I spent Sunday at Figment on Governors Island. The festival was billed as sort of a mini-Burning Man East; I was curious but wary, fearing it would be less the drug-enhanced bacchanal of the aforementioned desert festival and more like a Renaissance Faire, or what old folks used to call a “happening.” I also feared I’d be subjected to the two words in the English language which fill me with a queasy rage: drum circle. But since it was my last opportunity to spend anytime outdoors before the oppressive heatwave arrived, I chanced it.
My fears were partially confirmed when I was greeted at the ferry slip to by a fey lad on stilts twirling a hula hoop over his head, prancing up and down the long queue and attempting to keep the crowd jolly until the next boat arrived. Also, I was caught in line behind Lady Crazyeyes, dressed in top hat and green tulle. The email I received encouraged people to dress up, but I wasn’t about to don face paint and feathers in this weather. Plus, I didn’t have any drugs. The only thing I was putting on was sunscreen.
After a protracted wait in the heat, where at one point a woman passed out on the sidewalk and was treated by paramedics, the line begin to move onto the slip to board the ferry. At the security checkpoint, where I was holding out my bag for inspection, a nasty little gay and his companion came out of nowhere, pretended to glance at the pamphlets on the table, then cut the line. That didn’t strike me as keeping in the spirit of Figment.
I jostled to the prow of the ferry, only to be sandwiched between a few hyperactive kids and a trio of Wonder Women (well, two girls sort of dressed like Wonder Woman, and one Wonder, er, Dude).
Disembarking, we were greeted by a ringmaster of sorts, also on stilts and with a megaphone, welcoming us to this his utopia. He chastened those of us not in costume, and we were also encouraged to take a photo with the Merlion (don’t ask).
The bulk of Figment was situated in Nolan Park, in the central part of the island. There were installations, including a rocking horse made of metal and old tire treads, along with some games, more hula hoops, and bubbles, naturally. There were teams assembling for a game of “countersquirt”– which sounded like a combination of capture the flag with squirt guns. A DJ collective had set up residence, and a few people had gotten into the spirit of the day, strutting and preening in homemade costumes. The bulk of the attendees, families, were splayed out on picnic blankets, enjoying the warmth and relative tranquility. As I feared, nestled in one corner of the park, was the Society for Creative Anachronism— a medieval re-creation group. They had an arena set up where they demonstrated “medieval heavy combat,” which basically meant dressing in armor and whacking the shit out of each other. While passing a picnic table I was approached to participate in a game.
“What kind of game?”
It was something that involve various “challenges.” I begged off, not wanting to feel challenged, and decided to explore the island. I was already feeling an art attack coming on.
Several of the old houses were open to visitors so I strolled through, then around the perimeter of the island. It’s nice to come to Governors Island for something like Figment, I suppose, but its real appeal is its emptiness, its unsullied, meditative character.
Eventually, I made my way back to the festival, passing the crowd of white kids doing African dance, and plopped down in the shade to listen a jazz band. By this point I was feeling tired and just the slightest bit heat stroke-y, and it was in my best interests to leave the island and Figment behind. Next time, I’ll bring my drugs.