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The Secret Life of Long Pond Greenbelt

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Two deer fighting in Long Pond Greenbelt. Photo by Jill Musnicki.

By Mara Certic

After a burglar repeatedly tried to break into her parents’ home, Jill Musnicki and her husband had the idea to install motion-sensitive cameras around the property to try to catch the crook red-handed. The police ended up catching the pilferer without the help of the cameras, but the security system she had set up inspired Ms. Musnicki to embark on an artistic investigation of her own.

“As I watched what images came out, I thought it would be neat to use them in an artistic way,” she said. As part of the Parrish Art Museum’s road show in 2012, Ms. Musnicki installed game cameras from Water Mill to Montauk to shoot pictures of unsuspecting creatures as they moved past.

The artist, who is a fourth generation East End resident, wanted to show the lives of the animals who continue to live among us, in spite of all the development that has depleted their natural habitats. The show was called “What Comes Around,” and provided a fascinating glimpse into what animals do when undisturbed by humans.

This Friday, June 27, at the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton, Ms. Musnicki will present “What Comes Around II,” which will show the secret behavior of the animals who live in the 1,100 acres of Long Pond Greenbelt.

According to Ms. Musnicki, the cameras she installed throughout the area—which stretches from Sagaponack to Sag Harbor—are typically used by hunters to “track where the action’s going on.”

The artist, however, uses them to catch glimpses of foxes, osprey and endless deer interacting, uninterrupted by the hustle and bustle of humanity. The cameras take still pictures whenever something moves in front of them, Ms. Musnicki explained. She then collected them and has spent hours whittling down the series of images from 100,000 to 5,000.

“I put myself in the zone, sit in front of the computer, scroll through thousands of pictures,” she said. The process, she said, is hugely time consuming: “It definitely takes me away from my painting in the studio,” said the artist who is primarily known for her work in that medium.

After whittling out the photos triggered by a leaf or a twig blowing in front of the camera, Ms. Musnicki enters them into a film editing software in which she, with help, edits the pictures together, speeds up the process and creates a stop-motion film of the undisturbed animal kingdom. “It’s a little tiny pocket of animal life,” she said.

A large part of the artistic process is in the presentation of her hidden cameras’ shots.

Ms. Musnicki’s edits become a “fast little film,” adding an interesting artistic element to the project. The same film will be projected onto two giant screens at the Museum Barn at SOFO. The films will be screened in a round, if you will, with one starting five minutes after the first. “The more screens I have the more dynamic it becomes,” she said.

The Long Pond Greenbelt cameras have captured pictures of “lots of creatures,” Ms. Musnicki said. The nine-month span of this project has allowed Ms. Musnicki to document baby foxes growing up. “There’s a little log that a turtle jumped off of,” she added. The artist’s house faces part of the reserve. “I particularly love the [camera] across the street from me, so much stuff happens there,” she said, citing a brawl that she captured between two deer locking horns.

The project, she added, “involves people in every step of the process. When it comes to show it, I definitely feed off of people. I need help, I get help, people like to help, and so it turns into a nice collaboration,” she said.

Each project is very different, she said. The friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt “know where to go, and that was fun for me, to learn a few places that I didn’t know of.” Ms. Musnicki has also been working in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy on a similar project at the Warhol Estate in Montauk, thanks to grants from the conservancy and Warhol Foundation.

A preview of the Montauk project will be shown on five different screens the next day on Saturday, June 28, at the Nature Conservancy’s Beaches and Bays Gala at the Center for Conservation in East Hampton.

The final Warhol project, which has been in the works for a year, will be shown at a later date and will be the artist’s most dynamic and detailed view into our animal neighbors and “a life of their own in the middle of all of us,” she said.

What Comes Around II will be shown on Friday, June 27, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the South Fork Natural History Museum Art Barn, located at 377 Bridgehampton-Sag Harbor Turnpike in Bridgehampton. A preview of the Warhol project will be shown at the Beaches & Bays Gala on Saturday, June 28, which will take place at the Center for Conservation on Route 114 in East Hampton.









Capturing Scenes Unseen


By Joan Baum

It may not have been what she intended, but when Sag Harbor artist Jill Musnicki took the old expression “what goes around comes around” and called her innovative installation “what comes around,” she was significantly shifting the meaning.

