TEXT BY SCOTT STIFFLER, PHOTOS BY GABBY JONES | Those arriving at Hudson Yards by way of the 7 train emerge from 125 feet below street level and past the station’s see-through canopy to experience a brief burst of nature, by way of Bella Abzug Park (542 W. 36th St.). Like its short-statured, activist/elected namesake, the tiny park possesses complexities that might escape notice upon first pass.
Placed among the planting beds on the park’s first block are sculptures by artist Fanny Allié. Commissioned by the Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK) with a directive to base the artwork on her observations of Bella Abzug Park, the result is Shadows—a mixed media sculptural installation comprised of 10 brightly colored, steel, see-through, human-shaped outlines based on those who work year-round to maintain Abzug Park’s abundant greenery.
As such, each sculpture is seen in a pose that references their temperament, physicality, or daily routine. This candid glimpse into the lives of a team whose members hail from places including Senegal, Togo, Puerto Rico, and the continental United States was achieved by the hours Allié spent with each of the participants—although that was not the plan when Allié first visited Bella Abzug Park.
Of that visit, she recalled, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” other than knowing, very generally, that her project “would be silhouettes of people… and then, I saw a group of gardeners working in a green area, a divide between the bushes and where people sit. It’s a vital resource,” says Allié, of the park, “and it wouldn’t function without the workers who clean, sweep, look after, watch, plant, dig, and trim it. So with Shadows, my intention is to highlight the presence of these workers through their body outlines and voices, allowing visitors to get to know them and making visible the individuals, experiences, and work that can sometimes be overlooked.”
Further insight is revealed through an audio component, accessible via QR code, in which Allié’s subjects share their thoughts on work, family, immigration, and more. “Voice,” says the artist, “is a powerful medium that can carry various emotions and reveal a lot about a person.”
Maintenance and sanitation worker Aliou, one of six participants working for Street Plus as contracted by HYHK, sings his own song, in Wolof, which addresses. how his work in the park is important, and allows him to send money to his family back in Senegal (click here to listen). Aliou’s co-worker, Ayawo, sings in Ewe (click here to listen).
The candid pose based on Momar depicts his domestic post-work routine. “He told me as soon as he gets off work, he just lies down and listens to music,” recalled Allié. “He has a bad back, and this is his daily way of relaxing.”
Chris, who along with Gilberto comprises the installations’ HYHK groundskeeping staff contingent, offers this (click here to listen) observation: “The reason I became a gardener is because it made me realize how important the human and nature connection is. Because at the end of the day, we are all nature and the closer you can be to it, the better you feel.”
Each worker chose their sculpture’s color, prompted by Allié to select one that best represents them. Primed and painted by the artist, the sturdy metallic building material conveys a sense of consistency and strength, while the bright, reflective colors are conducive to change, and do so when nearby strings of light are activated, and as the cycle of natural light goes from dawn to daylight to dusk. And the installation, in place through October 2023, goes through the seasons, its 10 sculptures will be impacted by changes in their surroundings.
When Shadows made its debut on November 10, 2022, it did so against the background of brilliant fall colors. Now, in January of 2023, it awaits a new look courtesy of the first significant snowfall. “It will be interesting,” says Allié, “to see how they’re going to change with the weather.”
Artist Fanny Allié’s Shadows, on view through October 2023, is curated and produced by Debra Simon. Bella Abzug Park is located on West 33rd to 36th Streets, between 10th & 11th Aves. For more info on the park, click here. For info about the Hudson Yards/Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK), click here. For artist info, click here.
For more photos, Allié Artist’s Statement, and more info about HYHK, keep scrolling down.
Artist’s Statement | My practice is influenced and directed by refuse, lost and overlooked elements of daily life. I incorporate into my work found and discarded materials, including textiles and objects, juxtaposing these remnants to produce records of contemporary life. Acting as a modern-day scavenger of my own refuse and that of others, I repurpose abandoned everyday objects in an effort to expose the human traces woven into these materials, to redirect the waste of our consumer culture and to reflect on the precarious narrative that links us to each other.
I find stories within the discarded remnants of mass-produced objects, elevating them as icons of interpersonal connections and as relics of ephemerality, memory, passage and loss. These stories are born from deeply personal and broadly collective experiences, shared mythologies anchored in an urban environment. The materials and objects that we no longer want and that we leave behind retain the traces of our lives and of our bodies, therefore becoming testimonies.
I explore the connection between these rejected objects and the body that engaged with it, considering our relationship to the world around us through our abandoned materials. The internal/emotional landscapes that I create are a study of the spaces we inhabit daily, starting with the body, the first place that contains us.
In conversation with my solitary studio practice, which is driven by the handmade process, I develop site-specific and community-based public art projects focusing on human interrelation and collectiveness. I am interested in highlighting the connection people have to one another and to the place they inhabit, in order to develop a sense of community, belonging and a sense of place. I intend the public sculpture and its surrounding to become a place of social hangout where participants and the audience may get to meet and interact with each other. The human figure, with a particular interest in its outline or trace, is at the core of my public work and play with ideas of memory and the mark we leave on places and others.
About HYHK | The Hudson Yards Hell’s Kitchen Alliance (HYHK) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of the diverse population who lives, works and visits the district. Since 2015 the HYHK Business Improvement District (BID) has been providing supplemental sanitation services, streetscape improvements, neighborhood horticulture and beautification projects, and technical and professional services for small businesses in an area broadly bound by W. 42nd St. to the north, Eleventh Ave. to the west, W. 30th St. to the south and Ninth Ave. to the east. As the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation’s official maintenance and operations partner for Bella Abzug Park, HYHK is active in providing a variety of cultural programming to the neighborhood. Through film screenings, rotating art exhibitions, concerts, wellness series and more, the HYHK Arts Program is focused on enhancing public space and community through public art. Learn more at hyhkalliance.org and @HudsonYardsHellsKitchen.
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