Tatzu Nishi’s “Rediscovering Columbus”
Enclosed inside a 6th floor walk-up designed in Art Deco decor, Christopher Columbus sure got himself a swanky studio apartment in Midtown Manhattan’s Columbus Circle neighborhood. Designed by Gaetano Russo, the statue was erected as part of New York’s 1892 commemoration of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas. The monument itself consists of a marble statue of Columbus atop a 70-foot granite rostral column, with Russo’s intent being to depict Columbus situated on his monumental ships’ Masthead singlehandedly discovering America.
The apartment itself is Art Deco 1950’s Chic. Able to lounge on suede couches, or sit idle in low-riding leather chairs, enveloped within low-lit lamps surrounded by child-like wallpaper adorned with iconic characters idolizing America’s recent pastime, one is anachronistically invited to sit amongst Americana splendor. Upholding this solid American foundation to the 1950s are the many books that align the small bookcase in the corner of the room, including Modern Masters like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, along with pop-histories on the Civil War and Baseball. Nishi re-presents Americana to the people, a time of post-war suburban flight, doo-wop tunes and poodle skirts, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and steadfast American individualism. However lovely it is to imagine a simpler time cruising your Chrysler around town as if living a scene strait from George Lucas’ “American Grafitti,” these pastime memories fall flat from nostalgia to pastiche when viewers are too young (or too technologically narcissistic) to remember such times. With lives so far removed from concrete Post-WWII “Baby-Boomer” pastime circumstances, present memories of the hyper Tech-Savvy Internet generation fall short of any real-world connotations, resulting in a nostalgia that becomes nothing more than false consciousness imbued with fictional symbolism.
Incongruous with the profound alliance to a 1950’s America, Nishi scatters current news periodicals throughout the apartment, including a television streaming live feed from CNN. The inclusion of high-profile periodicals is an interesting commentary on the meta-history Nishi creates in Columbus’ apartment; within the apartment, black and white birds-eye view period photographs of Columbus Circle adorn the walls and satirically, as one exits the apartment, two photographs, one of the Statue of Liberty and the other of Lower Manhattan both taken from the perspective of a passenger on a ship, hang on the wall—all mimicking Columbus’ many perspectives of New York City. With news, documentation photography and mass media broadcasting to name a few of the many contemporary outlets of informative communication that shapes societal consciousness, Nishi eloquently comments on how one view is never enough and bias is just as much a part of objective news as truth.
We are offered a never before seen glimpse of the Authoritative Explorer Columbus brazen against his masthead, taking his first glimpse of the newfound discovered continent. As adults, we all understand the story of Columbus, with his discoveries leading to Spanish colonization of the Americas. Taken from his Ivory Tower, one is able to put into question the foundational motives of the United States: at once under siege to outside foreign domination (first Spain, then Britain), our coming-of-age into the United States we know today only appropriated the same tactics of Renaissance authoritarianism. Perpetuation of individual gratification grounded in Post-War isolationism and moralizing McCarthyism foundational to American identity was never shaken from contemporary United States society, and Americana itself, however flat of a tangible connection to history (and rightfully so in the age of technological simulacra), is just as much apart of lives today as it ever was during its reign in the 1950s.