REVEALING MYTH: HARLEM
D a y 1 — W e d n e s d a y M a y 1 6 t h , 2 0 0 7
80’s Thunder showers mid afternoon humid
Many unexpected things occurred these last two days, challenging how I will proceed with the project for the duration of the next 20 days. I am glad that I have tomorrow off.
First, I began the day being very aware of everything- making the bed, drinking my tea, having a piece of toast and apple. Perhaps these everyday activities highlighted
themselves to me because I was not going to eat until 9 in the evening or like before any large journey all that is ordinary is suddenly important because what will happen after taking the first step outside is uncertain.
While I was setting up on Tuesday, many people around the block were glancing in wondering what was going on. I happily offered information and invited them to stop by during the performance period. Everyone was very pleased that I invited them. It became apparent to me that I was coming into a neighborhood- somebody’s home. The changes in the city are causing a lot of upset. Newcomers looking for cheap rent in neighborhoods can be spotted a mile away: They practically run and don’t look at anyone. They don’t smile, acknowledge any store fronts or people around their new neighborhood. The locals on blocks resemble those in small towns: They greet you, inspect you and acknowledge your presence. It’s neighborly. Bart who helped me set up is from Amsterdam and he said that the people in Harlem are among the most respectful in the city.
It seems to me that the newcomers are afraid of difference. And not wanting to dodge the issue, a large percentage of the newcomers are European- Americans and from upper middle class backgrounds. Many of the locals are African-Americans, Latin-Americans and/or working class. The race issue in the US is based on fear and grew all the more apparent as I sat and glanced out the large store front window with my mask on. Many newcomers rushed by the window and barely stopped although they wanted to but were too afraid. The local people stopped, read, looked, came in, and even talked to me. I met a former lawyer, now retired, named Moises. He was delighted to meet me and offered to take extra postcards to hand out in his building. He recommended places I could drop off postcards. I asked if he had met other artists. He said no that they largely kept to themselves. Once he said, he peeked in when the door was open and asked what was happening. The person inside yelled out, “Art” and continued working. Have artists become so selective and exclusive? Or has the racial issue invaded the most open of thinkers, the artist? Perhaps the person was in the zone and couldn’t stop because the work had to be finished. That happens. As I listened to Moises’ story I realized that I my presence for the next few weeks was important for the neighborhood and for art. I have to become a bridge.
Art cannot be created in a vacuum any longer. The navel has expired.
I arrived to the space and met the technical director of chashsma who was waiting for repairmen to fix the gate. As it turns out they came at 3. I set up and began to tear my paper. The artist next door came by and introduced himself. He is a sculptor from Cuba.
I began to make my mask. Music played on the other side. Classical first, then
The Rolling Stones, and finally has far as I remember Phil Collins. There was drilling, and honking. Laughter and talking. People peeked in the window some came in and didn’t know what to do. I turned around and greeted them. I couldn’t talk but pointed and did my best to make them feel welcome from my seat and from within my performance.
A woman came in and told me that what ever I was projecting made her feel peaceful. Is that my purpose here?
Later in the day the gate people came and fixed it.
Finally, my friend Inky came by and stayed for a while. She told me about her new businesses and how much she liked Dong Quai herbs. She knitted in the chair and looked out the window. Then it rained. The rain came down pretty heavily. The trash can outside was rolling in the middle of the street and the wind blew the door open. The sky was a vibrant grey spectrum. Some kids were crossing the street and the rain was blasting against them flipping their umbrellas up. They were laughing so hard I didn’t think they’d make it to the corner. I turned back and ripped some more paper. After a while a man came in. I realized he was homeless. I was a little nervous and didn’t know what to do. Yet, he asked what was going on. Inky told him. He sat down and looked out the window for awhile. Inky continued knitting. I continued ripping my paper as my mask dried. It was peaceful. The man seemed to enjoy our company and we enjoyed his. Inky stayed for awhile longer and gave the man some paper to dry himself off with. He was soaked to the bone. He combed his hair and had some honey Inky had brought. He told us how bad the wind was up on 125th street and how it howled. The rain was merciless. After a bit, he told us how many people don’t talk to him because they think he’s crazy and don’t understand him because he studdered. Before exiting prayed. He got on his knees looking up next to the door. Inky left and my mask was ready to come off.
Log Day 1 for Revealing Myth: Harlem, 2007