The Rock

The Rock
Corner of Montrose and Manhattan Avenues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York
01.05.20 – 01.11.20

Joint Second Prize
Entry in English

A large, squat boulder occupies what would otherwise be a parking spot at the corner of Montrose and Manhattan Avenues in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Flanked by yellow caution tape and four orange construction barriers, the placement of this massive stone was clearly meant to be temporary. And yet, like many aspects of daily life under Covid-19, this rock is now stranded in an unfamiliar predicament, with an uncertain future. The nearby construction that unearthed it has just resumed after a long pause. With the workers back on the job, the threat of removal builds with each passing day. Despite, or perhaps because of, its transitory nature, the artists Pam Lins and Halsey Rodman began gluing small artworks to this boulder in early May. News of the project spread quickly through Instagram, and the list of collaborators continues to grow through invitation and spontaneous contributions. The Rock, as they named the project, is a playful gesture that responds to a serious need. This humble pedestal gives space to a public expression of grief, hope and resilience, in a city that has experienced many layers of loss. This fluid monument belongs to a generation of self-organised public memorials, in response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

As you approach The Rock, it takes some time to make sense of the scene. Nearly a dozen interventions were on display when I first visited in early June. Most of the pieces are ceramic, but small paintings and collages appear as well. There are no labels or didactics, so you just have to explore for yourself. After a lap around the boulder, I began to study a curious situation: five tiny bar stools in a semicircle around a tip jar with roses in it. The spunky little chairs have round seats the size of bottle caps, and their blue-green glaze stands out against the stone. The tip jar appears massive by contrast, even though it’s only as big as a coffee cup. This sculpture comes off as a quirky but earnest memorial to all the service industry workers who lost their jobs when New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered bars and restaurants to close. The red flowers crammed into the cup cannot make up for lost income, but they express a sincere gratitude and respect.

Viewing The Rock means standing on the sidewalk while a steady stream of people passes through the intersection. New York City’s diversity and de facto segregation are plainly visible on this corner. The setting makes it easy to establish connections between the sculptures on the large stone and the issues of racism and inequality unfolding nationally. Near to the tip jar is another idiosyncratic tribute to the generalised pathos of this moment. Ceramic letters awkwardly spell out ‘CRY AMERICX’ on the surface of the boulder. After mouthing the unfamiliar ending a few times, the consequences of this simple alteration hit me hard. With just two words, this work implies a solidarity of shared grief while simultaneously refusing to ignore the violent divisions that define this country. The unifying activity of the verb ‘CRY’ forms a paradoxical tension with the emphatically plural ‘AMERICX’. Replacing the ‘A’ in ‘AMERICA’ with an ‘X’ invokes both the gender-neutral construction ‘Latinx’ and the radical thought of Malcom X. One altered letter calls out patriarchy and white supremacy, and binds them to the name of this nation. I began to contemplate this phrase as a response to the lofty ‘E Pluribus Unum’. The nearby presence of three quarters glued to the boulder strengthens this connection. Two of these coins are painted red, and the other black. The defaced currency carries the Latin phrase whose case for unity feels woefully insufficient, especially now. And yet it is characteristically American to offer aspirational language as the solution to a crisis that is rooted in the physical and economic domination of Black bodies. ‘CRY AMERICX’ points to a way forward, albeit a difficult one. If white people are willing to confront the fact that white supremacy is an organising principle of our society, not a historical attitude, then we might be able to begin the process of healing. This notion is hopeful, but not naive. The subtitle of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s 2014 article in The Atlantic, ‘The Case for Reparations’, ends with the line ‘Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.’ A candid conversation about reparations would surely involve tears, and these tears would help bridge the gap between language and bodies. On the other side of The Rock from ‘CRY AMERICX’ are several small ceramic sculptures by Pam Lins, of crying eyes.

