Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermin (also known as Meta Local Collaborative) are Bronx based artists who continue to transform our understanding of New York’s largest public space: its streets. They explore the histories of neighborhoods, create site-specific participatory work, engage a broad range of people, and work collaboratively across disciplines. In this episode, we have a conversation about work, about crossing between disciplines, how bicycling is an art form, using history as a jumping off point for deep dialogue, and the kinds of moments that can turn your life in a direction you never saw coming.
Meta Local is the collaborative practice of Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermin. Our work investigates the dynamics of urban spaces; exploring the histories of buildings and neighborhoods, and tracing the flows of people, ideas and products. Combining documentary strategies with performance and fine art, we articulate concepts of origin, and the sense of place. Meta Local develops site-specific, participatory works that refer to the complexity of our community in the South Bronx and beyond. We observe, analyze, and dissect the social, cultural and economic structures of our neighborhood, as well as the design and organization of buildings and spaces, and use the information gathered to develop questions that serve as a foundation for our projects.
By actively engaging a broad range of people and working collaboratively across disciplines, Meta Local challenges the existing hierarchies, inclusions, and exclusions that characterize “participation” in the larger democracy of New York City. Projects are entirely site specific, and are developed collaboratively with a variety of stakeholders including community organizations, neighbors and visitors in different capacities.
A Necessary SHIFT is an exhibition and series of events that celebrates and highlights EFA’s Residency for Arts-Workers as Artists, now entering its fourth year. With the launch of this exhibition, we launch the official name for the residency: SHIFT residency, and highlight the activities and progress of the artists who have been selected to participate since 2010.
SHIFT residency begins to recognize and nourish the particular art-world subset of artists who work for arts organizations, offering New York City based artist/arts workers a catalytic opportunity for artistic development and experimentation through space, time, counseling, and community, while thinking about how their dual roles support each other. From an intensive studio session in August, to a year of follow up meetings, residents are encouraged to reflect on their art practice and arts professionals career as a symbiotic, balanced system. Each individual brings administrative resources, artistic skills, personal struggles and victories to the experience. With each different group, underlying themes reoccur and evolve through the framework of shared knowledge and passion for the art community as seen from both the front and backend.
Past and present residents were invited to propose projects for A Necessary SHIFT that were produced during their residency year or inspired by their experience. A number of collaborations have emerged from this process. The exhibition covers the spectrum of painting, sculpture, video work, and performance. Exhibition-related events take the form of screenings, performances, bike- tours, and discussions that further demonstrate the complex challenges faced, unique rewards, and essential roles these artist/arts workers play in the arts community.
Participating Artists: Sean Carroll, Paul Clay, Jonathan Durham, Francis Estrada, Chantel Foretich, Howard Halle, Elizabeth Hamby, Amber Hawk Swanson, Felicity Hogan, Gisela Insuaste, Jamie Kim, Theresa Marchetta, Naomi Miller, Karen Ostrom, Douglas Paulson, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, Sebastien Sanz de Santamaria, Ellen Uzane Schneiderman, Roddy Schrock, Todd Shalom, Carolyn Sickles, Chad Stayrook, Rachel Vera Steinberg, David Terry, Sarah Walko, and Beatrice Wolert
Affiliated organizations include: Abrons Art Center, Artists Alliance Inc., Bronx River Arts Center, Bronx Museum of the Arts, Children’s Museum of Manhattan, CUE Art Foundation, Elastic City, Eyebeam Center for Art + Technology, Flux Factory, FreeDimensional, Henry Street Settlement, International Center for Photography, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Metropolitan Opera, Museum of Arts & Design, Museum of the City of New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York Foundation for the Arts, NURTUREart, Residency Unlimited, Time Out New York, Triangle Art Association, Vera List Center for Art + Politics at The New School, and Wave Hill
November 15, 2013, 6:00pm Opening Reception for A Necessary SHIFT
Bronx, NY, January, 2013—Bronx River Art Center (BRAC) is proud to announce Process and Progress: Drew Manahan, Meta Local Collaborative & The Bronx River Alliance. This is the third in the series of five exhibitions that invites artists and architects to engage with systems of urban development in the Bronx and beyond. Process and Progress is presented in BRAC’s temporary gallery space in Mott Haven while our permanent facility in West Farms is undergoing renovation.
The exhibition series, Process and Progress: Engaging in Community Change, highlights the Bronx River Art Center’s development during a time of significant structural and cultural change in the borough. BRAC’s major building renovation project, now underway, is leading the way for more environmentally sustainable and technologically advanced designs within our local West Farms Community. At the same time, the surrounding area has become home to new and imminent urban development projects that will dramatically impact the built environment, social fabric, and cultural composition of our local community.
Process and Progress: Drew Manahan, Meta Local Collaborative & The Bronx River Alliancefocuses on the past, the present and the future of the Bronx River. Architect Drew Manahan explores how the wilderness around the river has resurfaced within the South Bronx’s urban environment through renderings and drawings and how this evolving ecology and the river is creating new ephemeral or transcendental experiences for the borough’s dwellers.
In partnership with the Bronx River Alliance, Meta Local Collaborative has curated a selection of photos, plans, maps, ephemera from the Alliance’s archives. They trace how spaces along the river has changed throughout the years, revisit past restoration and recreation plans, and consider the river’s present state and plans for its future. In addition, Meta Local is showcasing work they are developing focused on public access to the Bronx River Greenway.
Artists and Partners:
Andrew Manahan is an Eagle Scout from Northwest Ohio who received his Bachelors of Science in Architecture from the University of Cincinnati and his Masters of Architecture from the Cranbrook Academy of Art. His vision is to create architectural and cultural policy through an opportunistic and proactive practice. He completed his first building just this past year through a mixture of contemporary and digital fabrication techniques and traditional woodwork and handcraft, featured in Metropolis magazine. Andrew has become increasingly interested in the reemergence of wilderness and nature in highly populated or recently vacated urban areas, and is interested in crafting a relationship between culture architecture and wilderness.
Meta Local Collaborative is the practice of Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermin. Their work investigates the dynamics of urban spaces, exploring the histories of buildings and neighborhoods, and tracing the flows of people, ideas and products. Combining documentary strategies with performance and fine art, they articulate concepts of origin, and the sense of place. Meta Local develops site-specific, participatory works that refer to the complexity of their community in the South Bronx and beyond. The artists observe, analyze, and dissect the social, cultural and economic structures of their neighborhood, as well as the design and organization of buildings and spaces, and use the information gathered to develop questions that serve as a foundation for their projects.
The Bronx River Alliance serves as a coordinated voice for the river and works in harmonious partnership to protect, improve and restore the Bronx River corridor so that it can be a healthy ecological, recreational, educational and economic resource for the communities through which the river flows.
Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos Fermín are people connectors. As artists, activists, and Bronxites, their creative collaborations are all about gathering information from neighbors and presenting it in ways that allow communities to better understand themselves and the urban spaces they create. The two have worked in all kinds of public spaces, from major thoroughfares and street corners to laundromats, grocery stores, and vacant waterfronts.
Recently, they organized Boogie Down Rides: Bicycling is Art.The artists used the social act of biking as a springboard for talking with people about the creation of healthy, active urban environments. Throughout the month of May 2012, they set up many different formats for engaging the public: a temporary bike shop that simultaneously served as an education hub, group rides across the Bronx, and visioning workshops about biking and greenway initiatives in the city.
The project was organized as part of the public art exhibition, This Side of Paradise, by No Longer Empty at the Andrew Freedman Home. I recently sat down with Hatuey and Elizabeth to talk aboutBoogie Down Rides and the other urban projects they have in the works.
