Four-story Flatland habitat (courtesy of flatlandproject.com)
Through Sunday at the Sculpture Center in Long Island City is a fascinating installation, the Flatland Project, which I’ve been visiting regularly since it first went up. Ward Shelly has created a very narrow, four-story-high, transparent (except for the bathroom), beautifully pristine structure that six artists were scheduled to live in for 20 days. I say “scheduled” because three have already slipped out, with everyone set to leave in five days.
Now this is not deprivation living, a la my friend David Blaine, who lived on fortified water for 44 days in a transparent box suspended from a crane over the Thames. The Flatlanders have their laptops, WiFi, and cell phones, and food delivered by Fresh Direct. Okay, sleeping may not be much fun, if you’re a tosser and turner. And exercise is difficult unless you care to climb up and down on the movable ladders that link the floors.
One of my friends said the artists wouldn’t last three days; all of them have done better than that. I think the place looks cozy and peaceful. I wish I had known about it in advance and had volunteered. I would have used the time to try to bang out a novel on my laptop.
Early in my visits I noticed a folded chessboard on one of the higher floors. I wrote my e-mail address on a piece of paper and invited the Flatlanders to play chess with me on the Internet (on a cool chess server called Red Hot Pawn). I taped the invitation to the first floor of Flatland.
Now I’m engaged in two chess games, but it’s a bit frustrating because my opponent(s) is not chatty and doesn’t respond to my questions about life in two dimensions.
When I visit the transparent habitat, the six residents don’t seem to be doing anything exciting: they drink Bustelo coffee (can’t Fresh Direct do better?), they type on their laptops, they climb ladders to reach the bathroom. One or two Flatlanders smile at me and acknowledge my presence. Often I’m the only visitor there—which seems strange given how great Flatland is.
The twenty-something dude who mans the door at the Sculpture Center calls me Chess Guy, as in, “You were here yesterday, Chess Guy.”
Who is in more need of a life, someone who can afford to live in an art project for 20 days and not do much of anything or someone who comes day after day to watch people who are not doing much of anything? I wish I could change my status from Flatland groupie to Flatland inhabitant.
Well, here’s the position from one of my chess games. I’m White and have a forced checkmate (oh goody, goody!) in two moves.
Do you see the mate?
[May 16th update: my opponent, who has prematurely rejoined the three-dimensional world, now cheerfully chats with me when we exchange moves online. He says he is experiencing “flatlag.”]