In addition to making space for heavy issues, The Rock has a solid sense of humour. About a foot below the crying eyes is a much sillier scene: a pair of eyeballs by Saki Sato, glued just above a large crack in the boulder, forms a cartoonish grumpy face. The artist Ruth Rodman informed me that ‘CRY AMERICX’ was by another artist, the artist Trisha Baga’s rearrangement of the letters of yet another person’s sculpture that read ‘JIMMY CARTER’. The word ‘MOON’, a work by Rodman, appears in stylish white letters, like a satirical brand name on this lumpy boulder. Lins created a ‘weed garden’ by planting and watering a tuft of grass amid the rocky soil that clings to one side of the stone. This dance between playful forms and weighty subjects reminds me how cleverly art can redirect our attention. Another text-based work by Matthew Schrader spells out ‘SPACE IS THE PLACE’ in thick clay letters. The droopy forms are hard to read, but a satisfying rhyme rewards the effort. The riddle-like phrase is amusing in this context, but carries another coded meaning for those who know or care to find out: Space Is the Place is the title of an influential Afrofuturist film in which Sun Ra uses music ( and a spaceship ) to transport Black people to a planet of their own, so that they can live free from the oppressive presence of white people. Schrader’s work adds to the alluring mixture of humour and radicality that give this project its traction.

The Rock also rejects the conventional understanding of value as it pertains to an artwork. The commercial art world is built on the conception that artworks are private property, things that can be purchased and owned. Individualism is at the core of this system. In other words, it matters greatly who produced it, and who bought it. The Rock, on the other hand, is a collective gesture. Gluing works to a large rock on a street corner firmly asserts that their value is social, and they belong in public. Attempting to remove a piece from this rock would likely destroy it. This physical bond stands in for the connection between individual artists to the communities and histories that support and inform their work. Furthermore, nearly all the ceramics come from a collaborative project organised by Lins during a residency at Greenwich House. The pieces installed at The Rock are those left over from a fundraiser for progressive causes. The works were sold anonymously, with sculptures by famous artists sitting alongside those made by children. Although this backstory isn’t evident to those casually passing by, the punkish spirit of The Rock comes through immediately.

In late June a bust of the acclaimed science-fiction writer Octavia Butler appeared on The Rock. She sports glasses and a cool smile, her poodle faithfully at her side. This development occurred shortly following her birthday and not long after Juneteenth. Butler’s arrival also came on the heels of several racist and colonialist monuments being toppled or beheaded by groups of citizens. State-sanctioned monuments are an attempt to use the language of sculpture to perpetuate the value system of those in power. In this sense, they are more concerned with controlling the future than the past they commemorate. Using durable materials such as bronze and marble represents an attempt to lend these physical qualities to the ideas that these statues embody. In Fort Greene, Brooklyn, there is a makeshift memorial made from the broken glass and ashes of a burned-out New York City Police Department van. The sparkly dust spells out ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER’. The fragility of these materials exists in relation to the truth of their message. With the public attention focused on corrupt institutions, a central question being debated is whether to reform or replace them. Efforts like The Rock remind us that we don’t need to wait on the sidelines.


This article originally appeared in The Brooklyn Rail, July – Aug 2020.


蒙特罗斯( Montrose )与曼哈顿大道交界



在布鲁克林威廉斯堡( Williamsburg )的蒙特罗斯( Montrose )大道和曼哈顿大道的交叉路口处,有一块巨大、敦实的圆石占据了一处停车位。石头四周是黄色警示胶带的围栏以及四个橘色的路障,显然说明了巨石的摆放只是暂时的。不过,就如同新冠疫情之下我们日常生活的许多方面一样,这块石头现在前途未卜地陷入了一种陌生的困境。石头来自不远处的建筑工地,在长时间的停摆之后最近刚刚复工。随着工人们渐渐重返工作岗位,石头被移除似乎指日可待。尽管如此,或者,也许正是因为它转瞬即逝的特性,艺术家帕姆·林斯( Pam Lins )和哈尔西·罗德曼( Halsey Rodman )在五月初的时候开始把小件的艺术作品粘贴到巨石之上。项目的相关消息很快通过Instagram广为传播,通过邀约或自发创作所带来的合作者名单也在持续增加。项目被命名为《石头》( THE ROCK ),它以玩味的姿态响应着严肃的需要。在一座经历了多重重创的城市中,这尊朴素的基座为悲伤、希望和恢复等公众表达提供了空间。这座流动的纪念碑,是一种自我组织性质的公共纪念,以回应新冠疫情以及“黑命攸关”的运动。

