital, in 1963. Using his fictional landline as a bridge, Heath attempts to form an authentic connection between past a present. The video, at once eerie and endearing, closes with the squarely philosophical question, “You got your own island, you can make your own rules, right?”

 

Beatrice Gibson and Alex Waterman weave an intimate and delicate portrait of another island in the East River, this one Roosevelt Island (a place coincidentally also home to an abandoned hospital, this one the ostensibly haunted Renwick Smallpox Hospital). Beginning with a slow shot taken from the tramway that carries up to 110 passengers at a time from Manhattan to Roosevelt Island, the voice of the late composer Robert Ashley sets the tone for the video, musing that, “I may have the famous disease associate with the island. It may have caused me to imagine the people, the music.” Using as its script texts written by residents of the island, the island presents itself, through the voices of its residents, at once as a beachside vacationland, a site of profound mourning, and above all a study of the inhabitants’ experience of the modernist social housing projects that define the architecture of the island – that of the “Master Plan,” whose flaws are revealed in the unpredictable idiosyncrasies of their individual lives. 

- Melanie Kress