What If We Re-Made U.S. Housing Policy?
Although it’s home to some of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in the country, Queens is an often overlooked borough when it comes to the New York art scene. However, every year Queens Art Express, a project by Queens Council on the Arts, sets out to change that by gathering a variety of artists and providing them the platform to exhibit their art in art spaces all throughout Queens. Running mainly along the 7-train line and other major Queens train stations, Queens Art Express 2012 is a festival of “exhibitions, events, performances, and great places to eat in the vibrant cultural communities of Queens, NY.”
This year, the festival’s recurring theme was a challenging topic which often times renders debates from every which angle; public policy. Examining the question “What If We Made A New World?”, 12 commissioned artists investigated ways to tackle the public policies on Healthcare, Housing and the Economy through any art form. As a result, the public was given alternative ways to think about such a contentious matter.
Artists Ran Hwang, Carlos Martinez, Queen Godis and Anna Lise Jensen collaborated on and interpreted the question, “What If We Re-Made U.S. Housing Policy?” for the first night of Queens Art Express 2012; taking place on Thursday, June 14th, at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning.
Walking in you can’t help but be pulled in the direction of the huge, bright orange and pearly white piece; a landmark building of Jamaica re-created through the eyes of Ran Hwang with mere buttons and pins against a wooden panel. Titled “Dream House”, the piece encourages the viewer to interact with it by pulling out the buttons and pins and attaching them to the blank wooden panel directly next to the piece in an effort to recreate their own dream house.
By pairing such a distinguished and regal looking piece next to a blank panel, Hwang creates an interesting juxtaposition that seems to comment on the social imbalance between the class levels and the fleeting hope of “dreams” that many people are forced to deal with in today’s economic climate.
As you make your way around the space, another eye catcher is the row of three distressed doors with portraits of people arranged on the windowpanes. “Doors” as explained by artist Carlos Martinez is, “a reflection of the conditions of hundreds of people literally surviving on the streets. The images of New York City residents are windows to the many urban realities of historically marginalized groups.”. Martinez’s sensibility resonates in this piece; he is able to accurately recreate the feelings of “social invisibility and exclusion and urban displacement” that many people face on a daily basis through his portraiture while metaphorically recreating the undeniable sense of “ unsustainable development and urban displacement” that is generally disregarded by your average citizen.
Queen Godis’ voice and presence was very prominent throughout the exhibition. What with her recreation of a displaced “home” complete with a “Will Work 4 Hugs” bear and empty wine bottles, her multi-media installation “WOMBLESSNESS: pt.1” in which she creates a simulated womb experience in an act to show the reality of homelessness, and her “READ BETWEEN THE SIGNS” installation where she pairs contemporary and baby photographs of herself and the three other artists; she also places a screen in the middle which loops numerous of photographs of the witty and amusing signs created by the homeless that New York residents have grown accustomed to. However, her haiku house, appropriately titled “HOUSING HAIKU”, was my preferred piece of hers. “HOUSING HAIKU” is an outline of a house made out of connecting strings and clothespins attached to black cards. Each card has a haiku written on it, “inspired by different household terms and structures”. Queen Godis, being a poet and spoken word artist, has a distinctive way with words; she’s both smart and witty in her writing and it is evident in her series of haiku. Directly to the right of the haiku house, Queen Godis invites the public to write their own ideas/suggestions for housing policy on money-themed note cards and place them into a jar labeled “Spare Change” in her piece titled, “BILL OF WRITE$”. All of the submissions will be donated to community based housing programs seeking resources and strategies.
Once you nearly complete your round around the space, you come across Anna Lise Jensen’s pieces. A combination of photographs taken in Jamaica, Queens coupled with excerpts of Paul Bowles, a Jamaica native, writing from his time spent in Tangiers. Jensen’s pieces were an inspiring way to end the show. While the other artists provided the public with the different realities of homelessness, she offers ways to deal with urban abandonment and displacement; focusing specifically on Jamaica. By keeping her proposal on a local level, I think Jensen instilled a feeling of community and alliance, a feeling you should walk away with.
Throughout the show, the different voices, opinions and perspectives of the artists are evident. Nevertheless, you get the sense of the struggle to come to a mutual understanding and reach a common goal; working together as a collective to make sure nobody gets left behind, in the dark or in the cold.