当靠近《石头》时,你需要花费一些时间去理解周围的场景。我六月初第一次前往现场的时候,那里呈现了大约十多件介入性的创作。大部分的作品是陶瓷,不过也包括了小尺幅的绘画和拼贴作品。现场没有任何标签或文字说明,所以你只能靠自己去探索。在巨石周围环绕了一圈之后,我开始研究起一件奇特的事:五个微型的酒吧高脚凳围成一个半圆,中间的罐子里放着玫瑰。这些样式时髦的小凳子有着瓶盖大小的圆形座椅,而它们蓝绿色的釉彩与石头相映成趣。相形之下,罐子显得巨大,尽管它也不过是咖啡杯的尺寸。这件雕塑古怪而认真地纪念着所有服务行业的人们,他们在纽约市市长比尔·德布拉西奥 ( Bill DeBlasio )下令关闭酒吧和餐厅时都丢了工作。塞在小杯子里的红色鲜花,显然无法弥补收入的损失,但它们表达出了由衷的感谢和敬意。

要观看《石头》就意味着站立在人行道上,同时有源源不断的人流在十字路口穿行而过。纽约市的多元性以及种族歧视都在这个角落清晰可见。整个项目的设定,轻易地在放置于石头之上的雕塑与全国范围内发生的种族主义和不平等问题之间建立起联系。紧挨着小罐头的,是另一件对此时此刻众人都感受到的悲痛表达了特别敬意的创作。陶瓷质地的字母歪歪扭扭地在巨石表面拼写出“CRY AMERICX”( 直译有“哭泣美国”之意 )的字样。我嘟囔了几遍这个短语不寻常的结尾部分,被它奇特的拼写所打动。这件作品仅用两个单词便传达了众人共同悲痛的团结,同时又没有忽视那些定义了这个国家的暴力分裂。动词“CRY”表达了一个统一的举动,与“AMERICX”强调的复数形态之间形成了矛盾的张力。而将单词“America”中结尾的字母A替换成X,还让人直接联想到了没有性别意味的“Latinx-拉丁裔人”一词以及非裔美国人维权活动家马尔科姆·X( Malcolm X )的激进思想。通过一个字母的更改,让父权制与白人至上主义都呼之欲出,并将之与这个国家的名字联系在了一起。我开始感到这个短语是对美国国徽上“合众为一”( E Pluribus Unum )的格言做出的呼应。不远处,巨石上粘着三枚25分的硬币,进一步将这种关联凸显了出来。其中的两枚硬币被涂绘成红色,另一枚则是黑色。这些污损的货币上都镌刻了“合众为一”的拉丁语格言,但它们似乎都并不笃信统一,尤其是此刻。不过,极富美国特色的,是将颇具抱负的语言用作解决危机的方式,而这危机根植于针对“黑色身体”所行的物质、经济统治之中。“CRY AMERICX”指出了一条前路,尽管它困难重重。如果白人能够直面白人至上主义是我们社会组织的原则而非历史态度的这一事实,那么我们也许可以开启疗愈的过程。这样的观念充满了希望,而且并不天真。2014年,塔尼西斯·科兹( Ta-Nehisi Coates )在《大西洋月刊》( The Atlantic )发表的文章《赔偿案例》( The Case for Reparations )的副标题以这样一句话结尾:“除非我们估算那些道德债务的和解方式,否则美国永无真正完整的可能。”有关赔偿的坦诚对话,必然惹人潸然泪下,而这些眼泪将有助于弥合语言和身体之间的鸿沟。《石头》上,与“CRY AMERICX”相对的另一边,有几件帕姆·林斯创作的哭泣眼睛的小件陶瓷雕塑。