The original saying suggests that whatever the cycle, the end will return to the beginning. It can also mean that there are always consequences for one’s actions. In truncating the adage, the artist focused on chance, not inevitability.

Who knew what would appear before the digital cameras she set up (five of them) in remote East End areas, from Bridgehampton to Montauk, day and night, from May to August, ready to capture wildlife? But she was an artist, open to risk and eager to bring nature into the creative process — animals and birds, undisturbed by the presence of humans, going about their ordinary lives;  deer, mice, raccoons, foxes, opossums wandering in and out of close ups, caught in poses they would otherwise never provide.

“Normally I’m a painter,” she says, “and still am, but this idea had been brewing in my head for some time and The Parrish Road Show offered an opportunity to realize it.”

The Road Show, so named because the museum is still under construction and many exhibitions must take place in other venues, says Parrish Program director Andrea Grover, is part of “several recent dynamic initiatives” designed “to expand the parameters of what the Parrish does, to broaden the traditional understanding of the function of an art museum”; to exemplify the museum’s “mission” to exhibit artists living on The East End,” and engage them and the community “in the co-creation of events.”

The show was  “specifically envisioned, she adds, “as a way to move our loyal audience (psychologically and physically) toward our new facility in Water Mill, and the future.” Ms. Musnicki was one of four artists commissioned who were eager to work “in uncommon ways and in unpredictable environments. “

As a fourth-generation East End resident whose family emigrated from Poland in the early 20th century and established potato farms in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, Musnicki says she was able to choose venues that were relatively unknown to visitors or recent homeowners. She had used the cameras “for another purpose a couple years ago and saw some potential for an art piece, so I had some ideas that came to fruition when The Parrish asked me to be a part of The Road Show.”

She originally thought of the project “as a nostalgia piece. I took the cameras to places that I had a youthful connection to, and in particular, places that were miraculously unchanged since I was a child. I got very excited by the moments captured and started to extend the boundaries of the project.”

She wanted to capture what goes on in some of the very few undeveloped land areas around here. . . “we used to play all over that land, then it became more built up — less land , less access to the unused land, and I wanted to know what was happening.”

She was astonished, she says, not just at what the camera revealed but how: “Because of the way the camera operates, the images unexpectedly became sequential and animated when played in fast succession, like stop motion film. Watching the images download, I was always surprised by what subjects were captured. Sometimes there were just 100 images, and other times, tens of thousands. I never knew what would be found.”

She describes the results, as an “immersive installation,” a look at “the natural and built environment of the East End through the lens of strategically placed, motion-activated surveillance cameras. Placed in uncultivated landscapes, the cameras document the normally unseen passages of wildlife and human life, and their intersecting activities.”

Since she began shooting, she has accumulated 150,000 images, leaving cameras in place for a week before moving them. Sometimes, the yield is zero, as when she once found herself looking at a blade of grass that got in the way, but as the title says, you never know “what comes around.”

What prompted the idea in the first place? The answer provokes a laugh. It seems there was a burglar in her area — a family member as well as neighbors had been victimized — and so the suggestion arose to set up a tracking camera. Independent of that idea, the perpetrator was caught, but artistic possibilities took hold. Oh! would that albino deer come back, all white with brown spots, but he seems to have made just one visit.

Other participating artists in The Road Show are: Maziar Behrooz, an award-winning architect, who offered “free guided meditation sessions, led by celebrated Dharma teacher Kelly Morris, within a modified container he constructed, the RDMU (Rapid Deployment Meditation Unit”; Jameson Ellis (Ms. Musnicki’s husband) who exhibited “hybrid micro manufactured designs that linked functionality and aesthetics;” and  Alice Hope, who works with metal and steel, explored ways of  working with these materials according to “principles of magnetism” (her project  runs through August 31).

“What Comes Around” runs Friday August 17, 6:30 -8:30 p.m., and Saturday, August 18, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m. in the Engine Barn at the Bridgehampton Historical Society’s Corwith Avenue location. Three versions of the project are on exhibit: a short film clip, individual large scale prints from a book Musnicki’s just completed on the project and the installation itself, “a three-screen video projection with thousands of rapid-cycling images.”