James Nares on the ’70s Tribeca art scene: “It was like a playground.”

The British artist James Nares, whose work has celebrated New York and New Yorkers over the past four decades, was on Staple Street this past December, reminiscing about her life here in the mid ’70s and her 1976 installation Pendulum. (Gene Schafer happened by and sent this video.) Living in the Staple Street bridge at the time, she (Nares now uses the pronouns she/her) strung a copper ball filled with water from the catwalk that once connected the rooftops of 9 Jay and 69 Hudson and then swung it through the alleyway.

The video is a joy to watch, especially from the Jay Street vantage point, when the ball pops into view — wonderful and whimsical and so evocative of the time with its empty streets, empty lofts, and artists — kids, really — experimenting and playing with sophisticated concepts in the built environment.

“I came to New York in 1974 and came straight to this area,” Nares recalls in the video. “Jay Street and Staple Street, this little area, became sort of an extended studio for me and my friends.” (She notes that she lived in 11 Jay, but I think she must have meant 9 Jay?)

Nares came to the city to be around the artists she admired from afar, with Richard Serra, who lives on Duane Street, chief among them. “I found myself right in the middle of the whole scene,” Nares said. “Richard was a real presence in the neighborhood and my film Pendulum owes quite a lot to him.”

Nares strung the ball — a thin copper casing filled with water — on a steel cable and filmed it from above, from the street and at one point from cameras strapped along the cable. And that was just one of the projects.

“On the weekends it was deserted, there was nobody it seemed between here and 14th Street almost,” Nares recalls. “It was so quiet you could do anything and no one would notice. We felt like this was our street, and it just didn’t seem to require anything more than the desire to do it. It was such an inventive time — there were so many things to do. It was like a playground.”

In 2012, Nares made a wonderful video called “Street,” scored by Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, that recorded the streets of the city and its inhabitants in slo-mo, featuring scenes from Battery Park to Washington Heights. The work was shot from a moving car at extremely high frame-rates per second, which, when played back, slow down ordinary movements to a speed that allows the viewer to perceive very small details. (The video below is just an excerpt; the full film is 60 minutes long.)

“I wanted the film to be about people,” Nares said at the time. “All it needed were magical moments, and there are enough of those happening every moment of any given day.”

Nares has had solo exhibitions at the Metropolitan and a recent career-spanning retrospective at the Milwaukee Art Museum in 2019; her work is included in the collections of the Metropolitan, MoMA and the Whitney. A career-spanning survey of her film and video works were presented in 2008 at Anthology Film Archives and in 2011 at IFC Center. In 2014, Rizzoli published a comprehensive monograph on Nares’ career to date.


1 Comment

  1. OBSESSED with Street! my god, how she captured the essence of the city – the faces of all the people, and behind each face a story…beautiful.