What was it about your community that inspired Boogie Down Rides? Was there a particular need that you were responding to or wanted to address?
Hatuey: Boogie Down Rides grew out of another project of mine, Transmit-Transit. It explored the idea of taxi drivers as a mode of transport in the the Bronx, and the need for cabs to move around. Public transit in the north-south direction works well but east-west not so much. No Longer Empty first approached me about that transportation project, which became a video installation at the Andrew Freedman Home that connected the gallery space to the outside world. Then we began thinking about how to physically and conceptually expand transportation within the community. Transportation was a major theme extending back to Mr. Freedman’s time, with Mr. Freedman being a major backer of the Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), New York City’s original underground subway. The IRT addressed the linking of open space from Central Park to Van Cortlandt Park. Extending the idea of Transmit-Transit beyond cabs, we wanted to look at bikes as another viable option to address mobility in the Bronx.
One of the great things about Boogie Down Rides is how it brings together many activities that people may not normally associate but which all contribute to healthy places. Your tagline, for example, is Bicycling is Art. Can you explain how biking, public art, and urban spaces are linked in your project?
Elizabeth: Instead of representing reality as a painting, we live it on a bike. The bike embodied action for this issue of transportation in the Bronx, where biking is a social act and a political act. Instead of designing a solution to a problem, we tried to figure out the questions that exist in real life through the experience of biking. We both live in the Bronx. It’s part of our day-to-day reality, and because we’re artists, we have a compulsion to make what we see public. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities. We hope our work as artists can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable in many ways.
The project also involved community visioning sessions for the Bronx’s longer-term development. What came out of these sessions?
Elizabeth: The visioning sessions were really spearheaded by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which was just launching an interactive toolkit to gather data and address threats to active transportation and public space. They were key in leading some of the concrete visioning work happening around the Sheridan Expressway, where dangerous connections make it unsafe to bike between the parks. Rather than focusing on cause and effect, the visioning sessions were about figuring out opportunities for improvement. Safety—specifically, feeling safe in public—was an ongoing theme in the conversations we had with our neighbors.
Throughout your various interactions with the public, did you come across questions or reactions that particularly surprised you?
Elizabeth: One of the most surprising things that we learned from Boogie Down Rides was the number of adults—particularly women—who had never learned how to ride a bike, and who were very excited to find out about opportunities for biking in the Bronx. In the instance of another project, Mind the Gap/La Brecha, we talked a lot with folks in our neighborhood about their ideas for the waterfront. One of the critical components to the waterfront that came up over and over again was the basic need for clean public restrooms!
Collaboration seems integral to your work. What other community partners were vested inBoogie Down Rides?
Elizabeth: We also had a meeting with City Planning and the Mayor’s Office where we were able to show our recommendations. It was perhaps an unusual case in that the Mayor’s Office and City Planning came to us. Our collaborations really grew organically, and our project was timely in terms of how they related to conversations already happening in New York about biking, complete streets, and the South Bronx Greenway Plan.
And did people express any misconceptions that you were able to address through these collaborations?
Elizabeth: I think that artists working in public the way that we do are often confused with non-profit or other community-based organizations. We often talk to people about the role that artists play as citizens and neighbors in our communities—and the ways that we hope that our work can help make our neighborhoods more safe, lively, and liveable.
Any advice you would give to communities who are trying to build healthier places?
Elizabeth: You have to remember the factor of critical mass. If you notice a problem, someone else probably has too, so it becomes about working together in a long-term way.
Hatuey: It’s realizing there are already resources within the community, and that becomes the main point of departure. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel. You want to create space to bring stakeholders together.
Elizabeth: Also humility and willingness to listen and genuinely collaborate—those are really important, in regard to attitude. There’s a lot of work that goes into working together.
Hatuey: Listening is the biggest thing, listening with a big ear.
The Voices and Visions Re-imagining America Media Exhibition at the recent Imagining America national conference in New York City presented the work of artists and artist collectives whose practices articulate the mission of Imagining America by thriving in and contributing to community-based action and revitalization. The program was divided between two screening rooms, focusing on the strategy and practice of community-based art work.
The second room, “Voices,” presented the work of Kanene Holder, Ana Garcia-Rockafella, La Bruja, Michael Paul Britto, and Zachary Fabri, showcasing the product of community-based artistic practices. The works presented in this program emerged from long-standing relationships between artists and their communities, and demonstrated the power of large-scale collaboration in production, performance, and design.
In addition, monitors in the atrium of the screening rooms featured the work of youth from the Global Action Project, and the artist Shani Peters.
All of the artists and artist collectives whose work was presented in the Voices and Visions Media Exhibition occupy a complex place between the art world, activism, and social practice. Their work presents actionable strategies to achieve Imagining America’s ambitious vision of an enriched civic life, facilitated by publicly engaged artists, designers, scholars, and other community members working with institutions of higher education.
About the Curators
Bill Aguado was the Executive Director of the Bronx Council on the Arts, 1981–2009. His accomplishments were many over the years as the influential force behind many of BCA’s more successful and noteworthy programs. Among them, The Longwood Art Gallery, one of New York City’s oldest and longest running alternative spaces, and BRIO (Bronx Recognizes Its Own) is a twenty-year independent artist fellowship program offering 25 fellowships to Bronx artists. In 2000, he was the recipient of the Governor’s Arts Award. He is also the recipient of the Mayor’s Arts Award in 2006, and most recently he received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Service to Artists at the 38th annual Skowhegan Awards Dinner in April 2009.
Kanene Holderis an avant-garde performance-artist, poet, photographerand chronic-contrarian, educator, and spokesperson for the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Her newest political satire, Searching for American Justice, premiered for NYU’s LowLives festival.
Elizabeth Hamby is an artist and an educator, working in a complex space between the studio, the classroom, and the city. Using drawing, video, installation, and participatory workshops, she explores the dynamics of place and the rhythms of everyday urban experience. She has exhibited her work nationally and internationally. She teaches at the Museum of the City of New York, Millennium Art Academy, and The Drawing Center. She holds a BA in Cultural Studies and Philosophy from Eugene Lang College and a BFA in Studio Art from Parsons School of Design.
Hatuey Ramos-Fermín is an educator, multimedia artist and curator who uses photography, video, installation, graphics, performance, interventions, maps, audio, collaborations, social and curatorial practices to creatively investigate issues related to urban spaces. He is interested in articulating conceptual ideas regarding our society into thought-provoking critical language using a combination of documentary and fine arts practices. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally.
About the Artists
Michael Paul Britto‘s work ranges from videos to digital photography, sculpture, and performance. Britto has had residencies at the New Museum, as well as Smack Mellon and The Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation in New York. Britto’s work has been featured in shows at El Museo del Barrio, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem, New York; The Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw; Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, Louisville; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Britto has been written about in The New York Times, Art In America, and The Brooklyn Rail.
La Bruja has numerous acting credits, spoken-word performances, and hip-hop albums. Her presentations span television, theater, and film, such as HBO Latino, The History Channel, public service spots for Americans for the Arts, and Spike Lee’s commercials for IAM.com. She has recorded with Fat Joe, Vivian Green, Jadakiss, Don Dinero, The Jungle Brothers, Black Ice, B-Real, Tony Touch, Afrikaa Bambaata, Chingo Bling, Hurricane G, Boy Wonder, and The X-ecutioners. La Bruja released her debut album Brujalicious in 2005 on De La Luz Records. La Bruja is a dedicated artist-activist, who frequently performs at schools, universities, hospitals, and community centers around the country.
Focusing on video and performance, Zachary Fabri‘swork seeks to create a space for discourse around social and political systems of oppression. In addition to video, he also incorporates various media, including photography, sculpture, drawing, and installation into his work, which often responds to a specific environment or context.
