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Dustin Yellin: From Hijacking Golf Carts to Building Brooklyn’s Art Utopia
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Crack-Up)
Artist Dustin Yellin once cracked up.
One evening in 1999, he used a camcorder to document himself committing three acts of trespassing: First he wandered onto the Forbes family yacht claiming he owned it (“I think this is my boat”), then he hijacked the golf-ball-collecting cart at the Chelsea Piers driving range (“We’re going to have fun tonight.”), and then things came to an end when he got arrested for breaking into Belvedere Castle in Central Park (“I climbed up the wall because I’m going to talk to someone in the tower that I’m in love with.”).
Yellin pretty casually refers to the whole thing as a “psychotic breakdown,” but his behavior during the episode isn’t really all that bad, and maybe not even all that psychotic. Sure, he says some stuff that sounds fueled by a potent brew, equal parts confusion and clarity, that has you wonder if this whole adventure began with a tab of acid or two. But, pretty soon into the video, the mystery of what Yellin might be “on,” a mystery we sort of perfunctorily find ourselves trying to solve, feels unimportant.
Instead, what becomes engrossing are the characters who are forced to deal with Yellin. And what becomes fascinating are the reconciliation processes that take place when a guy who has cracked up encounters security guards, managers, and other minions of capital-OOrder—you know, nice folks really just trying to do their jobs. If this video clip is, in fact, a piece of art, then its artistry lies in that it reveals the incredible anatomical complexity of situations where two opposed ideas—Yellin’s seemingly ruleless reality vs. the reality where you can’t just fucking steal a golf cart—are forced to reconcile.
See, it’s reconciliation and the tiny miracle inherent in the very meaning of that word that Fitzgerald is talking about in the The Crack-Up, the 1936 essay that Yellin asks the guy on the driving range if he’s ever read, mid-hijacking. It’s reconciliation and the liminal space between two totally contradictory notions that characterizes Dustin Yellin, both his art andPioneer Works Center for Art and Innovation, the wildly ambitious project that has become his Magnum Opus and pretty much consumed his entire life.