I. There is a small park in the South Bronx, adjacent to the larger St. Mary’s Park that for a long time had a simple mural that read “I-Am-Park.” I always noticed and admired it as a clear affirmation of presence. I am park. Since I moved to the Bronx in 2014, there has been a push for gentrification and development both by the city and private enterprise. Things go away when there is development. This displacement, the impermanence of things, is one of the reasons I make my large scale rubbings. The “I-Am-Park” mural is gone now, the Parks Department doesn’t have a record of where the mural came from, or why it is now gone. Also gone is an etched section of sidewalk along the park where people had written their names in the once-wet concrete. It had been buffed out before I could make a rubbing, a document, of the inscribed names. Instead, my rubbing of the now buffed sidewalk revealed circular erasure marks made by a sanding machine. Rather than a record of presence, this rubbing is a record of erasure. While onsite, a woman who saw me making the rubbing, stopped to tell me that her daughter Jenny had written her name on that sidewalk when she was fourteen. Jenny is now thirty-five-years-old, her mother told me. Thus, I learned that the names in the sidewalk were twenty-one-years-old when they were erased.
II. This painting is of a logo I saw on one of the many trucks that everyday traverse the Cross- Bronx Expressway, a Robert Moses project that divided the Bronx in two in the 1950s. In this company depiction of a world map, the continents are distorted and drift off of the planet Earth. The work’s title, Reverse Pangaea, refers to Pangaea, the landmass that comprised all continents in the Paleozoic and Mesozoic eras, before they drifted into what the world looks like now. This logo caught my eye because the continents drift off of the planet; here the land itself is displaced. This is opposite of the conditions of the world, where people are displaced, but the land is fixed. This is a reflection of deep time and change at a much different scale than the human, and I consider this in thinking about what the world looks like and how displacement and translation happen across continents.
III. This is a rubbing of a section of sidewalk in the South Bronx, which is inscribed with the names Bin Laden and Cuba. In New York City, it is striking to see Bin Laden’s name etched in stone. I am interested in how meanings evolve, how ideas are translated, how concepts become decontextualized, and what these changes look like. For someone to get a nickname like Cuba is a kind of shorthand reference to one part of their identity. Someone else can be a local troublemaker and end up with the nickname Bin Laden. When I was making this rubbing, a man passing by said “That’s me.” I asked if he was Bin Laden or Cuba. He told me he was Bin Laden. “That’s the name the streets gave me.” He was happy and appreciative that I was making this rubbing, and that I would be preserving his name. He told me he was going to show his friend Cuba a photo of me making the rubbing.
IV. This rubbing is taken from the facade of a building in Rockefeller Center in Midtown Manhattan. Rockefeller Center is an epicenter of Art Deco art and architecture. Unlike Art Deco and New Deal Architecture, Rockefeller Center was a privately financed project. In the art of its buildings and lobbies, every depiction of industry is “forward thinking” in the early twentieth century modernist tradition. Displayed are tropes and caricatures that are blatantly colonial and racist. One common symbol in Art Deco design is the fasce, the origin of the term fascism, symbolized as a bundle of rods, or sometimes wheat. All Midtown buildings, including Rockefeller Center—“The Rock”—are physically able to exist because they are firmly anchored to Manhattan Island’s bedrock. In Midtown, the bedrock is strongest. Like wheat plants, these buildings are related to the earth, anchored to the land and geography. It is worth remembering that The Rock is blocks away from Trump Tower. These buildings and the prosperity they signify are very close to the Bronx. 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s is a documentary about 1970s youth in the South Bronx, which was until recently the poorest congressional district in the United States. Eighty blocks is how far Cuba and Bin Laden and Jenny lived from Tiffany’s, the luxury goods store in the lobby of Trump Tower, where Melania Trump shopped for a gift for Michelle Obama.