Ana Garcia-Rockafella is a female breakdancer (B Girl Rokafella) who co-founded Full Circle Productions, Inc. in 1996 with her husband Kwikstep. Their mission has been to present uplifting Hip-Hop dance performances and provide educational Hip-Hop dance programming throughout NYC. The only Hip-Hop dance company of its kind in NY, Full Circle proudly references its roots and style to street performing. In the span of its near-two-decades’ existence, Full Circle has gone from hosting international contemporary companies for exchange to representing Hip-Hop at places once intangible to the street vibe, such as The Library of Congress in Washington D.C., where they have the credit of being the first Hip-Hop group to grace the stage.
Founded in 2006,Ghana Think Tank is a worldwide network of think tanks creating strategies to resolve local problems in the “developed” world. The network began with think tanks from Ghana, Cuba and El Salvador, and has since expanded to include Serbia, Mexico, and Ethiopia. In a recent project, GTT sent problems collected in Wales to think tanks in Ghana, Mexico, Serbia, Iran, and a group of incarcerated girls in the U.S. Prison system.
Global Action Project works with young people most affected by injustice to build the knowledge, tools, and relationships needed to create media for community power, cultural expression, and political change. GAP has provided media-arts and leadership education for thousands of youth living in under-served communities across New York City and the country.
Housing is a Human Right is a creative storytelling project that aims to help connect diverse communities around housing, land, and the dignity of a place to call home. We create a space for people to share stories of their community and ongoing experiences trying to obtain or maintain a place to call Home. We are building a collection of intimate, viscerally honest narratives exploring the complex fabric of community and the human right to housing and land, painting a living portrait of human rights.
The Laundromat Project is a community-based non-profit arts organization committed to the well-being of people of color living on low incomes. Understanding that creativity is a central component of healthy human beings, vibrant neighborhoods, and thriving economies, we bring arts programs to where our neighbors already are: the local laundromat. In this way, we aim to raise the quality of life in New York City for people whose incomes do not guarantee broad access to mainstream arts and cultural facilities.
Meta Local Collaborative develops site-specific, participatory works that refer to the complexity of their community in the South Bronx and beyond. By actively engaging a broad range of people and working across disciplines, Meta Local challenges the existing hierarchies, inclusions, and exclusions that characterize “participation” in the larger democracy of New York City.
Shani Peters is a New York based artist working in video, collage, printmaking, and social practice public projects. She is interested in collective movement, cyclical patterns throughout history and generations, and cultural record keeping and accessibility. Her work examines histories in the focused context of present societal conditions, and re-presents them in manners consciously influenced by a hyper-mediated society. Her perspective is heavily informed by her family and by the historical era in which she lives. Peters was born into the me generation of the socially conservative 1980s by way of faithful Black Power era parents who live by a mantra of social responsibility. The intersections of these influences, combined with that of contemporary life’s constant media program, produces work dense with appropriated material (both highly recognizable and commonly overlooked), contradictory notions, and always with an eye towards realities yet unseen. She layers ideas and references through video, print, and public projects in an attempt to push back her own program—a new account, or record of existence.
The Tax Dodgers is a high-impact media spectacle that is able to show up anywhere real corporate tax dodgers do, and immediately attach itself to their “brand.” It works on corporations, lobbyists, and politicians. Because of the creativity, humor, and, of course, the massive popularity of baseball, the message sticks. Whoever they “go to bat for” is immediately re-branded as a Tax Dodger.
Fashion. Prototype. Pose. Imitate. Plan. System. These definitive words come together to create AiOP 2012: MODEL, a festival of transformative ideas, wearable visions of positive change, and walking theories that expand preconceived notions of public space and art. From October 5 -15, national and international artist-citizens will take over 14th Street through poetry, performance, site-specific installations, videos, painting, sculpture, drawing, illustration, street art, mobile studios, design, music, as well as innovative trans-disciplinary work. Sashay, swagger, roll, prance, play, aspire, duck walk, run, jump, drop, tap, crawl, and strut along with over 100 artist-citizens as they are celebrated, presented, demonstrated, and paraded on 14th Street. Their work will occur all along this unrestricted corridor: in plain view, exposed, transparent, accessible, interactive, tangible, engaged, audible, robust, and colorful. Stop, watch, listen, and interact in fun, insightful, and unexpected ways.
Fashion: The global fashion world creates garments that adorn and protect our bodies while simultaneously gleaning from, and pushing forward, culture. Woven within this system is the ideological “fabric” from which we fashion ourselves as individuals and communities. The artist-citizens in AiOP 2012 MODEL present couture that mirrors the shared desire to define ourselves through a particular style, social norm, brand or uniform. Their projects also work to the contrary, reflecting our struggle for personal expression, individuality as well as our resistance to stereotypes, racial profiling and prejudice. They explore work that challenges often-unattainable perfection or unrealistic ideals, express behind the scenes viewpoints, and reverse the roles between fashion model and consumer. Take part in the transformation of subways, parks, buses and sidewalks into interactive runways complete with paparazzi, catwalks and, at times, a walking hotdog.
Prototype: History shows that before any creation becomes a fixture of society, there is first a creator of the exemplar, the ideal construct from which all others are modeled. This year’s festival literally reinvents the wheel including helmets that communicate without technology and permit us to hear with our bones, apparatuses that allow us to effortlessly carry the world on our shoulders, air made solid, illuminated blood, boxes made from cooked sugar, magnetic dreams, wearable furniture and bodega bag wisdom. Not limited only to objects, prototypes also define ideal citizens, those who, in our estimation, resist the status quo and seek to improve the world around us. For these artist-citizen role models, 14th Street becomes a platform for social change with visionary propositions that examine issues around politics, racism, ecology, economics, and health care.
Pose: Whether striking a pose or posing a question, this aspect of model embraces contrast: passive and assertive, subject and object, leader and follower. AiOP artist-citizens redefine these dichotomies, inverting the relationship between model-creator, digital-analog, celebrity-anonymity, and the personal-political. Questioning notions of race, beauty, gender, age and sexuality, their work asks us to reexamine the everyday tools and parameters we use to position ourselves with within society, as well as delve into the ways in which we document, arrange and prioritize our on- and off-line social profiles. “Like,” “friend,” or “poke” other participants through the vernacular of social media, as well as aspects of hyper-identity and virtual reality. Activate your own contributions to mobile photo studios, instant makeovers, portrait painting, games of the flesh and fetishes of the mind.
Imitate: Throughout our lives, we are presented with models of behavior, belief and social interaction that become the foundation for own aspirations, tastes, and relationship to the world around us. Be prepared to be entranced by the siren’s song and call-and-response of popular culture with marching choirs, gospel voices, spontaneous sing-a-longs, eclectic ensembles, lip-synchs, DJ and VJ performances. Stand witness to manifestations of deities, spiritual apparitions and incarnations of our darker sides. Sidewalks are converted into sociological experiments with artist-citizens analyzing social class, culture, religion, law, and deviance. Corners, curbs and cellar doors offer self-help and psychological evaluations including poetic probes into our collective state of mind.
Plan. Come partake in redefining our landscape. The schematics of 14th Street will be continually reinterpreted, rebranded and rearranged with projects that seek to draw out its present and potential urban structures, and remap its entire length delineated by our individual preferences rather than historical landmarks. Hidden infrastructures will fill in the outlines of its avenues through mystical labyrinths, poetry driven geographical charts, geocached communications and unraveling knit-guided walks. Bold, wheat pasted statements of solidarity and projected remixes of culture combine to inform a revised topographical social matrix that echoes through the corridors of 14th Street.
