ARTS/ENTERTAINMENT: Groundswell: wet but swell

GREENPORT—It’s a perfect afternoon to stay home, the radio announcer said as I drove through Saturday afternoon’s steady rain, and I couldn’t have agreed more. But having missed the first Groundswell last year, I was on a mission, to Olana State Historic Site for this year’s iteration.

Happily, so were lots of other people, since ticket sales for Groundswell benefit Wave Farm, the sponsor of WGXC 90.7, and The Olana Partnership, which supports the estate, created by the 19th-century Hudson River artist Frederic Church. Resolutely, we visitors zipped up our rain jackets, raised our umbrellas and explored the nine installations and performances on view along Olana’s Ridge Road.

Of the nine, I had two immediate favorites. In Geographica, Helen Lesterlin and Jack Magai, sporting bright leotards—yellow, red—danced on a stage with Mount Marino as a backdrop. A sound component came through earphones that were circulated, but my greatest interest and pleasure came from watching the tiny, bright figures against the misty green of the late summer mountains.

Telescopic Tea Table, the creation of Ellen Driscoll with Daniela Gomez, was a mirrored table set in a grove of trees. Driscoll had cut the table in the shape of the lake at Olana, which I learned was created by Frederic Church and mirrors a nearby bend in the Hudson River.

On top of the table, also mirrors, were the shapes of places that Church had traveled to paint, for example, Jamaica; Grand Manan Island, a Canadian island in the Bay of Fundy; and Ecuador. Two mirror teapots were meant to echo the Japanese teapots used as finials on the four corners of Olana’s main house. I couldn’t see these, but I believed it.

Telescopic Tea Table would have been riveting on any day, but in the rain it was spectacular, glittering with repeated mirrored images. “My table loves the rain,” Driscoll said happily as she handed out tiny cups of mint tea, which, even cold, hit the spot on a rainy day.

Jeffrey Lependorf, a composer and director of Music Omi, said his immediate favorite was Cradling Tendencies by Mau Schoettle, a toolbox swinging from a tree branch and emitting the sounds of a crying infant. I was uncomfortable listening to an unhappy baby, which was likely the point, as the program text describes the construction of the Athens Generating Plant, across the river from Olana.

The day had two goals: to have artists reflect on and react to Olana and its integral viewshed, and to lead visitors away from the iconic house and onto trails and into views they might never have seen before.

“Olana is not the house,” Melanie Hasbrook of the Olana Partnership wrote in an email on Monday. “It is the entire 250-acre, artist-designed landscape of Frederic Church, with a house at its summit.”

Success on all fronts, to my mind, with an added glistening of rain.

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