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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Big Bambú

Doug and Mike Starn on the Roof: Big Bambú:
You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 27 – October 31, 2010

Something magical’s taking shape on the roof garden of the Met. Big Bambu, Doug and Mike Starn’s monumental bamboo structure is slowly rising upwards. Forming a giant cresting wave, when it’s completed, it will be composed of 3,200 bamboo poles, 30 miles of nylon climbing rope and measure 100’ x 50’ x 50.”

It’s both site-specific installation and performance piece; the Starns, assisted by 15 rock climbers, are hard at work weekdays constructing it. They chose climbers to help them because they: 1. aren’t afraid of heights, 2. can tie knots, and 3. don’t come with any preconceived ideas about construction. One of the pleasures of Big Bambu is noticing the distinct hands of these amateur builders. Some lash the poles together in expansive grids, while others produce tight, intricate patterns. As the title suggests, you get the sense constructing Big Bambu’s an obsessive rush.

There’re two ways to experience Big Bambu. You can go to the roof garden and just walk underneath it or, and this I strongly recommend, you can take the guided tour (tickets required) which takes you up on the piece. It’s a night and day experience and to get Big Bambu’s full impact, one really must take the tour. Before we went on it, my companion mentioned bamboo’s as strong as steel and despite powerful winds buffeting us, Big Bambu didn’t budge.

It’s quite simply exhilarating being up above it all with splendid views of Central Park and the Manhattan skyline encircling you. There’s something giddily subversive about being in this nest-like structure of vegetative matter atop one of the most formal museums in the world. It’s chaotic and primitive looking, a complete anomaly in the middle of a city of rectilinear concrete. I felt like I was in an alternate universe and boy, was it fun being there!

Big Bambu’s a multi-sense experience. First you see it, then holding the bamboo handrails and feeling the pole ridges underfoot as you traverse the pathways, you touch it and then you hear it thanks to the rustling of the occasional leafed bamboo frond overhead. And, when you step off it, its influence lingers as it takes a minute or two to regain your land legs.

For the Starns, Big Bambus a living thing that’s at once complete and not finished, like a person, a city, or society that is constantly evolving; the wave represents forces and currents that move through, causing change. The piece’s also a meditation on the concept of the interconnectedness of things.

Big Bambu reminded me of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s The Gates in terms of how it functions, shaking you up a little bit and making you rethink the city, the park, the views. And just as The Gates was both about its presence and its subsequent absence, I’ll continue to think of Big Bambu long after it’s gone, like all successful site-specific work, it will have a vibrant afterlife in memory. Construction continues through August; Big Bambu will remain on view through October 31.

Artillery, 4.5 (2010)


  1. Sounds spectacular. I must try to make it. Here's an interesting notion re bamboo. It can serve as a "living machine, filtering dirty water." Example... One could plant it around the edges of those giant pig slop retention ponds. It would filter the water to make it at least "gray" and it can be harvested for bio-fuel. As you know, it can be highly invasive in the wrong setting, but we could put it to It could be a "living machin

  2. Maybe they should plant it along the coast of Louisiana!