System. Amongst all of these conflicting, chaotic and collaborating definitions there is always order to be found. There are the systems that keep our world running, stumbling, prancing and plodding along through models of communication, business, finance, and economy. Investigate the procedures and methods by which we analyze and substantiate society, be challenged to scrutinize class divide, economic collapse, and recession politics. Artist-citizens reorder our current systems of capitalism, consumerism and commerce, reinventing new methods and industry, as well as reach back into the wisdom of indigenous customs.
We are all citizens of the MODEL runway. Throughout the festival, we invite you to join us in putting our best foot forward as we proclaim 14th Street as the largest and longest promenade in the world. We declare it our interactive public showroom, free laboratory, open vitrine, inclusive procession, movement mall, evolving plaza and liberated space. No door will separate us. MODEL!
Art in Odd Places (AiOP) presents visual and performance art in unexpected public spaces. AiOP also produces an annual festival along 14th Street in Manhattan, NYC from Avenue C to the Hudson River each October.
Art in Odd Places aims to stretch the boundaries of communication in the public realm by presenting artworks in all disciplines outside the confines of traditional public space regulations. AiOP reminds us that public spaces function as the epicenter for diverse social interactions and the unfettered exchange of ideas. Website: www.artinoddplaces.org
Art in Odd Places (AiOP) began as an action by a group of artists led by Ed Woodham to encourage local participation in the Cultural Olympiad of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. In 2005, after moving back to New York City, he re imagined it as a response to the dwindling of public space and personal civil liberties – first in the Lower East Side and East Village, and since 2008, on 14th Street in Manhattan. AiOP has always been a grassroots project fueled by the goodwill and inventiveness of its participants.
Art in Odd Places is a project of GOH Productions.
Bonnie Stein, Executive Director.
What Do We Bring? Yummy Food and Public Art! What Do You Bring? An Open Mind and Creative Ideas!
Wednesday, October 3, 2012 | 7:00pm – 9:30p
Doors open at 6:30pm
University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street, New York, NY 10002
The Laundromat Project invites you to celebrate this year’s Create Change artists at its 3rd Annual Public Art Potluck.
Engage our Create Change artists in conversations about their projects and creative ideas set in communities across New York City and Philadelphia.
You’ll hear about socially-engaged art projects ranging from yoga-based printmaking in Jackson Heights to envisioning a new waterfront for the South Bronx to a multimedia installation highlighting the history of garment workers in Sunset Park.
2 BX artists bring ‘Mind the Gap’ project to Mott Haven by Bornx News 12
MOTT HAVEN – Two Bronx residents have launched a project in an attempt to bridge the gap between the waterfront and Mott Haven. ‘Mind the Gap’ is part of The Laundromat Project, which brings artists to neighborhood Laundromats to document what locals think about the waterfront and how to improve access to it. The participants hope the project helps residents appreciate the area’s natural resources. ‘Mind the Gap’ will be stationed at the Blue and White Laundromat on East 140th Street through September.
MOTT HAVEN — With its rumbling dryers and stinging smell of detergent, the Blue and White Laundromat on East 140th Street is a fine place to wash clothes, but an odd one to dream about a river.
But that is what two Mott Haven artists are asking patrons to do as they conduct interviews outside the laundromat and invite passersby to fiddle with a whimsical model of the South Bronx waterfront, where popsicle sticks stand in for bridges and blue tape signifies water.
“Feel free to touch things and put things here,” said artist Hatuey Ramos-Fermín as locals approached the tabletop river. “Make your own little place along the water.”
Through the model, the recorded interviews, maps, photographs and riverside walks, Ramos-Fermín and his creative partner, Elizabeth Hamby, want to draw their neighbors’ attention to the South Bronx waterfront, which sits just a mile south but often feels a world away.
“There is a disconnect between people’s everyday experience here and the waterfront,” said Ramos-Fermín, noting that many locals travel some nine miles northeast to Orchard Beach or walk along the Manhattan bank of the Harlem River to spend time near the water. The piece, which will culminate with a public presentation in October, was commissioned by The Laundromat Project, a citywide nonprofit whose residency program gives artists $4,000 to launch interactive art projects inside laundromats in the neighborhoods where they live. Other artists have converted sections of laundromats into yoga studios, reading rooms and English language classrooms for immigrants — all with the blessing of the storeowners, who are not paid by the artists or the nonprofit.
The Mott Haven pair hopes their piece, called “Mind the Gap/La Brecha,” can connect residents with the ongoing efforts of local activists, city officials and urban planners from as far away as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge to convert stretches of Bronx waterfront from their old industrial uses into public spaces. “A lot of plans already exist,” said Hamby, including ones for new riverside parks, pathways and a long-delayed footbridge to Randall’s Island. But, she added, there is a need to carry “that conversation out of those meetings and onto the ground.” Riverfront access gained new attention this year when some Bronx residents loudly opposed FreshDirect’s plan to build a new 500,000-square-foot facility in the Harlem River Yards in Port Morris.
But when the art project began this month at the laundromat on East 140th St., talk of the water was far less contentious and much more personal. After shoving her clothes into a dryer, an elderly woman told the artists that she loves dipping her feet in the water. A man passing on the sidewalk pulled out his cell phone to share a picture of his favorite beach in Puerto Rico. Alex Alonzo, 9, played with the river model until he had designed his dream waterfront, with pipe connectors as telescopes, a plastic badge as a police station and a pack of pink wafers as a cookie factory. Alex’s older brother, Alberto Alonzo, stopped folding clothes for a moment to imagine fishing and picnicking by the river. “You sit by the water and feel the breeze and you feel relaxed,” Alberto Alonzo, 25, said. “You forget about the city.” When the artists asked their neighbors about their visions for a reclaimed South Bronx waterfront, they mentioned shade, bright colors, swimmable water, security and, of course, restrooms. “What this exercise reveals is that everybody has feelings about water,” said Hamby, while some young children pushed plastic fish through the blue-tape river. “It’s elemental.”
All activities are FREE and open to the public. Performances for all ages, family friendly fun and educational activities, and fitness and recreational programming.
10:00 am – 6:00 pm – Street Cartography
This bicycle-based mobile exhibition of ideas about ways to make bicycling accessible, safe and sustainable in the Bronx. The artists Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín will share existing initiatives in the Bronx and generate new ideas with participants in the festival.
Hatuey Ramos-Fermin and Elizabeth Hamby will turn their laundromat into a classroom environment in their project Mind the Gap/La Brecha to invite their neighbors to propose new ways of increasing their access to green spaces and the waterfront. Collaborating with locals, they will use 3D models, workshops, and other platforms to visualize the future development of the South Bronx. The interior and exterior space of the laundromat will be used to exhibit the culmination of ideas generated by locals.
Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín are artists and educators working between the studio, the classroom, and the city. Their collaborative practice explores the relationship between people and place through a variety of media, and relies heavily on community participation and engagement. Their recent projects, Boogie Down Rides in “This Side of Paradise,” organized by No Longer Empty, and When the Bronx was Burning, Casa Amadeo was Holding it Down produced with Action Club for “Shifting Communities” at the Bronx River Art Center combined installation with public programming and community engagement to create conversations about critical issues in the Bronx.
Through June 1, the once insular and exclusive Andrew Freedman Home in the Bronx has been transformed by site-specific exhibition facilitatorsNo Longer Empty into This Side of Paradise, a progressive arts and culture tour de force of thirty-two emerging and established artists, local cultural institutions, and community collaborations. Offering a rare historical and contemporary overview of the Bronx and its eclectic neighborhoods, the project expands the traditional notion of a site-specific exhibition space into an inclusive borough-wide experience.
