Volume 18 • Issue 32 | December 23 - 30, 2005


Art goes on, despite the strike

Courtesy Hanne Lise Thomsen
A rendering of the portraits that were projected on the corner of Howard Street and Broadway last Tuesday, Dec. 20, the first night of the strike.

By Laura Silver

On Tuesday, December 20, the faces of 40 New Yorkers were projected onto the sides of two adjacent buildings at the corner of Howard Street and Broadway. Danish artist Hanne Lise Thomsen had created the public art exhibit with holiday-focused New Yorkers in mind, who would be doing their shopping along Canal Street while the projection ran its course. Instead, it was largely eclipsed by the hubbub of the subway strike, as car horns formed an audio background for the one-night-only showing of her work.

On the two whitewashed walls above the outdoor flea market one block north of Canal Street, black-and-white portraits morphed into each other — a young black man with dreadlocks and a big smile gave way to an older straight-haired blonde woman, whose face was etched with determination. Every few minutes, a panel of text with an unchanging message appeared, stating, “The Homeless of New York City Wish You All a Happy Holiday.”

Thomsen received a grant from the Danish Visual Art Council, but still had to take out a loan to bring the project to fruition. Shivering at the world premier of the showing, she said the payoff comes in other ways: “Working in public space gives you the possibility to get in contact with many people who wouldn’t go to galleries.”

The project has been in the works since spring 2005, when Thomsen first visited New York and was shocked by the disparity between New Yorkers’ wealth and living conditions. Soon after, she contacted Indio, the editor of Street News, the “world’s oldest active motivational homeless newspaper.” In November, he accompanied her to Manhattan and Staten Island shelters and soup kitchens where she used a 35mm Nikon camera to photograph people who wanted to join the project. Participants received $15, which, according to Indio, who is featured in the show, helped Thomsen build credibility with her subjects.

From a technical standpoint, the projection was run of the mill. “It’s something we do pretty often,” said Guy Bostian, event manager at Scharff Weisberg. The audio, video and lighting company provided projection equipment for the exhibit, obtained city permits and secured permission from building owners, one of whom happened to be Christo, the artist whose saffron Gates lit up Central Park last winter.

At 6:00 p.m. on the evening of the projection, lower Broadway was bumper to bumper. A quartet of Delaware shoppers stood in front of the projection, trying to hail a cab. They didn’t notice the faces of New Yorkers above them and were equally clueless about how to get to Times Square.

The street scene resembled a Copenhagen rush hour: cyclists dominated a dedicated lane, steering clear of a newly erected line of orange traffic cones and swerving to avoid the tower of projection equipment.

Soho-based photographer Jake Dobkin stumbled on the images on his walk home from work and stopped to take some pictures. “It’s a great canvas,” he said, remembering a now-defunct public plaza on the site where homeless people once sold used magazines, records and bric-a-brac, “It’s appropriate.”

Indio was focused on the people whose faces were displayed above him. “Now, it’s really hard because they can’t sleep on the subway.”


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