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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Water (Upper New York Bay) by Lee Arnold

OBJECT: Currents

BODY OF WATER: Upper New York Bay

Twenty polaroid images taken from Governors Island (26″x18″, 2010)

Twenty polaroid images taken from Governors Island (26″x18″, 2010)

Artist Statement

 Water (Upper New York Bay) consists of twenty Polaroid images taken while I was in residence on Governors Island between August and December, 2010. During my time on the island I became fascinated by the changing currents and tides of the waterways surrounding New York City. I wondered how much the constantly shifting salinity levels of the water at the meeting place of the Atlantic and the Hudson affected the character, and more specifically the color, of the water. Inspired by Goethe’s scientifically incorrect exploration of the nature of light and color, this work is an attempt to capture what the water feels like. I was also interested in what was left out of the frame. There are no images of the major sights a few degrees away: the towering architecture of lower Manhattan; the Brooklyn, Manhattan, Williamsburg, Verazano and Goethals bridges; the Statue of Liberty; the shore lines of Brooklyn, Staten Island and New Jersey; and the constant boat traffic carried along by the currents.


Lee Arnold was born in London in 1972 and lives in Brooklyn. In his work he explores the nature of time and perception through drawing, photography, film, video, animation and sound. He has exhibited in the U.S. and abroad at such places as the DUMBO Art Center in Brooklyn, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, the Bridge Art Fair in Miami, SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles and the Berlinisch Galerie in Berlin. In 2010 he received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Visit his website at http://leearnold.net.