In 2005 a 175-block area of North Brooklyn (mainly the neighborhoods of Greenpoint and Williamsburg), was rezoned for architects and developers who had watched the influx of artists in the previous 15 years turn the area into a hotbed for creativity and exploration of new art, music, and performance.
It’s a well-worn story of course. The surge in popularity that follows when artists bring new cultural life to a dying industrial part of town is the double edged sword for a neighborhood, and not everyone is going to be happy with the cause or the effect. Today, nearly five years into an unprecedented building boom of glass and steel rectangular residential buildings marketed to professional consumers and their Boomer parents, the hard-hitting recession has killed some construction projects, stalled many, and slowed others. Condos are even turning into affordable rentals! Egad.
Street artists probably know their days in Williamsburg are numbered because soon the same people who were attracted to the neighborhood for it’s quirkiness and free spirit of creativity will effectively squelch it – but as long as there are construction sites, there is still scaffolding to adorn. In fact, one developer went as far as hiring artists a couple of years ago to hit up his scaffolding with work that resembles a street art aesthetic, as written in the Gothamist by Jake Dobkin.
The real competition for space are the advertisers who plaster multiples of posters for cell-phones and hair gel in block-long mass-appeal campaigns, far dwarfing the amount of space any street artist could hope to cover with their home-made wheat-pasted piece. Aside from construction sites of course, as long as there are still abandoned and moribund buildings that have yet to be demolished, a canvas on the street beckons.
A brief street installation on one of these construction sites this past weekend by an artists/activist group attempted to open the conversation about gentrification to the young pretty passersby who have been attracted to the cache of a hip neighborhood with close proximity to the island of Gotham (and NYU). In a dramatically metaphorical way, Political Interactive Gaming Systems (PIGS) points to the wooden walls that guard the open construction sites and contends that they are purely a way of hiding the wounds of a freshly lacerated and bleeding part of the city, rather than a public safety precaution.
Part of the Conflux Festival, the art and technology festival for the creative exploration of urban public space, PIGS put up a large magnetic board on one of these blue-walled construction sites with the words of a speech from the mayor of New York, Mike Bloomberg. Much like the refrigerator game it resembles, the words were yours to rearrange. With the goal of raising awareness about gentrification, luxury condos, and displacement of the poor, Josh and Jessica Public happily participated.
Or as they say, “PIGS invites you to play a game: Can you get Mike to express how you feel about your changing city? Rearrange the words, and feel the pleasure of getting a politician to actually represent you.”
It’s hard to measure success on a street installation like this because anybody who walks by may or may not know what in the Sam Hill you are talking about. According to somebody from PIGS who spoke with anonymity, “We observed that many players focused their arrangements around the words ‘defeated’ and ‘enterprise,’ while the word ‘liberty’ was almost never used. We also observed that when passersby saw something written that they didn’t like or agree with, they took the liberty of rearranging the text to reflect their sentiment – which to us, is what politics should be: the work of reciprocal exchange where the rights and sentiments of each person are present in an equal discussion.”