Figment of Imagination

By Mitch

“Figment,” the organization that puts on Figment will tell you, is what Andy Warhol once said he wanted as his epitaph*. Figment, circa 2011, is a free three-day arts fair on Governor’s Island in New York Harbor that gives Burners a bit of vacation from not being in, and non-Burners a taste of, Black Rock City.


While it isn’t an official regional event Figment shares the Burning Man ethos of participatory art. Figment brings the art, fun and games in an urban- and family-friendly way. That is until someone loses a retina in a foam-weapons joust and people scramble looking for it in the rain-soaked grass – and then it becomes outstanding.


Governor’s Island is mostly covered with gothic brick buildings reminiscent of a New England college campus and yellow-aluminum-sided single-family houses that together give it a military-base-cum-insane-asylum feel. There were hundreds of exhibitions, big and small, some outdoor sculptures, food vendors (there’s no water otherwise available on the island). As part of the Coast Guard’s departure most of it was turned over to New York State in 2003, and the place can’t be used for housing or even casinos. It is open from late May to late September on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holidays during the day and free to visit. The island hosts other events, but Figment seems like the main draw for Burners and offspring.

Precipitation dampened the event, metaphorically as well as climatically. Governor’s Island is a 10-minute ferry ride from Manhattan, and it is a big place, 172 acres. Die-hard bicyclists could bring their wheels, and there are allegedly rentals, but that’s the only form of transportation other than walking and wheelchairs. Like in Black Rock City, none of those modes were fun in the rain at Figment.

Because of the weather on Saturday, the middle day of the June 10-12 event, indoor and covered exhibits were often the most enjoyed. There was a sculpture house that was especially inviting, with its newly refinished floors and crumbling walls giving it a 1980s gallery feel. Artworks included the colorful “Slice of Life,” whimsical “Spiral Cuttle Cutter,” The building was run by the Sculptors Guild and the displays are available until Sept. 25.

Back in soggy Figment proper, one of the most interesting areas for Burners was the Tree of Heaven. This is one of the regional effigies that will encircle the Man this year It’s a tree on a map of New York surrounded by sculptures of the city’s bridges.

Figment, which is volunteer-run and donation-funded, is spreading its wings. This year it had events in Jackson, Mississippi, Boston (for the second time), and Detroit gets one in August}.

Nearly 20,000 people attended the New York event over three days, according to David Koren, executive producer of the event. There were about 400 art projects of various sizes in many disciplines. The Boston event had about 10,000 participants and 100 projects, he said, while Jackson (with a population one fiftieth of New York) had a respectable showing of 1,237.

*He didn’t get his wish, just a standard tombstone“.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *