First Big Paper, I hate writing about art

Formal Analysis

By 1980 much of the South Bronx had fallen into despair and decay. Entire buildings and blocks were reduced to drug dens and rubble. Barren fields were filled with crushed bricks and rotting garbage. Many of the middle class citizens left the Bronx and those who remained were either too poor to leave or contributing to the crime. For years, politicians promised to aid the Bronx but little to no change followed their campaigns. In August of 1980 an artist named John Fekner, collaborated on a project aimed at calling attention to the struggling citizens. He spray painted six large stenciled messages across the Charlotte Street area, which included ‘Decay’, ‘Broken Promises’, ‘Falsas Promesas’, ‘Last Hope’, ‘Broken Treaties’ and ‘Save Our School’. ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Falsas Promesas’ were painted in tall letters on the side of a condemned building that overlooked an abandoned lot. While the graffiti was only those four words the message encompasses the entire building, the Charlotte Street area, its history, and the experience of the viewer.

‘Broken Promises” graffiti cannot be completely understood without knowing the historical context in which it was created. The tall stark letters, boldly standing in the abandoned lot ignite curiosity in the viewer. Faced with such a harsh and straight forward statement, one immediately tries to figure out what injustice is being exposed. One examines the photographic documentation attempting to discover the time, place, and reason. Viewers of the collections, such as Lisa Kahane’s “Do Not Give Way to Evil,” who did not themselves view the Bronx during this era are distanced from its reality. The photos seem like another world compared to what stands today in that area. This war-like destruction is the result of years of decaying in the South Bronx. A major turning point took place when in 1977, while New York City was in the depths of a severe financial crisis, a blackout occurred in the entire city. In the dark days without power rioting and looting ensued. Many stores were stripped bare and widespread arson engulfed the borough. Fear and damages to family businesses caused those who could to uproot their families. Those left occupying the South Bronx were largely poor. Elections came and went promising to bring aid to the area but much of the aid was not seen by the people. After years of the continuing economic downturn and the birth of the Crack Wars many buildings were left condemned and razed, and entire fields were converted to garbage lots. The result was a feeling of despair, distrust, and hopelessness among many of the people.

John Fekner was born in New York City in 1940. As an artist he is known for his environmental and conceptual outdoor works. He has spray painted and stenciled hundreds of words, symbols, dates and icons as an important figure in the Street Art movement. During early work he stenciled phrases throughout New York City. His first pieces were created in the South Bronx at Fashion Moda, a museum of science, art, and invention. Fekner’s first project consisted of the spray painted letters “TV” inside a circle with a slash through it; the printed statement included was in English and Spanish. In the summer of 1980, he visited Charlotte Street in the South Bronx and much like the other areas he had worked in, such as the Sunnyside Railroad Yards and Trunz Meat Factory, Charlotte Street was decayed and abandoned. In June, Fekner and the junior director of Fashion Moda returned with stencils and began ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Decay.’ As people gathered for the People’s Convention, he met with community leaders and the inhabitants about which issues to address in his work. Fekner and college friend Don Leicht involved people from the community in the projects, including local children, workers, and writers. Within about a week they had composed ‘Decay,’ ‘Broken Promises/Falsas Promesas,’ ‘Save Our School,’ ‘Broken Treaties,’ and ‘Last hope’. This series of installations had gained so much attention that on August 5, presidential candidate Ronald Reagan spoke at the site and brought swarms of media to the area. These ephemeral pieces were lost to time and now only live on in photographs.

Two of Fekner’s Charlotte Street stencils, ‘Broken Promises’ and ‘Falsas Promesas,’ shared a building and repeated the same message of injustice. The phrases were written in Spanish and English, legible to both the Hispanics and Blacks that formed the majority of the borough. The dark and serious letters stood in stark contrast to their separate white backgrounds, announcing themselves from afar and dragging eyes to the building. On the right side, ‘Broken Promeses’ was not stenciled on a cleanly painted white background. It was instead painted on one of the sections where a connected building was broken off and reduced to the rubble that encompasses the field. The letters themselves were misarranged; the B and the R hanging at odd angles to the rest of the letters, furthering the idea of something broken and awry. Contrastingly on the left side, the letters of ‘Falsas Promesas’ stood straight and near perfectly aligned on top of a clean white background. The clean and straight composition would not at first seem to convey a lie. The purity of the composition contrasted with the corruption of something being false. Thus, the untainted composition of the phrase initially hides the meaning of the words and deceives the viewer.

The Charlotte street area exemplifies all the destruction listed above and, as result of Fekner’s stencils, attention is called directly to what others tried to hide and ignore. The abandoned building on which the graffiti is stenciled is dark and brooding. This decrepit structure stood with its deep gaping black windows staring over the lot and at the viewer. Each window once a portal into the home of a family stood bare either boarded up or filled with a black emptiness that reinforced the feeling of despondency. In the field below were scattered remnants of lives that were no longer there. Fragments of the building that was razed, destroyed furniture that once decorated homes, garbage of the inhabitants who no longer cared, and toys of the kids who once played there are all laid out for the swarms of eyes that gathered to see the graffiti. The viewer is forced to think about the life that was lost and, more disturbingly, the lives that had to continue in these conditions. The condemned buildings were used as the only available shelter for the homeless and the lots served as the only playgrounds available to the children. The words combined with the immediate area result in the thoughts of loss for what once was and disappointment for what was never received.

The history of the area, the stencil paintings, and the immediate area combined to create Fekner’s art piece. Fekner’s goal was achieved when people saw his messages, analyzed the surroundings, and started to question how one of the richest cities in the world could contain entire neighborhoods that seemed war-torn. The injustice hung over the borough like a fog: the politicians kept outsiders from seeing in and the inhabitants couldn’t see past the gloom. Fekner’s work brought in other artists and helped spotlight the area. Groups of people from the area were formed to try and improve the area. Politicians were forced to deal with the problem and due to the media’s attention could not ignore it to the same extent as they did previously. It broke the cycle in which politician’s promises about the area were broken and only brought more of the same. Fekner did not improve everything and neither did these groups but these were steps in the right direction that would get darker throughout the 80s before it would get brighter.

 

   

The Living Walls team installed the above stencil, designed by stenciling legend John Fekner, in Atlanta last week as part of a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I Still Have A Dream is Fekner’s first work in Atlanta. It can be found at Pal’s Lounge at 254 Auburn Ave NE on the corner of Auburn Ave and Bell Street, and was installed just in time to be seen by participants in Altanta’s 2012 MLK Day Parade. More photos are over on Streetela.

[Image and caption via vandalog.com.]

(copy)writing?

image

J. Fekner

image

Mobstr

image

J. Fekner

image

Mobstr

image

J. Fekner

image

Mobstr

image

J. Fekner

image

Mobstr


I’ts hard. 

Shall we google any idea we have, before doing our art? It’s rather yes or no. Both answers are valid. It’s hard to have bright new ideas, especially when it comes to writing. How can a sentence be possibly new? or new in conceptual art? Does it counts if another artist has said it, some 20-30 years ago? Shall we always post credits, or shall we ignore it?

It’s hard to avoid a man such as John Fekner. It’s hard not to consider Mobstr too, may be the new Fekner. But how new is new? what’s new? I leave it to you.


Today, Apr 29, 2:30p:

Panel Discussion: “The Hub: Revisiting Fashion Moda

Andrew Freedman Home, 1125 Grand Concourse, Bronx, NY [map]

Revisit a major force in NYC’s art history, “FASHION 時 裝 MODA МОДА FASHION 時 裝 MODA МОДА”, during this panel discussion and film screening. Artists who effected and were effected by FASHION MODA will get together to discuss the relevance of its concept in today’s art context and the role of art in communities. The event has been produced by curator Keith Schweitzer and is presented by No Longer Empty concurrent with their exhibition, “This Side of Paradise”.

Panelists include Stefan Eins (Artist, Founder of FASHION MODA), Lisa Kahane (Photographer), CRASH (Artist and Curator), and Lee Quinones (Artist), and moderator Joyce Manalo (Co-Author of PANTHEON: A History of Arts from the Street of New York City).

Filmmakers include Jane Dickson (Filmmaker and Mixed Media Artist), Charlie Ahearn (Director and Filmmaker), Tony Silver & Henry Chalfant (Director and Filmmaker).

image: John Fekner (Artist)

Text
Photo
Quote
Link
Chat
Audio
Video