C-print mounted on Plexi, Documentation from project, Brooklyn 2015
(Rogers avenue, 6 am on a Sunday morning)
Text by Knutte Wester
It is early May 2015 and I am relocating my studio from The New York Artist Studio and Residency Foundation, to The Pulaski Homeless Family Shelter in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. I arrange sculpture workshops for people living there. At the shelter there lives thirty mothers and their children. For weeks we make plaster casts of each other’s hands and feet.
Together with his mother, a boy called J, joins in every single workshop. His older brother also lives there. One day when J, as so many times before, is the first one to arrive at a workshop, I ask him where he was living before. He says that they used to live at another shelter. And before that? I ask. At another shelter, and yet another one before that, and another one before that. I am at a loss for words. To the fullest extent, this boy is an American, yet here he is, growing up like a refugee in his own city, in his own country. But before that, he says with a smile, we had a real home, a place of our own, but we couldn’t stay there.
A few days later I speak with his mother Ester and I tell her how her son’s words sprouted into an idea for an artwork that we can create together, a work that also ties into the street art tradition of New York. I propose that we make a cast of J’s shoulder and transform it into a bronze sculpture and then return to the place where they once had a home of their own and permanently mount it there. As a memory fragment of a child that once lived there and that should have lived there still. She stands quiet for a few seconds, wipes a tear off her cheek and says Yes, I would like that.
It was a delicate work process that took its time, but one Sunday morning in June, we are meeting up at 5am to finally head over to the house where they once lived, in a neighbourhood now radically transformed. By the house, we find a suitable wall to mount the sculpture onto. We position it just where J’s shoulder would have been if he had lived there still and casually was leaning against the wall. As J marks up the height of his shoulder, the day is dawning and I am mixing the epoxy glue. – I’m this tall; this is the height of my shoulder.
Despite the early morning hour, J’s older brother has eagerly joined us. As J photographs him, the brother styles his hair, glowing with pride about the sculpture project. Together, they are back at their old address doing street art with a getaway car parked across the street. Esther says that she now, in a metaphorical way, truly can see how much J has grown. He was only five when they were evicted from this house and has since spent four long years at various homeless shelters.
A taxi is pulling up next to us and I start to worry as I stand there with epoxy glue hardening on my fingers. But we can relax; the driver is just admiring our work. An older man walks up the street towards us. It is one of their old neighbours that at one point also was their janitor, but he is not living here anymore either. The glue hardens and after putting up a plaque with a brief text, we drive away.
Left: C-print mounted on Plexi, Documentation from project, Brooklyn 2015
Below: The artist book Untitled Project (Rogers Avenue 6 am on a Sunday morning)