In 1924 investor Andrew Freedman bequeathed much of his fortune to build and sustain a retirement home for the less fortunate—relatively speaking. These needy were defined as aging, wealthy individuals who had lost their capital worth. Known as the “poor house for rich people,” the Andrew Freedman Home was a free-of-charge, elite sanctuary where the once well-to-do could live out their lives without sacrificing their opulent quality of life. Located on the Bronx Grand Concourse and occupying a full city block complete with gardens, ballrooms, library, dining hall, industrial kitchen, and three floors of accommodations, the home maintained the illusion of wealth and status for its residents.
This sequestered reprieve came to an end in the early ‘80s when the Freedman Foundation depleted its funds. The Mid Bronx Senior Citizen’s Council then bought the building and currently uses parts of the space for Head Start youth programming and party rentals. The rest of the real estate has fallen into disuse, and despite the visible signs of dilapidation, its former affluence is still apparent.
Now, through the initiative of the art nonprofit No Longer Empty, the Andrew Freedman Home once again offers a wealth of opportunity, this time revitalized as public place for local and international contemporary art, as well as a participatory cultural hub for Bronx neighborhood projects, awareness, and education. For No Longer Empty’s President and Chief Curator Manon Slome and Executive Director Naomi Hersson-Ringskog, This Side of Paradise is an impressive testament to the organization’s mission to utilize “the history of spaces to unite communities and act as a springboard for artists.”
What remains of the Andrew Freedman Home embodies the paradoxical nature inherent within the concept of any “ruin.” Within the abandoned site, the crumbling failures of the past confront the aspirational possibilities of the future. As such, this fragmented, complex place echoes nostalgia while whispering the potential of becoming and renewal. The participating artists inThis Side of Paradise not only engage in this dialogue but also extend the discussion beyond the specific location to encompass the Bronx’s diversity, politics, and socio-economic issues.
Some of the artists focus on the phenomenology of architecture, combining the Andrew Freedman Home with experiences of its long-gone tenants, investigating their circumstances and environment with both poignant insight and ironic humor. Federico Uribe’s hypnoticPersian Carpet, on closer examination, reveals that the interwoven patterns of the 22 × 12’ floor rug are made from quotidian materials including hairpins, dominos, golf balls, cutlery, and crutches. These remnants of the independent life the seniors once had are seamlessly merged with tokens of their interdependent existence in the retirement home.
In contrast stands Linda Cunningham’s haunting, ten-foot-long installation of deteriorated drywall, peeling canvas, and broken windowpanes in Paradise Lost/Regained? Utopia to Survival that incorporates photo transfers of excavated ephemera and personal documents that were left behind by the residents. The work powerfully manifests the sentimentality and loss embedded in the Andrew Freedman Home while alluding to the overall perseverance and tenacity of the Bronx.
Other artists employ The Andrew Freedman Home and its founder as a reference point in investigating the present day Bronx and interacting with local Bronxites. Freedman’s pivotal role in developing The Interborough Rapid Transit, NYC’s first subway and the Bronx’s main line, is alluded to in IRT, a collaboration between Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín. A complex psychogeographic project that ingeniously explores alternative modes of transportation, IRT contains a documentary of local Dominican livery cab drivers discussing their professional challenges accompanied by an installation of the roof of an authentic taxi cab that broadcasts real-time local dispatch radio transmissions. The other component is Boogie Down Rides, an interactive map with video interviews that survey neighborhood cycling experiences, as well as an offsite temporary bike shop for the community with rentals, tours, and educational workshops.
Influenced by the Andrew Freedman Home’s custom of appointing coordinators for leisure activities, Laura Napier and Carmen Julia Hernández have formed the congenially educationalActivity Committee. Throughout the duration of the show, all are welcome to discover the Bronx with organized social clubs like the Bird, Plant & Fish Committee and the Eating Committee, or even to start new clubs.
Artists also activate the Freedman Home by creating archetypical spaces that exist in their own spatio-temporal reality, somewhere between the past, present, and future. These works unite viewers in the experience of universal states of humanity. Gian Maria Tosatti’s Spazio #05contemplates the ephemeral nature of memory, the fleeting physicality of life, and the stark loneliness often experienced in communal spaces and crowded city dwellings. Erased by sunlight and the passage of time, the room is bare except for sterile metal furnishings and broken glass covering the entire floor.
This Side of Paradise presents an appreciation of the Bronx that challenges pervasive negative stereotypes and preconceived notions of violence and urban blight. For its size, the borough contains a greater percentage of parks and historical landmarks than any other urban area in the country and is one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse counties in the nation. The Bronx has also long been an incubator for revolutionary, vibrant art and music scenes that are supported by historically important alternative and institutional organizations, many of which are collaborating with No Longer Empty, including the Bronx Documentary Center, Casita Maria, Lehman College Art Gallery, Longwood Art Gallery, The Bronx Children’s Museum, The Bronx Council of the Arts, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, The Bronx River Art Center, and The Point.
The exhibition opens the doors to all who wish to experience a broad cross section of the eclectic arts in the Bronx, either for the first time or perhaps to rediscover it anew. That sentiment, underscored by Nicky Enright’s vivid blue and green The Free Flag on the main lawn of the residence, declares the site a territory for all “global citizens” without borders. The Andrew Freedman Home now has a future enriched through artists and art education, cooperation, and outreach, once again demonstrating that cultural currency is the most enduring sign of prosperity.
GRAND CONCOURSE — Waves of helmeted cyclists could come rolling down the Grand Concourse next month as part of a project meant to draw attention to the Bronx’s fleet of riders, while also highlighting the work that remains to make The Bronx a true bikers’ borough.
A pair of Mott Haven-based artists enlisted some of the borough’s most committed cyclists to help power the project, called “Boogie Down Rides,” that will include a series of free bike tours, workshops and town hall meetings throughout May, which is national bike month.
“There’s tons of people who ride in The Bronx,” said artist Elizabeth Hamby, who hatched the cycling series idea with her creative partner, Hatuey Ramos-Fermín, as an extension of their transportation-themed installation in the Bronx art show, “This Side of Paradise.”
Boogie Down Rides, added Hamby, is designed “to take what’s already happening and ramp it up a few notches.”
The series is set to kick off May 6 with a pedal-powered “history ride” past landmarks along the Grand Concourse.
Other events include a free fix-a-flat-tire training, a Mother’s Day ride to the New York Botanical Garden and a brainstorming session about the Sheridan Expressway, a stretch of South Bronx freeway that one community group would like to close to automobile traffic on summer weekends.
Meetings are also planned to discuss reviving car-free Sundays along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx version of Manhattan’s Summer Streets, an annual event in the early 1990s that reserved several miles of the avenue for walkers and cyclists on summer Sundays. The event was discontinued in 1996, then reinstated on a trial basis a few years ago, but has since fizzled out.
Mel Rodriguez, a Bronx cyclist who in 2010 formed an advocacy group called Bike the Bronx, said he joined the Boogie Down Rides planning committee because he believes the month-long series could lead to longer-lasting changes.
“They’re bringing together leaders not only to discuss the event,” Rodriguez said, “but also how the event can be a catalyst for bigger things.”
Rodriguez and other Bronx bikers say cycling conditions in the borough have improved in recent years, but that more quality bike lanes are needed to make local riding safe and convenient.
Since 2006, the city has added 56.5 miles of new bike lanes in The Bronx — far fewer than the 102.8 miles added in Brooklyn, but more than the amount established in Manhattan or Staten Island during that period, according to the Transportation Department.
