Columbus, in a memorialized bold swish of the hips, stands confidently atop a dark, wooden coffee table, glaring off into the corner of a poshly decorated living room. The thirteen-foot tall statue finds an odd home as the axis of this imagined living space. Tatzu Nishi’s Discovering Columbus is this Japanese-born, Berlin-residing artist’s latest work. He has become well-known for his construction of living spaces around architectural ornaments, such as Hotel Gent where a clock tower incised a suite and The Merlion Hotel during the Singapore Biennial where guests could actually stay the night in a hotel room built around the famous Singaporean sculptures.
While Nishi was said not to have taken the symbolism inherent in Columbus into account for this work, an American spectator can’t help but imagine this violent symbol as an unwelcomed guest in the living room though I’m sure many visitors do not read into Columbus’ tenuous existence in history and are merely assured of knowledge gleaned from elementary school textbooks. Nishi’s work collapses the private and public dichotomy to a certain extent, although this is not always the case as his choices of appointments around sculptural objects are always meant to evoke distanced familiarity, i.e., hotel rooms and living rooms, not bedrooms. This is an aspect of his work that seems to be often overlooked by critics. The difference between a domestic space and a living space is vast; ask anyone who travels a lot but retains a home and cannot wait to return…home. The rooms are sterile like a model home or freshly made-up hotel room. We do, however, feel somewhat comfortable there, at least enough to be able to imagine making it a home, imagine recreating ourselves in the space. Plus, there’s a couch.
This relationship with the quasi-familiar room and the act of imagining comes to the fore in Discovering Columbus as this viewer imagined Columbus to emblazon his vision on the Americas: an assertive force that would devastate millions of peoples and change the future of a hemisphere once and for all. Nature has traditionally been placed in this position within Western ontology: an aggressive space upon which alteration, destruction, imagining and reconstruction mark a transition of ownership from wilderness to domesticity.
Perhaps this is the crux of Nishi’s project, to regain the wild of the urban space by allowing the viewer an opportunity to imagine with these otherwise overlooked elements of everyday life. Or, perhaps, it is just to realign contexts, a project that is nonetheless important yet lacking in any sort of discernable dogma other than postmodernism. Nevertheless, Nishi’s work allows us to reimagine both the role of the urban, public space in our lives as well as the figure of Christopher Columbus within an American identity.
Discovering Columbus will remain in place at Columbus Circle until November 18th, 2012. Free passes can be reserved here. Be quick about it as reservations are filling up quickly and usually must be a made a week or two in advance.
(All images: Tatzu Nishi, Discovering Columbus; courtesy of Public Art Fund, 2012)