Le Milieu du Monde: The Middle of the World

Multi-media installation on the Bridge Deck of each of three new, Kennedy Class, Staten Island Ferries, New York, NY - 2000-06
Concept and design by Werner Klotz and John Roloff, production and installation by Werner Klotz.

Left: Spirit of America, Kennedy Class Staten Island Ferry - the bridge deck is the uppermost full-length deck.

Middle: Ferry route between Manhattan and Staten Island / route of side scanning sonar image viewed in Sonar Viewing Portal on each of the three ships.

Right: Plan of ferry bridge deck showing artwork elements.

The project in divided into two main spaces:

Sonar Space

Incorporates video of side-scanning sonar of the NY harbor bottom, latitude and longitude data of Manhattan/Staten Island ferry terminals, sound recordings and graphics.

Staten Island World Space

Includes modulated blue light and map/data positioning information placing Staten Island in a global context.

Project Description 2001, updated 2007 by John Roloff

The two main elements of Le Milieu du Monde: The Middle of the World, are the Sonar Space and Staten Island World Space, both located on the Bridge Deck of each of the three new ferries. Within the Sonar Space, is the "Sonar Portal," a circular metal and glass housing inspired by nautical instruments. Viewed within the structure is an animated image of the passage between Manhattan and Staten Island as recorded by a side-scanning sonar system of the harbor’s sea floor. This image would be perceived by the passenger as a daily "mandala" which can also be viewed by a group of people as a shared experience. On either side of the portal are reflective highly polished stainless steel walls etched with the latitude and longitude of the Manhattan and Staten Island Ferry Terminals, compounding the social quality and walk-in instrument-like nature of this transforming experience. The use of side scanning sonar as a visualization system came from the studies and research related to Holocene Terrace and related projects by John Roloff as described in Sea Within the Land: Environmental Bathymetry / Multi-beam/Side-scan Sonar Works/Concepts.
Adjacent to the sonar portal is a large composite image of video stills of water and light reflection;** audio speakers are installed above the seats between the image of the galaxy and the sonar zone. From these speakers are heard different voices reading one of 101 texts come alive for 3 to 5 minutes also at the mid-point of the passage. The readings are selected from literature, log books, and oral histories recounting extraordinary experiences of seafarers from all over the world and from different time periods. A ferry completes the journey back and forth from Manhattan to Staten Island approximately 100 times a week, the system of playing back the reading insures that a different text will be spoken, creating a daily "mantra" for the commuter.

Balancing the sonar, sound and water image elements at the other end of the deck is the Staten Island World Space. Standing over a floor-mounted compass/instrument, the viewer sees a map of the world etched on reflective highly polished stainless steel with the space between Staten Island and Manhattan as its center and the locus of the viewer. Staten Island’s location is prominently indicated in a global context by the map and names written on side panels of other cities that share the same latitude as well as those of the same longitude. Using a similar temporal structure as the sonar and sound elements, a blue light floods this space from above: faintly at first upon leaving shore, reaching maximum intensity of blue and spectral refraction from the etched stainless steel walls at mid-passage, fading again to off upon approaching the opposite shore.

The commission for the Staten Island Ferry artwork was awarded to Werner Klotz and John Roloff by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Percent for Art Program in late 2000. Werner Klotz and John Roloff worked as a collaborative design team to conceptualize, design and develop the project from late-2000 to late-2003, with assistance from George C. Sharpe Inc., NY, the New York City Department of Transportation, Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette WI, Dan Dodt, San Francisco, CA, among numerous others. The production, production oversite and installation of the physical elements of the art work was accomplished by Werner Klotz and selected personnel.

**The video image composition of water and light reflections was originally designed as a Video Wall image for the Saloon deck, one deck below the Bridge deck, and replaces the original concept of an image of the Milky Way as part of the Sonar Space.


Sonar Space; Staten Island World Space; Video Wall Studies/Proposal

Commissioned by the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, Percent for Art Program and the New York City Department of Transportation, New York, NY 2000-06.