Time Stops on Pier 66 as Post-Sandy Repairs Linger
BY ROGER MILLER | Time has stopped on Hudson River Park’s Pier 66 — at least according to the clock that counts the rotations of a waterwheel called “Long Time,” a public art piece designed by Paul Ramirez Jonas, 48.
While the waterwheel continues to turn both clockwise and counterclockwise with the shifting tides of the Hudson, the clock — damaged by saltwater during Hurricane Sandy in 2011 — stopped at 67,293 rotations. The counter for “Long Time” sits at the bottom of a long list of items in need of repair. Storm-ravaged, and with limited private donations and no public funding, the counter is likely to stay frozen indefinitely.
Tom Lindon, 59, vice president of marketing and events for Hudson River Park Trust, said the park is still recovering from the waves of corrosive saltwater that wreaked havoc on much of the electrical wiring in the five-mile long park.
“There’s an awful lot that is being repaired as a result of Sandy,” he said. “The counter is not high on our priority list.”
During a recent board meeting, trust president and CEO Madelyn Wils said the estimated damage done to the park by Sandy totaled $20 million. Marc Boddewyn, VP of design and construction for the trust, noted that the counter and the plaque originally cost $19,500 — but he was unable to estimate an amount for its repair or replacement.
“The wheel itself is pretty darn sturdy,” said Boddewyn. “It was actually happy during Sandy, because it likes the deeper water. You should’ve seen it spinning.”
Jonas, who currently teaches art at Hunter College, proposed the 30-foot-diameter wheel and accompanying clock in 2000, and saw his idea realized in 2007 when Friends of Hudson River Park and the Hudson River Park Trust commissioned the project as part of the opening of the Chelsea North section of the park.
Lindon said because of the park’s huge footprint — five miles from Battery Park to 59th Street — he couldn’t give a timetable for when everything would be repaired. For the residents and tourists that visit the park, this has meant making due with a few less functioning fountains and lights. For Jonas, it was a learning experience in the functional mechanics, and finances, of public art.
Jonas told Chelsea Now that the problem was there was no way to try a “beta version” of the art installation. Aside from the counter’s susceptibility to saltwater, he said he also overestimated the rate of the waterwheel’s rotation, which he had initially calculated to be five billion rotations per century — by this math, the clock should have counted well over 250 million rotations by the time Sandy stopped the count.
“I wanted to create a clock that set the scale of our life span in the context of the lifespan of the river, geology and even the planet,” he wrote. “A sort of ‘you are here’ in time. One that would make you aware that we only have now.”
In some ways, the waterwheel still accomplishes this grand aim. A bronze plaque sits in front of the wheel. On it is a curved timeline that stretches back from the earth’s fiery beginnings, all the way into the distant future when the sun is predicted to expand and swallow the earth — on this geological timeline, the history of humanity appears as just a sliver.
Even before Hurricane Sandy put an end to the counting of his waterwheel’s rotations, Jonas said he had doubts about permanent works of public art.
“On a personal note, after I finished that project I vowed never to make another permanent work of public art,” he said. “I have gone on to make many public art projects that embrace ephemerality and shun permanence.”
One of Jonas’ more recent public art projects took place in 2010, when he distributed 24,000 keys throughout New York City to people who felt they or a friend deserved recognition for less widely celebrated accomplishments like acing a math test or being a good friend.
While Jonas has since moved on from his first, and last, permanent public art installation, Lindon said the park trust is still trying to raise the funds to repair Hudson River Park’s wiring, and, eventually, its art. He noted that the park raises money through business tenants and vendors, corporate sponsored events, concerts and donations raised at events like the October 3 Gala that was hosted by Hugh Jackman, on Pier 57.
“Seventeen million people come through Hudson Park a year,” he said. “And we do a lot of in house programming that’s free. We’re doing well but we could be doing better. There are just so many operations and maintenance costs, so as a department we always strive to do better.”