Spiders In The Subway I, Fiction Warm-Up Ring


Well, that didn’t work out the way I thought it would.

I started with an art commission and ended up with a blockbuster movie and the title of Spider Lady. Yeah, it was as weird as it sounds.

By now, you’ve seen the movie, or at least the ads, or the stories about the ads. The one that looks like the enormous spider legs climbing around the doors of the subway car? That freaks *me* out, and I was there when they came up with it.

So, I’m writing this to set the record straight, or – as Douglas Adams would have it – at least firmly crooked.

To begin, there was a call for a civic works project in the old Trolley Depot at the Essex Street subway station. In their wisdom, the city’s civic art committee hired a tapestry miniaturist. That would be me. Not a person you would first think of to fill a cavernous space that people can only glimpse for two minutes from 100 yards away. Clearly I had gotten caught in some inter-office dynamics at City Hall.

I think they expected me to cave.

Instead, I got mad.

Shortly after I got the commission, I wrote a journal entry with an expectation that I would follow the process as it happened. [Dark Journal, First Entry]

I got busy. That was the only thing I wrote. So, I’ll start with a quick recap of the project.

Since active subway lines were involved, I had to have a guide from MTA. That turned out to be a huge bonus. During an early inspection of the site, I made a comment about subway cables. The subway Virgil to my aboveground Dante took me to an old storage site that had enormous rolls of subway cables. Well, enormous to me. They came in a huge array of colors.

I knew color. I knew weaving. So what if the scale was not one I was used to? Same concept; different size.

If I hadn’t been so annoyed, I might have gone with a more moderate approach. Instead, I thought, ‘You want big? I’ll give you big.’

I corralled artists who were steel sculptors and welders and muralists. People used to thinking big and dealing with heavy materials.

We wove huge nets of wires back and forth through the space. Each net was woven from a single color. As you looked through one net you could see the colors of the nets behind it. As the subway moved through the station, the angle changed, which changed the colors. We used lights to perk up the dark corners, but not too many. The goal was to provide highlights while leaving space for shifting interplay of the colors.

Turned out pretty damn well, if I do say so myself.

The project got a few minutes on several local new channels. Made some art journals. I got a What Was That interview with Time Out New York. Overall, a moderate success for a civic installation.

Take that City Hall.

After a month, it got shut down, as scheduled. The lights got turned off. I kept trying to make appointments with MTA to take everything down. We never quite got together. Clearing out an unused space wasn’t a big priority for them. I was just as happy to have it stay up, even if you could only see it dimly.

When we turned off our spotlights, the MTA turned their lights back on back on. While the flood lights were strong, they were also along the back wall. Much of the light was blocked by the nets.

You know what a weaving in the shadows looks like? A spider web.

You know what a big weaving in the shadows looks like? A giant spider web.

That’s when the rumors started. Much like alligators in the sewers, only with eight legs and in the subway. The 21C part of your brain saw a pile of wires. The lizard part of your brain said, Spider! Really, really big spider!

Do you know what happens when you leave a big net off by itself in a corner? It collects things. Didn’t help when a homeless person hung a hammock in the center of one of the nets. Boy, did that look like a trapped fly.

It was Halloween. Spiders were at the cultural forefront of the moment. I think half the rumors were spread by people who had fun freaking themselves out. A city tour company start a web site called Webz NYC for people to report spider sightings. Got a surprising amount of traffic.

Halloween came and went.

The rumors died down.

The rumors never went away entirely.

Next week. Making movies.

~~~ curtain ~~~

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