Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking” in 1851 dissed city life, as well as people in general, in favor of solitary walks in nature. He extolled the virtues of the woods, meadows and riverbanks for providing the only landscape that could deliver a truly transcendent experience.
“I can easily walk ten, 15, 20, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road,“ he declared, pleased to see “how little space they (i.e. ‘man and his affairs’) occupy .…”
I can easily walk ten, 15, 20, any number of minutes from my apartment in Energy Square on Cedar Street in Kingston, and can’t wait to see what people are up to, what rapturous experience I’ll find around the corner or down the block.
Last Sunday, it was an out-of-this-world concert at the Lace Mill on Cornell Street.
In the constellation of affordable-housing projects built and managed by Rupco, the Lace Mill is a shining star filled with poets, painters, photographers, musicians, artists of all kinds (the stated preference for occupancy and a status that requires pre-qualification). Once the US Lace Curtain Mill when it was built in 1903, the 53,000-square-foot building went through a multi-million-dollar transformation when Rupco purchased it in 2013 and the artists moved in. Michael Bisio, a jazz double bassist, was one of them. So was Dawn Spitzer, a visual artist. They met at the Lace Mill, fell in love, got married, and over the last five years have curated more than 40 jazz concerts in a series that’s reopening, unmasked, this month with “Arts Poetica,” where I met up with it.
The East Gallery, where the concerts are held, is a warmly lit, inviting, two-story space with floor-to-ceiling windows and artwork by residents on display. “Mobile Home,” an art installation by Dawn Bisio, hangs from the ceiling. She used large antique fabric panels as pages to tell the story of her adoption and the struggle to find a sense of place and identity after leaving Seoul, Korea as a little girl named Jung Jung Mee to start a life as Dawn Spitzer with her new family in Westchester, New York.
Michael takes the floor with his double bass, with musicians Karl Berger on piano and vibraphone, Steve Gorn on bansuri flutes and clarinet, and Ingrid Sertso as vocalist and poet. All are virtuoso improvisers whose careers and reputations stretch beyond this room, but on a Sunday in Kingston down the street from where I live the group offers up a transcendental experience that fills the afternoon with the mind-blowing, heart-opening, soul-stirring sounds of improvisational jazz and poetry.
Next up on Thursday, March 24, at 7 p.m. in The Lace Mill Presents series is Bisio playing with pianist and keyboardist Thollem, guitarist Nels Cline, and percussionist Michael Wimberly. Seating is limited. $20 is the suggested donation. The concerts will continue in April at their regular time of Sunday at 4 p.m. in the East Gallery. Schedule to be announced (www.facebook.com/michael.bisio.7).
The Bisios are collaborating again at the UpFront Gallery in Port Jervis on March 20, 1 to 6 p.m. Michael will be playing at the opening of a show featuring Dawn’s art (www.facebook.com/dawn.bisio.7).
On another day on another side of town in the Rondout, ArtStream (artportkingston.com/artstream) provides another chance to appreciate the virtues of city living, where a bucolic walk in nature can include a public art exhibit that stops you in your tracks. Just past the historic Cornell Steamboat Co. building, the home of Artport Kingston (artportkingston.com), is the start of a collection of art installations oddly and intentionally naturalized into the local environment only by their placement.
A twisted vine covered in hundreds of shotgun shells — Vine by contemporary mixed-media artist Margaret Roleke — clings to a chain-link fence. An abstract mural by artist Rowan Willigan is painted on an exterior cement wall lining the deserted rail-trail tracks along Strand Street. Off in a wooded area, what looks like a brightly colored quilt is hanging from a tree limb is Vibe, a five-foot-by-six-foot fabric art installation by Linda Kamille Schmidt.
As I walk up to take a closer look at the shotgun-shell sculpture inspired by the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, private citizens of Ukraine who never held guns are taking them up to defend their lives and their country against the violence of shelling. The power of Margaret Roleke’s crazily twisted, insanely cheerful-looking sculpture hits home.
At the Lace Mill, the notes of Ingrid Sertso’s poem join with the sounds of jazz to get expanded. They transport listeners to a sound that’s never been heard.
A child is born and the world goes on
And on and on
On the streets where we live
Always music to give
Spurts of inflation
And on and on
Liberation through sound
New-age healing ground
And the world goes on
Money but no vision
How safe is your water?
And rain, ocean in pain
And people that hate people
People that love people
On the streets where we live
Good days, bad days
Touch the sky, don’t ask why
A child is born and on and on.
Henry David Thoreau found transcendence on a country walk. For others, it takes a village.