At pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park you can see a giant red neon sign stand out against the Manhattan skyline. The word Understanding is spelled out with 10-foot tall letters mounted on a rotating steel beam, a work by British artist Martin Creed.
With Downtown Manhattan as a dramatic backdrop it’s easy to put the artwork in association with life in the city. The very word Understanding can be seen as a commentary to the city’s inhospitable, commercial and often hard environment as well as the amount of people with different backgrounds and life situations that inhabit the city. In New York it’s easy to get caught up in a hectic and often self-centered life and forget one of the most fundamental things in our relationship with others: to try to understand one another.
The artwork isn’t just a commentary but also a place. The rotating sign is mounted on a stepped platform where people can sit and talk. Thus Creed’s work isn’t just a call to understand each other, but a social room where understanding is taking place in the shape of communication between people.
With the perspective from Brooklyn Bridge Park it’s easy to put the artwork in relation to the skyscrapers in the background and the capitalism they represent. But what does someone from the other side of East River see when they look at Creed’s work? What interpretation would someone do that sees the artwork from an office in the Financial District based on both their geographical and societal viewpoint? The fact that Martin Creed makes us consider this, makes us try to understand someone else’s perspective, is quite remarkable. Especially in a city like New York.