I started thinking about doing a project on the trades of the South Bronx as soon as I moved my studio to the south Bronx in 2009. I met Manon Slome -Curator of NO LONGER EMPTY- when she came for a studio visit at the end of 2011, she asked me to participate in the exhibition This Side of Paradise at the Andrew Freedman Home.
When I first came to the Andrew Freedman Home located in The Bronx, I was amazed. A huge Italian palazzio. The Home was once built to be a haven, a paradise, for the rich elderly who had lost their fortunes. Andrew Freedman (photo) a self-made millionaire financier who died in 1915, left much of his fortune to build the place as a retirement home for formerly wealthy people who had lost their fortunes, so that these newly indigent could spend their final years in the manner to which they were accustomed.
No Longer Empty is a young and nomadic cultural institution dedicated to bringing contemporary art to underutilized spaces throughout New York City. On April 4th, 2012 it invites the public inside to experience a contemporary art exhibition of 30 new works that weave evocations of the building’s unique history with interpretations of contemporary realities in the Bronx.
The old ball room into a contemporary art show.
I was invited with 20 other artists to install my work in a site -specific installation in one of the 15 rooms, which had been occupied by former residents and abandoned 30 years ago.
Referencing this quixotic history, the installations in the old rooms reference the past and reconnect the vision of Andrew Freedman to today’s Bronx and its realities.
I remember the first time I visited the palace to choose my room. I was amazed. It was as if time had frozen. Each artist was asked to use some of the old left over objects to reference the past of the Home. I quickly spotted an old desk and in another room the matching two red chairs. All of a sudden I saw old industrial baking trays and a stand. I asked for those to be put aside. Then all I had to do was paint the floor red and open a little door to leave an industrial reference.
I photographed the 'forgotten trades' of the South Bronx in Port Morris and Hunts Point and created portraits of workers, interiors, machines and products of these diverse industries, from hard-core industrial steel production and recycling, to seafood distribution, to more artisan trades like baking, printing or canvas stretching.
I tried to capture the dignity of the worker and of these forgotten trades, capturing the pride of the subjects.
I then mounted each photograph on an industrial baking tray.
Trades/Oficios/Métiers aims to highlight the historic and economic importance of the workers and industries of Hunts Point and Port Morris to the wider New York community and bring closer together the area’s residential and industrial communities.
My studio is very near the factories and I was fascinated by what I could not see. I could never see inside the industrial buildings-despite the incessant activity of workers as well as incessant loading and unloading of goods. It was about beholding the Bronx trades inside out--from Bolts to Nuts-.
Earlier this year, Community programs organized with ICP-The POINT engaging local youth in the project through factory tours has served as a springboard to explore community identity in creative ways via photography.
As the project continues I am involved with the the Village of Murals program organized by The POINT will engage local residents and youth through large-scale public art murals displaying the photographs on the exterior of the factory buildings --transforming the stark industrial landscape into a revelation of the interior landscape for the local communities.
I told Manon how amazed I was at the interaction with the public during the 2 months of the exhibition. I would go 3 times a week. Many visitors recognized the site of the photographs, they had dropped off scrap metal at Sims with their father. Wasn't that the company just at the base of the tenements? I grew up there. . Or reminisced on the cake they ate for their 10th birthday at Valencia. Or wondered at how signs were made and did not know that Elite had done them.
The messages left on the book that stayed in the installation were moving:
"Very beautiful indeed, to think it is in my neighborhood!'
"Trades are the essence of our society. Let's keep them alive."
"Vital work, not only for the neighborhoods of the Bronx, but also for our country in these times when one of our political parties has been denigrating work and destroying unions."
"Capturing the true essence of Bronx society. It's about hard working people."
THIS PROJECT IS MADE POSSIBLE IN PART WITH PUBLIC FUNDS FROM THE BRONX COUNCIL ON THE ARTS THROUGH THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF CULTURAL AFFAIRS.