"In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree :
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea."
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge
I've spent the last 2 years studying the New Jersey Meadowlands as a source of inspiration for a body of new pantings. The idea was to take the Man vs. Nature theme, which has been a central part of my urban landscape paintings, and see how it applies in this notorious swampland. My goal was to find evidence of Mankind's folly in this once pristine wetland.
It was my belief that The Meadowlands were so inhospitable, so treacherous, and so challenging for any type of engineering project that even the most ambitions feats would not be able to completely develop the region. This would be ironic, I believed, since it lies so close to what I consider to be commercial culture's high holy ground: New York City. While I certainly have seen quite a few brutal battlegrounds in the area between Nature and Man, nothing I have seen yet has indicated that industrial civilization would be prevented from eventually turning the once beautiful aquatic landscape into a giant multi-purpose mixed retail/residential/industrial complex.
There is conceivably enough dirt in the world to fill in the entire swamp, so I suppose my romantic vision of Mother Nature rising up and beating back the evil developers seeking to exploit the commercial potential from what used to be a pristine wilderness is just horseshit. But there does seem to be some kind of evil presence in the place. Perhaps its the ghost of JImmy Hoffa? Maybe not, but something about the folklore and the bad reputation of the "Jersey Meadows" as the old-timers call it, can't be shaken. The Meadowlands' distinction as being a vast urban sewer and garbage dump tainted a fair share of development projects and sent many investors heading for the high ground in its day.
According to an article in NJ.com, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls this place the "ugliest damn building in New Jersey and maybe America." This project, begun in 2004 as a massive retail and entertainment complex, was to feature such attractions as an indoor ski slope, skydiving simulator, vertical wind tunnel and indoor ferris wheel, just to name a few. The project has gone through a handful of owners and interested parties, none of whom seem capable of actually completing and opening the place, and cash flow has at times interrupted by more than one financial impropriety. Thus, Xanadu remains unfinished and unoccupied, although new investors and interest from Governor Christie seem to have given the complex a glimmer of hope.
By sheer common sense, it appears that Xanadu is doomed to fail. Why build a giant indoor mall that's only a few minutes from New York City? Why build an indoor ski slope when real ski slopes are only an hour away? Have transpiration issues and environmental impact been seriously considered? Does northern New Jersey really, honestly, truly need ANOTHER mall? I was told once by a reputable authority on the subject that The Meadowlands are where dreams go to die. In the coming years we'll see if Xanadu will suffer that fate.
One more question: could the "sunless sea" in this case mean Newark Bay? I'm just saying.