BUMP at Basilica Hudson
By Lisa Green
Try this, and see what happens: Touch a dinosaur skeleton in the American Museum of Natural History. You might not get arrested, but you’d have security all over you faster than you can say Tyrannosaurus rex.
So maybe don’t. But next week, at Basilica Hudson, you will be encouraged to put your hands all over the bones of three massive marine mammals in a whale-sized interactive exhibition called BUMP. You won’t recognize the anatomy of the whales — the bones will be configured in an abstract way — but really, how many other present-day animals would have bones this big?
The hands-on whale exhibit is the brainchild of Frank and Dan DenDanto, brothers who grew up in the Hudson Valley. Dan is a biologist and whale researcher in Maine, and Frank is a set and lighting designer in Bloomingburg, New York. Back in 2008, Dan was working on a whale installation at the Nantucket Historical Society and called in the services of Frank, who had experience with rigging. The image of the skeleton swinging in the wind left an impression on Frank, and later, when he saw a pile of animals (that’s what people in the business call skeletons) in Dan’s backyard, he suggested creating a mobile. A really big one.
And so the project – not necessarily a biology exhibit, but an arts one – was installed at the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Maine School of Arts in Portland, where Frank was formerly a light designer. After a highly successful installation there (called “visually stunning” by the college), the bones needed to migrate to a new space.
“I’ve been trying to do a whale project in Hudson since 2008,” says Frank. “I was working with StageWorks/Hudson and interested in the historical significance of whales in the community.” They contacted Melissa Auf der Maur, founder and creative director of Basilica Hudson, about bringing the skeletons down to the Basilica’s cavernous space. They couldn’t have found a better partner in terms of mission and artistic goals.
Auf der Maur picks up the story. “Last year we exhibited a lifesize glow-in-the-dark replica of a whale skeleton. Since then, it’s been my passion to have an annual exhibit to honor the whaling history,” she says. “Luckily, we read all the inquiries that come in to our general mailbox. When the DenDanto’s proposal came in, I was interested right away.”
Basilica Hudson. Photo by Matt Charland.
It’s an obvious fit. Basilica Hudson has huge spaces to fill, and endeavors to program out-of-the-ordinary experiences. BUMP offers the only whale skeleton in the public arena you can touch — at least in this country. And this one is a reflection of the “epic and eclectic history of Hudson,” Auf der Maur explains. Basilica Hudson itself is built on a landfill that was the historic port. “BUMP allows us to look at part of Hudson’s history through a contemporary reality,” she says.
The bones will be suspended at eye level in Basilica’s Main Hall. Once the bones are touched, they are set in motion, causing shadows to dance around the space. Adding to the atmosphere will be the soundscape, a combination of oceanic noise, overlaid on top of whale “songs.”
Black Sea Hotel. Photo by Jim Roberts.
The DenDantos will be present at the opening reception on August 23. A closing party on August 29 will feature music performances curated by Lea Bertucci, an interdisciplinary artist who works with sound installations, and will include Black Sea Hotel — an a capella Balkan women’s trio whose breathy harmonies have a similarly haunting quality to the whale music in the exhibit — plus Charlie Looker and Patrick Higgins.
“BUMP gives us an opportunity to reflect the history that made this building and this town,” says Auf der Maur. No doubt, it will be an immersive experience involving sight, sound and touch — and wonder.