Updated with his boyfriends’ name, the graffiti/street/public/contemporary artist Eric Reiger is re-booting his successful installation on the New Jersey shore for the Wooden Walls Project. You may recall our 2019 article Windswept Public Art at the Beach when the artist first took on this soaring project stirred by ocean breezes and thusly brought alive for hundreds or thousands who walk beneath it in this historic town.
With the debut of “Aaron,” we learn that the new design is an allusion to the isolation many felt during the darkest times of Covid-19 in the last year or so. “If you look closely at this installation, you will notice fluorescent pink squares spaced out 6 feet from each other,” he says. “At the top, they remain apart, but as the threads reach the bottom, the wind will sometimes allow them to touch.” Our reunions, tentative and unsure, may be alluded to by that overlapping, that distance, that connection he refers to. Alone or together, art fans will again become mesmerized and delighted by Hot Tea’s installation here outside/inside.
HOTTEA “Aaron” will remain on view at the Asbury Park Boardwalk for the duration of the Summer.
They designed the Ritz, the Vanderbilt, the Ambassador and the Biltmore hotels in Manhattan, along with townhouses for the Astors, the Yacht Club, and apartment buildings on 5th Ave and Park.
They were also architects on the team for Grand Central Terminal, that Beaux-Arts centerpiece of Gotham with its high marble walls, majestic sculptures, and lofty domed ceiling.
Also, Whitney Warren & Charles Wetmore designed the Casino Building here in Asbury Park, New Jersey a celebrated historical magnet for thousands of tourists escaping the heat and seeking buffeting breezes. The soaring glass paned windows may remind you of Grand Central, but also of that illustrated postcard on the cover of the Bruce Springsteen album, and of colorful resort town living.
If you had been promenading through this public thoroughfare that connects Ocean Grove to Asbury Park when it was bustling in the middle of last century, you would have seen Skee-Ball machines, bumper cars, games of diversion, and hot dog vendors. Now a cavernous yet sometimes ornate cave from yesteryear, you will feel the soft ocean breezes and hear the call of the seagulls echoing inside the casino throughout the day, and sometimes the night.
You’ll also see 5,760 pieces of colored yarn hanging from the beams above, forming a shape-shifting brick of radiating color that appears to levitate. The brand new installation by Street Artist Hot Tea is lifted and pulled and choreographed by the ocean air, dancing to the sounds of waves crashing, emulating the currents of the sea. 17 rows define the physical boundaries, but your imagination can go much further with it in a matter of minutes.
“One of the focal parts of this piece is about how people interact with it,” says Hot Tea (Eric Rieger) as he unbundles 153 containers of yarns he prepared in his Minneapolis studio and suspends them above.
“Hopefully they’ll take that idea of interaction and, I know this is a big ask, but maybe they’ll take more time talking to someone face-to-face. That’s the larger idea behind my artwork and that’s why am so passionate about doing work in public spaces because I want to alter peoples experience. I want to create more intimate experiences for people who aren’t expecting it.”
“I love the beauty of this movement of the color next to the decay of this beautiful historic building,” says Jenn Hampton of Parlor Gallery who organized the project after many conversations with the artist in the last few years.
This is the first installation of its kind for the Wooden Walls Project that has brought many Street Artists to paint murals here on the boardwalk since Hampton began it in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. She says that part of her process is working with the artist and partly with the people who live and work in this seaside area who may think of public art as limited to statues or murals.
“You have to educate a community of people who may not understand installation art,” she says, and while you watch the arduous process of Hot Tea and his assistant overhead for a few days, you’ll have an opportunity to hear a variety of commentaries from people passing by. On one of the sunny May afternoons a tourist from out of town is so enthralled that she returns during the night time to see how it was progressing and befriends the artist with compliments and bromides during the challenging windy passages.
One gent who identified himself as a Vietnam veteran was sure that the art installation was probably “gay art” because of its rainbow color range. He wondered aloud abrasively to anyone who happened to pass by about gay art and the lamented lack of Straight Pride celebrations, among other observations. A pair of bicyclists stop to engage with him about art in general and this piece in specific but soon appears to withdraw. Before zipping away they take turns yelling up to the artist to say that they like the installation a lot.
“You know it’s interesting with my artwork,” Hot Tea says during a break from the installation. “I have noticed that people of all ages and from all different ethnicities have some sort of say when it comes to my work. Like when I did the piece in the Williamsburg Bridge called “Rituals” it was anyone from little kids who were four or five years olds just immediately responding to the work – just a gasp or a shouted word.”
“They could be young adults or adults on their commute and they were slowing down on their way and that was what I was experiencing with this piece. The kids were gasping and pointing and telling their parents to look up. And then there were young adults who were saying that it was calming and relaxing them and then these older people who stop and say that they’re having an experience with this. They say that this is making them think of the space in a new way.”
“Hot Tea’s piece brings me an immediate feeling of peace and presence,” says Angie Sugrim, a producer with Parlor Gallery and the Wooden Walls Project. Her loyalty to Asbury Park is palpable while you speak with her and it is clear that this installation has affected her meaningfully. “I love how it changes according to the way I choose to interact with it. It’s like a river, though it is constant, it is always changing. I like the feeling of connecting with the piece as it undulates, and following its movement as though it was connected to my own psyche and consciousness.”
“Hot Tea has taken this journey with me for the last
five years and I cannot say enough about how wonderful he is to work with,”
says Hampton. “Watching how driven he is in his process has been amazing.”
He talks to us about the logistics of unveiling his idea to the public. “I’ve tried it where I just drop the whole bundle and try to separate it with my hands but there’s no way to get the yarn to drop individually and it just looks a lot cleaner if you drop it one by one,” he says, “It’s more time-consuming but the end result is much cleaner. All in all from conception to execution I would say it was about three weeks to execute this.”
With roots as a graffiti writer, Hot Tea has created his own niche on the street with yarn – surprising many peers while he is designing and mounting these space-altering large installations for large and small clients around the world, particularly in the last half-decade.
He says that this one in Asbury Park has been unique because of its proximity to the ocean and the impact of the natural elements on the movement of his piece. He says the effect has also affected him aesthetically and emotionally – and he hopes passersby will similarly be moved.
“I think when you are looking up from the bottom you can appreciate the mechanics of it and during the day the yarns are flowing with the wind and more attention is drawn to the color because the wind is moving it.
It’s more of a kinetic experience I think; That’s how I experience it and this whole thing is more about just the experience. Color is a huge part with my work but a lot of it is about creating a lasting memory that people will subconsciously remember when this piece is gone. I hope that happens”