Peering out from the observation deck of the World Trade Center’s south tower was unlike anything else in New York City. There, some 1,300 feet in the sky, the entire length of Manhattan stretched out before you, flanked by the East and Hudson rivers, the Statue of Liberty looking like a distant toy soldier. Dutch artist William Verstraeten wants to recreate that view from the tower—or rather, the tower’s ghost—in a giant art installation. The effect would be something like walking on air.
Verstraeten has proposed building a 45-foot-by-80-foot dome frescoed in high-resolution panoramic photographs that’ve been snapped from the vantage point of the old observation deck. A mirrored floor would reflect the panorama, laying out a bird’s-eye view of the city like a carpet under your feet. Step across the floor, and you’d have the sensation of floating above the felled towers, the footprints a dizzying 1,300 feet beneath you. Verstraeten calls it the Twin Towers IGIRAMA—derived from Greek terms for "earth" and "sight."
Verstraeten lives and works in Middelburg, a small, flat city in the southern Netherlands. The dome concept sprung to mind after he climbed to the region’s highest point—a coal-plant chimney hard by a nuclear facility. "Standing on top of it on a clear day you can see 30 miles in any direction," he says. "Five years ago, I stood on top of that chimney. What I noticed was that, however high I climbed, the horizon stayed at eye-level. Standing on top of it and looking down from the horizon to the foot of the chimney the world looks like a gigantic bowl. …It gave me the feeling of being in the center of the world. And as an artist, I like being in the center of the world."
By his own admission, the industrial fields of the southern Netherlands don’t make for the most fascinating views on earth. So he started thinking about other, more compelling places he could represent as a "gigantic bowl." A friend mentioned New York. "The idea burst in my mind like light in a diamond," Verstraeten says. "One of the most famous and emotionally charged panoramas of the world was the view from the south tower’s observation deck of the WTC. Millions of people have stood there and had this ‘wow’ experience of being on top of the world. With the IGIRAMA I could re-create this panorama and give it back to the world."
Verstraeten wants to erect the IGIRAMA in the forthcoming National September 11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero. As he tells it, he showed plans to Jan Ramirez, chief curator and director of collections, the same day that news broke of the killing of Osama bin Laden. "My general impression is that Ms. Ramirez finds the proposed work very interesting," Verstraeten says. "During the meeting I [learned] that in the enormous Foundation Hall only the last column would be placed in the center, leaving the rest of the space empty. So leaving room for the IGIRAMA."
Later, though, he received word from both Ramirez and museum director Alice Greenwald that they had rejected the IGIRAMA because it doesn’t tie in to the museum’s mission, which skews toward showcasing historical artifacts, not art. Instead, the museum has asked that Verstraeten’s proposal be submitted to an online gallery and archive of artwork created in response to 9/11. The gallery features both amateur and professional pieces.
Verstraeten is still hopeful that the dome will be built somewhere in or around lower Manhattan. "The view from the Twin Towers was a view that belonged to everyone in the world," he says. "The IGIRAMA creates a tangible sense of the memories and the emotions of all those who visited the observation deck, and creates a lasting impression for those who would have gone." As a memorial, it also taps into powerful, if somewhat disturbing, feelings that the existing Ground Zero memorial does not: It summons that post-9/11 sense of dizziness and anxiety, as if we were all about to plunge from a very great height.
[Images courtesy of William Verstraeten]