In 2009, a handful of motivated Lawrenceville residents formed the LESLIE Park Collective — an organization dedicated to keeping the decommissioned city pool active. Among other programming, in 2009, the group hosted an "accordion party" that drew some 600 visitors. It sounds like it was a pretty good time.
Like previous Leslie Park happenings, Project: Lido, an exhibition of artwork installed in and around the pool, was designed primarily as a one-night event. But despite the roster of local blue-chip artists, and institutional sponsorship, the event failed to conjure or capture much collective energy or excitement.
The three-hour Aug. 30 event combined visual artwork and performance with attractions like face-painting. A few of the installations, which can be viewed Sundays through September, stand out as materially exceptional and conceptually compelling. Nina Barbuto's bent steel poles covered in chain-link fencing on the pool's upper edge, and Cara Erskine's minimalist wooden sculpture, which runs smoothly down the shallow end, provide especially strong site-specific commentaries. Brian Brown's mythic, primordial sculpture evokes an imaginary, poetically unsettling moment in the pool's deeper, geological past.
Occupying center stage for most of the night, meanwhile, was a performance created by Suzie Silver. However, the performance felt antithetical to the show's ostensible spirit. Visitors sat in the pool and watched quietly as four performers enacted a loosely choreographed ritual involving shiny, colorful, DIY-type objects against a backdrop of projected video depicting other performance art. After throwing glitter and banging on garbage-can lids, the performers broke their wine glasses containing pigmented water on the pool's bottom, all while documenting themselves with cameras concealed within their costumes.
Considering Project: Lido's spectrum of supporters — including names like the Heinz Endowments — it's hard not to feel a little bit sad. An historic space loaded with social and aesthetic significance, so ripe to inspire both the skeptical and the unexpecting, somehow slid quickly into banality.
Museums and public parks in America both evolved to provide respite from urban overcrowding — enlightened antidotes to everyday anonymity and alienation. But corporate motives for providing such spaces have not historically been altogether altruistic: Such spaces can also distract us from our discontent, rather than filling true voids. Despite the volume of talent and depth of resources on display at Project: Lido, the pool, at least, still felt empty.