Monday, April 6, 2009

Lost in History vol. 80: A Very HALy Memorial at the City Reliquary

Hal was a coyote. Possibly the most famous coyote to scamper the grounds of Central Park, score cover shots on both the Post and the Daily News, and pass from these terrestrial plains in two days' time; Hal had snuck his way into our hearts. Named after the Hallett Nature Sanctuary, where he was discovered on March 20th 2006, Hal enjoyed a short but exciting hustle before the NYPD shot him with a tranquilizer dart and ended his adventurous romp. While en route to the New York Zoo in the Bronx, Hal passed away unceremoniously, due to complications of heart worms and the digesting of a poisoned rat. So ended the saga of Hal . . .
. . . until a few Sundays ago when Brooklyn-based artist Dillon de Give hosted a memorial to this fallen figure of mystery. Dillon got it into his head that Hal never saw a proper send-off, and intended to do so with help from his friends at the City Reliquary. Dillon's intention was to create a reciprocal human trip by recreating Hal's 60-some-odd mile journey, from upstate New York to Central Park, but backwards, starting here and ending there. Dillon also planned on leaving impromptu memorials to Hal along the way. He wanted a proper send-off for his own journey, and we sent out the word and got a few speakers together for a late-afternoon lecture in our rotating exhibit gallery.
Audience members enjoyed Wile E Coyote cartoons and mingled around while waiting for the event to start. Dillon went first, explaining his childhood association with coyotes, growing up in New Mexico where there are a helluva lot of them, as opposed to here in NYC. He spoke about the evolution of the coyote and their predilection for living with humans as scavengers, much like pigeons, how the two are almost spirit animals, surviving on the cast-offs of us. We watched some live coyote footage and enjoyed the explanation for Dillon's impending journey.
I went next, explaining how Central Park was the first man-made creation of nature in the world to resemble nature itself. Prior to Central Park, parks in the world looked as if they were designed by humans - the National Mall in DC is a giant rectangle, with all the trees in a straight line, all the landscaping done very consciously. Ditto Versailles in Paris, but to the nth degree. With Central Park, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux had the opportunity to make a obviously landscaped park in the middle of the most urbanized city to date, but they went the opposite direction, hiding the city from the park-goers.
Following the Central Park talk we had a sculptural artist, Nao Matsumoto show a slide of his sculpture hanging in the Pratt Sculpture Gardens in Brooklyn, and discuss the mythology of Wile E Coyote and the never-ending chase for the Roadrunner. It was completely impromptu, as Nao had just been contacted the day before the lecture and wasn't sure if he was going to make it. Nevertheless, his talk was brief and beautiful, discussing the experience of soul-searching and always hunting, and allowing the process of the hunt to be part of the discovery.
After Nao, Kay Turer, Resident Folklorist of the Brooklyn Arts Council spoke about the coyote as trickster in Native American folklore. "Coyote went along" was her gift to Dillon, in which she explained that at the start of every tale, these magical talismanic words impart the knowledge that Coyote the explorer, Coyote the adventurer, Coyote the unknown will always go "along" in his ways, no matter what obstacles or interruptions he might face.
Following the speakers our collected group of 60 audience members went to our spacious backyard and participated in a group howl, for all the dogs and coyotes of Williamsburg to share in. It was a wonderful event, and Dillon de Give took off the next morning on his 66 mile journey. We miss you Hal!

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