《石头》除了腾挪空间让人们思考沉重的问题之外,还极具幽默感。在哭泣的眼睛下方大约1英尺( 合约30.5厘米)处,是更好笑的一幕:一对由佐藤咲( Saki Sato )创作的眼球粘在巨石上一条大裂缝的上方,形成了一张卡通风格的暴躁脸庞。罗德曼告诉我,“CRY AMERICX”是艺术家特丽莎·巴加( Trisha Baga )将另一位艺术家原本排列成“JIMMY CARTER”字样的雕塑进行重新组合后的创作。罗德曼的作品是“MOON”(月亮)的字样,它以极具风格的白色字体写就,像个讽刺的品牌名那样附着在块状的巨石上。林斯还在附着于石头一侧的岩石土壤中种植了一簇草并为之浇灌,从而创造了一个“杂草花园”。这种在有趣的形式和沉重的主题之间的交相呼应,提醒了我艺术是如何巧妙地重新引导着我们的注意力。另一件文本类的作品由马修·施拉德( Matthew Schrader )创作,用厚厚的黏土字母拼写出“SPACE IS THE PLACE”( 直译为“空间就是地方” )的字样。字体垂坠耷拉着,让解读略嫌困难,但读出口后的美妙押韵为其增色不少。从作品身处的语境来看,这句谜语般的短句很有趣,但对于那些颇具求知欲的人来说还暗含了另一套进行了编码的意味:这句话和电影《太空即地点》的标题相同,一部极有影响力的非洲未来主义影片,在其中,桑·拉( Sun Ra )用音乐(和宇宙飞船)将黑人运送到他们自己的星球,这样他们就可以摆脱白人的压迫而生活了。施拉德的作品平添了一种幽默与激进相互杂糅的风格,令整个项目都极具吸引力。

《石头》还拒斥着对艺术品相关价值的传统理解。商业的艺术界建立在艺术品是私有财产、可以购买和拥有的观念之上。个人主义占据着这一系统的核心。换言之,创作者是何人、购买者又是何人非常的重要。然而,《石头》项目则是集体性的。把作品粘在街角的一块大石头上,坚定地彰显了它们社会性的价值,彰显了它们是从属于公众的。若试图从这块巨石上取下一件作品便极有可能会毁掉它。这种物理性的联结,表明了个体艺术家们与充实着他们创作的社群及历史之间的紧密关联。此外,几乎所有的陶瓷作品都来自林斯在“格林威治之家”( Greenwich House )做驻地时组织的合作项目。装置于《石头》之上的这些作品,都是当时为机构的事业发展举办筹款活动时遗留下来的。作品以匿名的方式出售,颇具声名的艺术家们的作品往往就放在孩子们的创作旁边。尽管往来经过的观众无从知晓这个背景故事,但《石头》项目独具一种类似朋克的精神特征,仍然是非常鲜明的。

六月下旬的时候,著名科幻作家奥克塔维亚·巴特勒 ( Octavia Butler ) 的一尊半身像出现在《石头》上。她戴着眼镜,脸上挂着一个冷酷的微笑,还有她那只忠实的贵宾犬依偎在身边。这次创作的扩展发生在巴特勒的生日过后不久,也在6月19日纪念美国奴隶制终结的“六月节”后不久。这尊巴特勒胸像的出现,还紧跟着多座种族主义和殖民主义纪念碑被公民推倒或斩首之后。由国家政府批准认可的纪念碑,往往试图用雕塑的语言来延续当权者的价值体系。从这个意义上来说,它们更关心如何控制未来而非如何纪念过去。使用铜、大理石等耐久的材料,体现了为这些雕像赋予思想的尝试。在布鲁克林的格林堡( Fort Greene ),有一座临时的纪念碑,是由一辆烧毁的纽约警车的碎玻璃和灰烬制成的。闪闪发光的灰尘拼写出了“BLACK LIVES MATTER”( 黑命攸关 )的字样。这些材料脆弱易碎,其存在与它们所传达之信息的真实性有关。随着公众将注意力聚焦到了腐败的机构上,一个核心的争议便是去提问:究竟是该改革还是取代它们?像《石头》项目这样的努力之举在提醒我们,我们不需要袖手旁观、静观其变。


*本文已刊载于The Brooklyn Rail2020年7-8月刊