Several major Bronx roadways, including the Grand Concourse, Park Avenue and Lafayette Avenue, now feature dedicated bike lanes — though most of the so-called protected bike lanes, which are physically separated from vehicular traffic, are located in the north and east Bronx.
The Bronx also boasts 6.75 miles of Bronx River greenways, which are paved trails running through riverside parks such as Concrete Plant Park and Soundview Park.
But large gaps divide much of the greenway into a patchwork of disconnected trails, and plans for a similar greenway along the Bronx-bank of the Harlem River are still in their infancy, said Maggie Greenfield, spokeswoman for the Bronx River Alliance.
“The current infrastructure in The Bronx is not very bike-friendly,” said Greenfield. “There’s not as much connectivity as you might want.”
A joint study by several city agencies of bike accident data from 1996 to 2005 found that Hunts Point was one of three locations citywide where a cluster of fatal bike crashes had occurred in close proximity, while the Central Bronx made the list of top three areas with a concentration of cyclist injuries.
(Since the study was published in 2006, the city has added hundreds of miles of bike lanes in an effort to improve cyclist safety.)
Though biking conditions may not be ideal in the Bronx, advocates say, many residents choose to pedal to school or work, as well as ride for fun and fitness.
Karen Rojas began cycling in college when she realized it was cheaper and faster to bike the few miles north from her home on 167th Street near the Grand Concourse to Lehman College than it was to take a train or bus.
Just a few years later, Rojas now interns with the bicycling nonprofit Velo-City, attends Bike the Bronx events, changes her own tires and leads long weekend rides with her family on her vintage cruiser, which she calls “The Transporter.”
“Before, you could count [Bronx cyclists] on one hand,” said Rojas, 23. “Now, you see them everywhere: families, ladies, people commuting to work in the morning.”
Still, some advocates say that the borough’s many bikers have set to form a cohesive community, which means that, for now, they are often overlooked by citywide cycling groups.
“A lot of people in The Bronx bike, but I feel like the mainstream biking culture doesn’t see them as part of their culture,” said Samelys Lopez, co-founder of Velo-City, which uses bike tours to teach students about urban planning.
Lopez said The Bronx teems with “biking subgenres,” micro-cyclist communities such as professionals who commute to jobs in Manhattan by bike, families who leisurely cruise together or young people who roll around skate parks on BMX bikes.
Boogie Down Rides presents an opportunity to unite the borough’s riders, which is a necessary first step, Lopez said, before they can push for more cycling resources, such as bike share stations, which the city is in the process of locating based on local demand.
“The people want it to happen,” Lopez said of the bike share and other Bronx cycling programs. “It’s just a matter of galvanizing the forces.”
Once known as the “home for poor millionaires,” an elegant mansion on the Grand Concourse has burst to glittering life as the home of a new art exhibit featuring 32 artists whose work meditates on the Bronx’s past and future.
Connoisseurs and artists mixed with hundreds of ordinary Bronxites at the April 4 packed-house opening of “No Longer Empty/This Side of Paradise,” which will run through June 5. Work, transportation, immigration, aging and the tension between reality and fantasy are some of the exhibit’s driving themes, all with local flavor as the common denominator.
“Art is about the community it is serving, and it’s very much a celebration of the Bronx’s culture,” said Manon Slome, the exhibition’s chief curator.
The show re-imagines the public rooms and bedrooms of the Andrew Freedman Home, built in 1924 as a haven for rich people who had lost their fortunes. Artists use broken glass and falling plaster, along with images of the burnt-out Bronx to symbolize the destructive years, and use cast-offs, including silverware and crockery, along with murals, videos, paintings, sculpture and photographs to create images of hope.
In a bedroom taken over by The Point Community Development Corporation, a video of “Village of murals,” the mural-lined route leading from residential Hunts Point to the South Bronx Greenway, plays on walls stenciled with flowers and foliage. As the video plays over the stenciled image of an African American girl, she appears to be walking down the industrial streets.
The brainchild of Carey Clark, the Mott Haven-based artists who heads The Point’s arts program, working with Lady K Fever, Alejandra Delfin, Sharon De La Cruz, Chen Carrasco, David Yearwood, Danny R. Peralta and the House of Spoof Artists Collective, the installation combines the pastoral with the political.The little girl is derived from the famous Norman Rockwell painting of Ruby Bridges, the 6-year-old who integrated the New Orleans public schools. Amid the flowers are stencils denouncing the deal to give FreshDirect a huge subsidy to relocate to Port Morris and demanding an end to violence against women.
In “Trades/Oficios/Metiers,” undertaken in collaboration with The Point, French photographer Martine Fougeron uses photographs to underscore the city’s reliance on the industrial waterfront of Hunts Point and Port Morris. Her photographs are mounted on baking sheets to emphasize their connection with artisanal trades like baking and canvas stretching. They portray a worker in a recycling plant walking toward his crane, a fish handler slicing open a huge fish, a baker posing with one of her cakes.
“Through art I believe you can aim to bridge a knowledge gap,” Fougeron said. “Show what are inside the trades, how they work, to the residents—first by the photos, and I hope soon with a large scale installation of the photos outside the industries.”
The multi-media piece “IRT,” by Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin of Mott Haven examines transportation in the borough, with a spotlight on commuters and the workers who shuttle them from Point A to Point B.
“IRT” encompasses a video installation focusing on livery cabs, maps visitors can fill in with specific routes to see how to get around and interviews with passengers and the drivers and motormen who get them to where they’re going.
Other artists focused on the younger crowd.
The well-known sculptor John Ahearn collaborated with children from a Head Start program housed in the Andrew Freeman House to create plaster casts of their hands as a way of introducing the kids to their creative capabilities early on.
“From a very early age, it boosts their confidence and lets them know that they can,” said Marcia Fingal of the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens council, which owns the Andrew Freedman Home.
Not only artists and connoisseurs were welcomed to take in the exhibition. Passers-by were encouraged to see the show, and many did so, joining the standing-room-only gathering.
“The lady said ‘Come, come in! Bring your girls! So I did,” said Maria Bibar, a mother of two. “We liked everything inside.”
Built to house elderly people who had been wealth but had lost their fortunes, the Andrew Freedman Home closed in 1983, and has since served as a community center. Across the Grand Concourse from the Bronx Museum of the Arts, it is now being recast as an arts and cultural space, and will also include a Bed and Breakfast.
“We want an inclusive and interactive relationship with the community,” said Fingal. “We want to make art and culture more inviting.”
The “This Side of Paradise” exhibit is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays between 1 and 7 p.m. For more information on Andrew Freeman House events, visit www.nolongerempty.org.
My dear friends Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermin, two Bronx-based multimedia artists, are gearing up for a couple of fantastic projects this month. First, they’re going to be a part of a group exhibition at the Andrew Freeman Home, a former retirement home for the formerly well-to-do ladies and gentlemen of old New York. This Side of Paradise will consist of site-specific work that will reference the space, sometimes using objects that were left behind by residents of yore. It is produced by No Longer Empty, an organization that uses vacant spaces around the city for exhibitions, it opens TONIGHT!, and I can’t wait to poke around and see what everyone’s done with the place. Liz and Hatuey will be presenting IRT, a multi-model installation that explores transportation issues in the Bronx, including a video installation about livery cabs, maps, and interviews. You can read more about it here and here, but if you’re in the NYC area, you should definitely come check it out in person at 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY. The opening is from 6pm to 8pm, with regular exhibition hoursThursday to Sunday, 1pm to 7pm, until June 5th.
