Patient bedframes by the windows in the “White Dove Building” on Hart Island, 2008. Very few “civilians” have been out to Hart Island, located about a half-hour off of City Island. There’s a very good reason for this - the island, situated on the very edge of New York City, is off limits to just about everybody but the Department of Corrections and the prisoners from Riker’s Island who head out several times a week to bury New York’s unclaimed bodies, as well as the bodies of stillborn infants from the City’s hospitals. Hart Island is NYC’s Potter’s Field, and about 850,000 bodies are buried out there - it’s the world’s largest public cemetery, unbeknownst to most people who live in the City.
But it has also been many other things concurrently - an adjunct asylum to the one on Blackwell’s Island for women with chronic mental illness. A workhouse for boys caught up in the juvenile justice system. A drug rehab praised by Yoko Ono. There are still buildings on the island, and their interiors have almost never been properly photographed - even when notable photographer Joel Sternfeld was allowed to photograph the island, he could only capture the exteriors of the buildings. So years ago, artist Marie Lorenz and I headed out in the dead of night to the island to see what was there. While I documented the island, Marie documented the adventure for her blog.
On the second floor of the crumbling “White Dove Building” - so nicknamed because nobody seems to have a proper designation for it, and it bears a giant mural of a white dove inside a black circle on the side of it - I found these patient bedframes, still in place against a wall with some windows. Directly, below this, I found some empty coffins, simple pine boxes that would be used for interment. This is one of the last exposures I took on the island - soon after, the waterway in between Hart Island and City Island began to fill with boats, and we figured we’d best make a break for it.
THE DAILY PIC: Today’s Pic is a still from a video by New Yorker Marie Lorenz, whose piece is a highpoint in “Crossing Brooklyn”, the survey of that borough’s art that’s only up for a few more days at the Brooklyn Museum. Lorenz’s piece, titled Archipelago, documents a trip she took around the waterways of New York in a cockamamie little boat of her own design. (Click on my image to watch a clip.) The piece distills a dream of exploration that I think most New Yorkers–or metropolites in general–have about their city. We feel that there’s always something more to find in our town, if only we had the time to do the finding–as Lorenz seems to have, at least within the narrative of her piece.
Lorenz films her trip from three different viewpoints, simultaneously through three different cameras; the one that means most to me–that really makes her piece–is one attached to a stick that rises behind her back. It provides footage that’s a dead ringer for the view we get in some video games, where a virtual camera gives us a strangely disembodied view of our every move and action. By repurposing that view for something as sweet and innocuous as a boat trip around New York, Lorenz provides a palpable antidote to the violence and chaos that our culture often favors.
Today at 2pm, artist Marie Lorenz will discuss the alien “Zone” in Andrei Tarkovsky’s sci-fi film Stalker and the novel Roadside Picnic. At 4pm, she will describe how to experience the future in the trash of the present
Lorenz is an artist whose project The Tide and Current Taxi ferries passengers through the waterways of New York. Her seminar and lecture is part of Speculations (“The future is___”), fifty days of lectures, discussions and debates about the future as part of EXPO 1: New York.
Hart Island has been many things: a prisoner of war camp multiple times; in the mid-19th century, it housed confederate POWs; in the mid-20th, it held POWs from World War 2. The island has also been home to a womens’ asylum, a boys’ workhouse, a drug rehab, and a NIKE missile base. But if the average person knows anything at all about Hart Island, it is likely the fact that, since 1869, the island has served as New York’s sixth potter’s field. Approximately 800,000 bodies are buried on the island, making it the largest publicly funded cemetery in the world. The bodies are buried in simple pine boxes, the adults in trenches that hold up to 200 coffins; the infants, in trenches that hold up to 1,000. Since the island is owned by the New York City Department of Corrections, and the burials performed by inmates, nobody is permitted to so much as land a boat on the island.
In 2008, Marie Lorenz and I set out at about 4:45 in the morning and landed a boat on the island. In the roughly 4.5 hours I had to photograph the island before Marie got jittery and wanted to leave, we came across many amazing things. The top photograph depicts the view from a window on the top floor of the White Dove building, originally part of an 1880s lunatic asylum for women, and last used as a drug rehab. (Here’s a post showing the interior.) In between the wings is a pit covered in plywood. This was a half-filled mass grave for infants. Around the corner from the building was another mass grave (middle photograph) - this one for adults, and just starting to fill. Both are surely covered now as many more trenches have taken their place. And on the first floor of the White Dove building, several coffins - this one not buried, and several disinterred (bottom photograph depicts the unburied coffin). For more on Hart Island, check out my 2008 blog post on the topic.
Marie Lorenz is a Brooklyn-based sculptor and installation artist. Her ongoing project, The Tide and Current Taxi, involves ferrying passengers throughout New York City in a handmade boat. Lorenz earned her MFA in Sculpture from Yale University and has exhibited her work widely, including Locust Projects (Miami), The Glass Pavilion (Berlin), Ikon Gallery (Birmingham UK), and Artists Space.
Season 4 of House of Lies Premieres This Sunday at 10pm During Showtime's Free Weekend!
The fourth season of House of Lies premieres this Sunday at 10pm on Showtime! If you have never seen the show, it follows the lives of four cut-throat management consultants played by Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Josh Lawson and myself. So much happens this season, I can’t wait for everyone to find out what we’ve been up. If you are a Clyde Oberholt fan, there is no bigger season for my character than this one. You meet my father (played by Fred Melamed), I get a love interest (played by Valorie Curry) and the most fucked up thing that could happen to Clyde, happens this season. Other guest stars include Mary McCormack, Demetri Martin, Jenny Slate, Steven Weber and Lorenz Tate.
Also, for those who don’t get Showtime, this weekend only, Showtime is offering up all of their services for FREE. You can watch every episode of our television show from beginning to end and catch the season premiere for free starting on Friday. CLICK HERE for more details.
Here are some trailers promoting season 4 and our comedy special from last year. Hope you enjoy!
And here is House of Lies Live- the long form improv special I produced for Showtime last year with the House of Lies cast.