Around the time that Osama Bin Laden's son in law, Suleiman Abu Ghaith, was being tried at the Federal Court House on Worth and Mulberry Street, we noticed two small guard booths had sprung up. These two white low quality structures were placed at either end of a public plaza that sits between The Moynihan Court House and the back entrance to the U.S. Supreme Court building.
We can't help but think that the appearance of these two guard booths (currently unmanned) signify the eventual closing of the much-used public plaza that is home to Maya Lin's sculpture installation "Sounding Stones" created in 1996 - Commissioned by the US General Services Administration's Art in Architecture Program .
Lin says of the work "I design works to create an intimate dialogue with the viewer, allowing a place of contemplation, sometimes an incorporation of history, always a reliance on time, memory, and a passage or journey. The relation between the viewer and the artwork does not require a knowledge of a specific language of forms, but instead relies on a direct empathetic response to the work. This experiential reading of the work, utilizing modulations in the light, sound, texture, materiality, subtle changes in height, depth, or grade, has helped define my work."
If you ever had the pleasure to experience this sculpture as it was intended, before the barricades cordoned off the area around the sculptures, you would hear a wonderful gurgling noise from fountains within each stone. It seemed fitting that Lin's sculptures enticed the participant to walk up close, place their ear next to the holes and listen intently as this is what we're expected to do in a Court of law. Ironic then, that the whole auditory experience is removed from this piece by the placement of barricades, not to mention the obvious visual message that "security" trumps art in the eyes of Homeland Security.
How much do we have to give up in the name of "security"? To that extent just how effective are these measures anyway? Just last week a teenage boy was able to reach the top of the Freedom Tower ALONE. A few years ago Police Headquarters was the sight of a mugging under non-functioning surveillance cameras. And in January a court officer was violently mugged on Court House property while she exited the building.
The closure of public plazas has done nothing to enhance the safety of residents and pedestrians, one can argue that in fact the lack of pedestrian activity makes the area prone to crime.
When the Moynihan Court House was first opened there were lovely benches and trees immediately to the side of the court house which were designed for the public to use. The community used these inherently peaceful plazas to do tai chi and play chess. Sadly these benches and the stone sculptures are now off limits, and perhaps the entire thoroughfare will be closed.