In conjunction with their piece at the Andrew Freeman House, Liz and Hatuey will also soon be launching Boogie Down Rides, a temporary bike shop and public education hub on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. It will be open throughout the month of May hosting educational events, something they call “community visioning sessions,” and group rides, as well as providing information on ongoing cycling projects in the Bronx that include the development of greenways, bike paths, and bike shares. Visitboogiedownrides.tumblr.com for more details.
It’s more than just art—these two crazy kids are deeply involved and in love with their community, working hard to reach out and make a difference in people’s lives by teaching them that there is more to their neighborhood and history than they might realize; more out there that connects us all. I really admire them as artists and people and friends! And I can’t wait to see what they do to the world next.
When the Andrew Freedman Home opened in the Bronx in 1924, it looked like a limestone luxury liner sailing up the Grand Concourse, a grandiosity that advertised its odd function: a privately endowed retirement home for the formerly well-to-do, those who might have lost their money but not their manners or manorial tastes.
“They were expected to have attained a state of reasonable culture,” commented an article in The New Yorker at the time, “and not to eat peas with their knives.” Freedman, who died in 1915, had been an owner of the New York Giants baseball team and a financier of New York’s first subway lines, and his unusual will created a retirement home as palazzo, with plush carpets, plentiful servants and formal dress required at dinner.
By the 1980s the home had fallen on hard times. And though the Mid-Bronx Senior Citizens Council, which came to own it, has made good use of parts of it with a day care center, community programs and an events space, much of the rest of the vast building has been kept sealed off like a tomb, a time-capsule monument to the Bronx’s grand past, awaiting a new kind of future. In other words, exactly the sort of place that site-specific, history-scrambling, entropy-obsessed contemporary-art dreams are made of.
For the last several weeks a group of more than 30 artists — some well known, like Mel Chin, Sylvia Plachy and Bronx veterans like John Ahearn and the collective Tim Rollins and K.O.S. — have been at work in the home, turning old bedrooms and bathrooms into installations that mine the building’s eccentric history as a way of drawing in the life of the borough around it.
An exhibition of the pieces — organized by No Longer Empty, a nonprofit art group that got its start in 2009 by using spaces made vacant by the recession — will open April 4, granting the public access to one of the city’s stranger Gilded Age palaces for the first time.
“As a kid I used to walk by here all the time, and I never knew what it was for or what was going on inside,” said the painter and graffiti artist John Matos, better known as Crash, as he worked one recent morning on a subway-theme piece that will cover the walls of a second-floor corner bedroom.
For many years the landmark building, on the corner of East 166th Street, has existed in a kind of open-but-closed limbo. Its ground floor is almost always full of children, in day care and in a Head Start program. Two elegant ballrooms and a book-filled library above have been maintained for weddings and other events, and for several years the Bronx Museum of the Arts, a block away, held outdoor film screenings and other programs at the home.
But Walter E. Puryear, the Mid-Bronx Council’s project manager for the home, said that almost 60,000 of its 100,000 square feet remain closed off, and that art collaborations are one way the organization hopes to draw attention to the building and generate support for plans to make more use of it. The hope is to create a small-business incubator, a culinary training program and other socially minded businesses at the home.
“Beauty by itself is a wonderful thing,” Mr. Puryear said of using parts of the building as a kind of kunsthalle. “But beauty that inspires people to greater endeavors is even better.”
The artists involved in the project, titled “This Side of Paradise,” have been given free rein to rummage through the near-abandoned parts of the building, which have the look of a well-lived-in place left in a hurry: old turntables and VHS cassettes (“Double Dragon in Last Duel”); a black nightgown draped over a closet rod; a pair of plastic leg braces standing together in a hallway; a sheaf of Physicians Mutual insurance papers dated 1974, addressed to a man named Henry Ward.
The artists Elizabeth Hamby and Hatuey Ramos-Fermín plan to use an old hook board where the keys of dozens of the home’s residents once hung, labeled with plastic lettering tape that has memorialized only their surnames: Mrs. Kovacs, Mrs. Whipple, Mrs. Bosky, Mrs. Jimenez, the Echts. In one of the preserved ballrooms, the artist Nicky Enright recently created a musical assemblage out of a badly decayed Walters upright piano found upstairs; it now sits with old Remington, Smith-Corona and Underwood manual typewriters atop it like oxpeckers perched on a hippo. Many of the rooms on the third and fourth floors are filled with broken furniture and covered in snowdrifts of paint chips from the crumbling ceilings.
“When people said to me, ‘Are you going to try to clean up the hallways?’ I said, ‘No, there’s no way you can put a Band-Aid on something like this,” said Manon Slome, the president and chief curator of No Longer Empty, who was introduced to the building with the help of Mr. Puryear and Holly Block, the Bronx Museum’s director. “I think you have to start by working in the decay, and then as this place gets more funding, that kind of work can be done.”
Some is already under way, tentatively. Ten of the home’s old high-ceilinged rooms have been beautifully restored in a wing that will open in April as a small bed-and-breakfast, furnished with original 1930s and 1940s furniture that has been refinished and reupholstered.Cheryl Pope, a Chicago artist whose piece will feature a choir of strangers she met and recruited from Bronx streets and barbershops, recently spent a night in one of the rooms and said being alone in the cavernous building was a little more than what she had bargained for.
“It felt like I was in ‘The Shining,’ ” she said, adding that a caretaker, before leaving for the night, handed her a two-foot-long machete. “I said, ‘What’s this for?,’ and he said it was in case I came across anyone who broke in during the night. Nothing like that happened. There were just a lot of weird noises.”
But Ms. Pope’s installation, which involves an artificial, meticulously gold-leafed version of a paint-flaked ceiling, channels a more benevolent supernatural ethos, transforming two of the residents’ abandoned old rooms into more of a chapel than a corner of a haunted house.
“There’s something about those rooms, left the way they are,” she said. “They definitely have a holy quality.”
On Thursday, July 14th, I was invited to share an evening of food, friendship, and conversation at The People’s Potluck, a collaborative dinner and discussion group exploring ideas concerning living as conscious citizens in an interconnected global and local society. The event was part of a series of artist-led dinner dialogues held throughout New York City this summer. The series was created by MAPP International Productions, a group of the world’s most innovative performing artists that sees art as the spark for igniting conversation and change in communities worldwide. The evening was moderated by Emily Harney, MAPP Director of Community Engagement and Marketing. The People’s Potluck, as well as all the events in this series, are recorded and will be turned into a documentary that will be on display on September 15th at “WeDaPeoples Cabaret” presented in collaboration with Harlem Stage.
The event was hosted at the Taller Boricua Gallery in Harlem. Upon entering, the guests were greeted by Gallery Director Marcos Dimas and Associate Curator Christine Licata. The dinner was organized by Hatuey Ramos Fermin, an artist whose personal work is deeply embedded in his local community. Attendees came from various parts of New York cultural life while several artists, including Elizabeth Hamby, Amanda Matles, and Colin McMullan (aka Emcee C.M., Master of None), all work to tackle issues of food disparity in urban communities. The panel included Ramon Murphy, a representative from the Bodega Association of the United States, Madeline Nelson, a representative of Freegan.info, Terry Rodriguez, who started a Community Supported Kitchen in Spanish Harlem, and myself.
Emphasizing the theme of community and common purpose, the evening began in true potluck style, with each invitee bringing a dish of diverse fair, including traditional Latin American entrées, a Haitian specialty called djon-djon, and a Freegan apple pie for dessert.
The goal of The People’s Potluck is to initiate collective thinking about our shared roles and responsibilities in creating humane and democratic systems of food access that reflect the interdependent nature of contemporary society. Hatuey Ramos Fermin helped focus the discussion upon our relationship with food and why people make the decisions they do, highlighting that some people have more choice in the matter than others. Because food is such a necessity, we may not view it as commodity. However, when perceived as an investment, we begin to notice the disparity between high and low quality food across the board: from price, to access, to forms of distribution, to subsidies, etc. Good food can be hard to find if you do not know where to look for it.
