Mapping Roots : NYC is an art installation in room 7C in at the Carlton Arms Hotel in New York City. It was completed in the winter of 2012, during February and March by resident-artist Eva Silverman. The installation is in an actual hotel room that you can stay in. It will be up for years to come. If you want to see it and you aren’t staying there, feel free to stop in at the hotel and ask them if it is open to view. If no one is staying in the room at the time, you’ll have a good chance of seeing it.
A little about the installation:
Mapping Roots features a simplified map of NYC with alternative points of history that have been important to the three generations of my family, intertwining the stories of a changing city, with that of my immigrant family’s history. Each point of interest will show aphoto of ‘now’ and ‘then’, from present day, all the way back to 1920. Many of the photos come from a catalog of 4,000 slides and negatives that my dad and my uncle took during the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. This map links the past to the present in a way that allows one to witness a different time and place, and the changes that have occurred in between, to see the city through the last 90 years and envision all the layers underneath today’s New York.
The main part of the installation is the map above — of all 5 boroughs (plus a shout out to my home state, New Jersey). This map has about 30 points of interest for each generation, with the photos of now and then attached.
Points Of Interest:
Each point of interest has a photo of ‘now’ and ‘then’. The photos are attached to the map like this.
The room also features a city skyline of New York that was originally created for the non-profit preservation group Save Coney Island. The quote on the skyline is from Rebecca Solnit’s book The Infinite City.
Interactive Feature: A Chalkboard
I wanted to allow for collaboration with the people who visit the hotel and the room. Because we all have our own NYC that we create — if we live there or just visit, I wanted people to be able to map their own NYC. Chalk was left in the room for folks to use. The wall text below the chalkboard reads:
MAPPING ROOTS : NYC offers a history of now and then — a changing New York as seen through three generations of my immigrant family – starting in 1920 with my grandma’s arrival to the Lower East Side. Each point of interest has been a place of importance to that generation, using photography as a way to link the past to the present and envision the many layers underneath today’s NYC. We all have our own New York.
Since documentation has always been important to me — I kept a blog of my process creating the installation. Below are some excerpts from different days spent working on the installation, both in and out of the hotel room. Each blog post is chock full of photos worth checking out. Alternately, you can look at the points of interest (photos and history) by using the menu to your left. If you want to see the full text from that post, just click on the date above it which will take you directly to the original post. To see all the blog posts, click here
I set out with camera, heading down to the neighborhood like I always do — to breathe in the ghosts of my history, my culture, my immigrant background. This time though, was with an eye for all the things I might have missed before: The Coleman baseball field with sweeping views of the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, Bialystock Home for the Elderly, Beth Hamederash Hagadol (the oldest Eastern European Synagogue in this country and one that my grandma went to).
This is the part of my project where I take photos of all the places that were important to my family, and what they look like now.
The room went from white empty walls to one step closer to envisioning Mapping Roots : NYC. Baby blue grey paint that to me represents NYC: the grayness of the buildings and cement even against a a clear blue sky.
Being at the hotel, especially in the capacity where I am creating, feels like being part of a larger community of artists. There are a handful of us painting rooms and tonight was an opening party for one of the artists. Tonight I met a handful of new folks and a couple people who worked at the Carlton Arms when I first started going there — back 12-14 years. Because I never went to art school — finding a community of artists, however temporarily, feels so satisfying. There are things you don’t have to explain, new perspectives reached by just a casual, and always, an eagerness to see your work.
Being in NYC for this project means that I get to completely delve into anything related to NYC, to history, to my project. For the past two nights, after working in the room all day, I have made my way over to the Lower East Side Tenement Museum. Yesterday for a talk on ‘Black Gotham’ and today for one called ‘Jews and Booze.’ Being down there — at Orchard and Delancey Street, a familiarity overwhelms me. It has something to do with the width of the streets, the architecture of the buildings and perhaps something more ingrained and related to my family history.
Whatever it is — and however familiar those tenements are to me — they are a world away from the world that my grandma experienced. It is now a mixture of Chinatown as another immigrant population, and swanky lofts and flat screen TVs (thanks for the perspective Geoff). Being down there is a constant reminder that I live in the same yet completely different world than the one my grandma knew.
Today I took a break from painting to focus on the basis of my project: the photos. My installation offers a history of now and then — a changing New York through three generations of a family. My history of NYC really begins in Bensonhurst, where my father grew up and where my paternal grandparents lived till I was 12 years old. It was there, on 20th Avenue at 86th Street, that I really first became acquainted with the sounds, smells and texture of this city. I remember nights, laying in the bed my father slept in as a little boy, and listening to the sounds outside of traffic on the street, of the elevated subway half a block away, watching light stream in from the window next to me. It was a different world for me than my suburban NJ home. It was exciting and raw and full of stimulation. It was a world that my parents ran from, and I ran back to.
All this was, of course, before I found punk rock, before I knew of the Lower East Side, before I discovered the city on my own.
Back in the room, I have mapped out where my photos will go — allotting room to include the photo’s location as well as the ‘now’ and ‘then’ dates of the photos. We’re coming down to the wire here as the opening is officially on Saturday, and there are a lot of last minute details (in addition to all of the above) to be decided.
“To Understand A Place Is To Know It’s Past” – Rebecca Solnit
This phrase captures the sentiment that really has been a guiding force in this project and one that I hold close to my heart. We all consist of the layers and experiences in our past that come together to form who we are today. We have all been affected by people, by places, by the things we choose to do and the things that happen to us. Places, cities, THIS CITY, is like that too.
When I first started painting this room, I was thinking how ironic it was that here I am — unwrapping the layers and stories of my family’s past, and painting on top of the hundreds of layers of paint on this wall. Then, I guess I realized that I was literally making my own mark and that this is just what happens, till the next person comes along and adds another layer. It is an analogy for New York too — for each generation, for each immigrant community. Layers upon layers.