Sunday, November 02, 2008

The Earth Room (SoHo)

Amidst a busy shopping trip to SoHo on Saturday, I dragged my two girlfriends just a block off crazy-crowded Prince Street to a slightly less-teaming, but still swanky and commercial section of Wooster Street. I thought I had the address, but wasn't feeling so confident about finding the place, so I asked a few shopkeepers if they knew where The Earth Room is. "Huh?" their blank stares said back to me. I started to get worried when I inquired with the store directly below The Earth Room and still had not received a trace of confirmation that I was not, in fact, nuts.

My two friends already know I'm a bit odd, so they weren't actually that surprised when we arrived at the nondescript gray door to the right in this image. On the building directory, amidst the Joneses in 6A and the Levys in 3B, we found the listing for "Earth Room- 2B." SUCCESS!!! We buzzed and were let in. As we walked up a narrow staircase, the air got cooler and the smell of dirt became stronger. You can imagine how much crap my friends were giving me as we ascended the stairs. They were loving it, though: "We came all the way from rural Binghamton to NYC to see . . . dirt? Wait until we tell the other girls where you took us!"

Just when I thought I'd seen the most random things possible in NYC- I mean, I have dug DEEP: under bridges, through abandoned ship yards, out to islands- I find THIS.

And THIS, my friends, is The Earth Room. It is essentially 22 inches of dirt plopped into a 3,600 square foot loft space on the second floor of a residential building. But not just some dumpy building: A unit upstairs is selling for $2,650,000. I wonder if the neighbors despise having this freaky thing in their building, or love it because it doesn't throw loud parties?

You still aren't getting this, because it makes no sense. WHAT is The Earth Room? I guess it would technically be called art. It was installed in 1977- that's right, this dirt carpet has been there for over 30 years! - in a long-gone gallery. It was supposed to be up for just 3 months, but the gallery owner decided not to dismantle it, custodianship has been passed off, and here it still sits. The artist did two other similar installations- both in Germany- but this is the only one remaining.

We didn't pause long, actually. There's only so long you can stand in a darkened room full of white walls and dirt. So I went over to talk to the attendant. "After hours, do you ever go in there and roll around in the dirt?" Turns out, he actually tends to the dirt. That's right - cares for the dirt. Each week he waters it and plows it under or something (I don't know the terms, here, as I'm a city girl.) He said something about it being unadulterated earth - free of outside forces and the elements.

The smart-ass in me quickly asked, "What if I came in with a handful of birdseed and threw it on there? What then, huh?" "It's already been done." Wait, I thought this dirt was pristine? At least, as pristine as something that is thousands of years old can be (dirt IS ancient, by definition, right? Or am I being really ignorant here?)

I don't know. I can't find out much about this Earth Room. Except that, with all those thousands and thousands of shoppers passing by outside every day, it only gets about 30 visitors a day. Which is kind of a bummer because I bet there are a ton of NYC kids who have never seen such a vast amount of fresh earth, even if they can't touch it!

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