Another conversation that was sparked concerned nutrition as a learned concept, one that requires knowledge, access, and resources to make informed decisions about what one puts on their plate. As a first generation Haitian-American child lucky enough to have a family style dinner nearly every night, I still sought out processed fast food, just as others within the group discussed similar experiences with their own children.
Given the panel’s diversity of experience, it was interesting to see how each person was creating change and bringing much-needed information to their communities in their own way.
Most of the artists work with kids in some capacity. Working in collaboration on the EAsT Harlem Exhibit, Hatuey and the students from Elisabeth Hamby’s Museum of the City of New York Neighborhood Explorers after-school program, were able to build a live model of Hatuey’s Grocery Map. Amanda Matles created a curriculum that asked her students to track where their favorite foods come from and how they are created. Focusing on every step in the process, from points of origin for various ingredients to centers of distribution, allowed kids to ask questions about processes they never thought of.
Terry Rodriguez and Madeline Nelson are working to help communities change their thinking around communal eating. Terry offered an informative sound bite stating that the Community Supported Kitchen, or CSK, “brings back the tradition of eating with your neighbors” by using food as a connector. Madeline holds trash tours throughout the city highlighting our ‘throw-it-away culture.’ Ramon Murphy from the Bodega Association discussed how they are working on creating a “green bodega” movement. Ramon, who owns a bodega and is working with his store owners to introduce fresher, healthier alternatives, said: “You’re going to have more vegetables, more organic products. The way the world changed and the community changed, that’s the way we want to do it.”
Overall, it was an extremely informative and inspirational evening. With great food and even better people, these individuals are walking the walk in their respective fields. Though the evening focused on questions of how change can be made, it is clear that this panel will be the ones doing the work to close that food disparity gap.
Posted on 03. Jun, 2011 by Cheryl Chan in Art (Mott Haven Herald)
Artists say change defines their relationship with Mott Haven
Hatuey Ramos Fermin sits in the most famous apartment in Mott Haven, recording a podcast called “South Bronx Filter.”
Fermin is the current tenant of Apartment 3A at 309 Alexander Avenue, which housed the Blue Bedroom where for two years his friend Blanka Amezkua displayed the work of contemporary artists who agreed in exchange for the show to offer a workshop or discussion in the neighborhood.
When Amezkua moved out of the Bronx, many took her departure as a sign that the art scene in Mott Haven was withering. More recently, AM New York and The Wall Street Journal have written its obituary. But artists who live or work in Mott Haven disagree.
For people like the seven artists gathered around Fermin’s dining table to record the first of his “Hubs and Spokes Conversation Series,” the turnover in Apartment 3A symbolizes the Mott Haven art scene.
They say that galleries and artists may come and go, but the creative energy remains.
“The Bronx is very transient place,” says Ellen Pollen, director of the Bronx Council on the Arts South Bronx Cultural Corridor. “People come here on their way to other places a lot.”
After six years of showcasing local work, the Haven Gallery on Bruckner Boulevard closed in 2009.
More recently, noted Pollen, who runs the Bronx Council’s Culture Trolley, the Iron Works Gallery, at 259 East 134th Street, closed. But, she emphasized, a short time later the trolley added LDR Studio on Alexander Avenue to its itinerary.
“To run a gallery takes a lot of time, and money,” said Barry Kostrinsky, founder of the Haven Gallery, who said the weak economy after the real estate bubble burst hurt. But Kostrinsky can now be found at the Bruckner Bar & Grill on Monday evenings, offering a version of the life drawing classes that used to be a staple at the Haven.
Bronx Arts Space, on East 140th Street, opened a year ago, and draws artists from outside Mott Haven. Avery Syrig, a sculpture and jewelry designer, found it through craigslist.
“It’s looking different, from a newer perspective than a lot of things I see in Manhattan,” she said.
“There seems to be a commitment to get people out to see different work, and not just visual arts,” said Amee Pollock, who displayed pop-up books at Bronx Arts Space during the Bronx Council on the Arts Fifth Open Studio Tour, where sculptures, photographs, video installations and a jazz performance, were highlights.
In May, a new kind of showcase was born, when Bronx artists displayed their work for four days in a pop-up museum created by the Mott Haven-based business From the Bronx in a renovated landmark building on Courtland Avenue in Melrose.
“There’s an emerging sense about culture and people,” says Bill Aguado, who headed the Bronx Council on the Arts for three decades. “What’s important is we have alternative spaces.”
Mott Haven also continues to attract artists to live or work in the neighborhood. When Fermin gathered seven of them to inaugurate his conversation series, the relationship of artists to the community was one of their subjects.
Fermin, a multimedia artist and educator at the Teen Council Program at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and Hostos Community College, devised the South Bronx Filter as a way for Bronx-based artists to express themselves in their own voices. He says he was inspired by Bronx hip-hop photographer, Joe Conzo, who advised: never let outsiders document you.
Recorded in Fermin’s living room, as the open windows captured the noise of cars whizzing by and sirens from the nearby 40th Precinct, the conversation included Libertad Guerra and Monxo Lopez of Spanic Attack, Rayzer Sharp and Yelimara Concepción of the Welfare Poets, and artists Elizabeth Hamby and Laura Napier, the curator of the first Hubs broadcast.
Napier vigorously disputed the notion that when artists arrive, gentrification arrives with them. A white woman who has lived in the Bronx for seven years, she said she’s constantly encountering and fighting against being stereotyped. Too often, she feels “I don’t exist anymore; it’s about the larger social issues,” she said.
Interviews with Bronx based artists, many of whom live or work in former warehouses and manufacturing spaces near Bruckner Boulevard, and with curators and gallery owners showed that they’re fed up with the label SoBro, conceived by real estate sales people to attract clients looking for a hip placed to live.
Recognize us for our work, not our location, they say.
The faces and spaces may change, but the networks forged by artists through the Culture Trolley and Open Studio Tour remain “the social capital” of the Bronx, Pollen contends.
“Artists are looking for community, and take advantage of it when they find it,” she says.
A version of this story appeared in the June/July 2011 issue of the Mott Haven Herald.
Por Mariángel Gonzales | 2 Junio 2011
El artista plástico puertorriqueño Hatuey Ramos Fermín caminó por todas las calles de El Barrio en la ciudad de Nueva York tomando fotos de cada uno de los sitios donde se puede comprar productos frescos para cocinar en la casa. Esta travesía y documentación son parte de una exhibición que comienza el viernes, 3 de junio en Taller Boricua y lleva por nombre Barri-o-rama.
Barri-o-rama es un colectivo que explora diferentes perspectivas, ideas, imágenes de ‘East Harlem’. Cuenta con la participación de varios artistas como Nayda Collazo-Llorens, Rosalinda González, y Johnny Ramos, entre otros. La idea general de este colectivo es de mostrar la visión de estos artistas en cuanto al reto que se presenta en alimentación saludable en El Barrio.
La pieza de Hatuey, ‘EAsT Harlem’ es un mapa que traza donde las personas del vecindario hacen compras: bodegas, ‘farmer’s markets’, jardines, supermercados, ‘green carts’. El tema de su pieza trabaja el problema que existe con el acceso a verduras e ingredientes frescos en El Barrio.
Los exhorto a que se den la vuelta por El Barrio y pasen por Taller Boricua para la apertura el viernes, 3 de junio de 6-9pm. La exhibición durará hasta el 16 de julio.