An Island Oasis in an Urban World

Michael Hogan

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When we think of “the islands” we think of the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, the South Pacific. We picture sandy beaches, blazing sunshine and palm trees. Well, we haven’t got the palm trees or the jet set appeal, but we’ve got some islands and the fun and excitement that come along with them.

Made up of 34 islands and peninsulas, the Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area is a local jewel for the outdoor enthusiast that few people know exists. Fine, so you don’t sit around with a rum-filled coconut while cabana boys fan you with banana leaves. The Boston Harbor Islands experience is a different one than we are used to, but it can be thrilling nonetheless.

This summer, and lasting until Oct. 8, the Institute of Contemporary Art is hosting a self-explanatory exhibition called “Art on the Harbor Islands.” From performance art, to audio installations, to drawing, to sculpture, there is a wide array of imaginative talent on the islands.

Core Sample

A marina, a lifeguarded beach and five miles of hiking trails. This is what Spectacle Island has become. Once home to casinos and hotels, the island, more recently the site of landfill, has been reclaimed with the help of fill from The Big Dig. Now Spectacle offers something for everyone, from kite flying, to musical performances, to a 157-foot hill that offers spectacular views of the Boston skyline. Artist Teri Raub has installed “Core Sample,” an audible art piece, on the island. With the help of GPS-enabled headphones, visitors walk leisurely around the island and are treated to an array of different sounds and stories that are meant to highlight the islands many past uses. As you walk the hiking trails, the smell of wildflowers in the air combines with the sounds of bees and dripping faucets as well as stories from former residents depending on the area in which you are standing.


Georges Island, home to civil war era Fort Warren, is the home of “Voromuro,” a sculptural work by the design team of Monica Ponce de Leon and Nader Tehrani of Office dA. A waving, twisting, and undulating form, “Voromuro” is made with hundreds of translucent “boulders.” Occupying much of the interior of the forts powder magazine, the dancing mass plays off the solidity of the stone masonry found throughout the fort as well as the ever changing, always moving nature of the ocean that surrounds it. The fort itself is enough of a draw on its own. Visitors are welcome to explore much of the still intact garrison, delving into the darkness of its many hidden rooms and stairwells. Also, a number of lookout towers offer great views of the Boston skyline as well as the other islands in the system.

The Water Cycle

The work of artist Ernesto Pujol takes visitors on a journey to another time and place. “The Water Cycle” is a performance art piece that brings guests on a trip through many of the islands in the system. Pujol becomes a fictional character known as the “Water Carrier.” On four separate trips throughout the summer the “Water Carrier” will make his way to four separate islands where he will gather ocean water in hand blown vessels and return them to the ICA where they will be placed in an ongoing sculptural piece at the museum. Visitors are welcome, and encouraged, to join him on these odysseys. The final trip of the exhibition will take place on Sept. 22 and will head out to Little Brewster Island. Little Brewster Island is the home of Boston Light, the oldest continuously operated lighthouse in America.


The ruins of Fort Standish have become overgrown and wild, an example of Mother Nature taking back the land. Lovells Island is a mixture of natural beauty and man made rigidity. Housed inside a yurt, much like one in which she lived in last summer, visitors can find Anna Schuleit’s “Waterside,” an exhibition which allows the viewer an inside look at the artistic process. “Waterside” features models, drawings, and sketches of two yet to be realized site specific projects. In “Intertidal,” Schuleit placed 10 foot mirrored surfaces in the islands intertidal zones. The mirrors would reflect everything around them, the sky, the ocean, the people, and the growing vegetation as it overtakes the remains of the fort. “Sightlines” would consist of four large-scale works etched on rare glass that would be situated on the forts gun emplacements, the images changing along with the natural light of day. “Waterside” will only be on display on Lovells Island until Sept. 3.

Art lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike will find something on the islands this summer. Hiking, swimming, exploration, it’s all there. There is plenty to do and lots to see and it’s all only a few moments away by ferry. So, should you find yourself looking for something to do this weekend, or you get a hankering to crawl through some dark, dank passageways, jump on the ferry and make your way out to the Boston Harbor Islands Recreation Area. Take advantage of the good weather while it lasts and do a little local island hopping.