As I am painting the concrete life jackets with historical notations reflective of the 13-year inspection lapsed, failed personal flotation devices (1st image); I am all the more in touch with the human loss caused by the disaster (2nd-3rd images). As I swim laps at the Y, I imagine the struggle against drowning in the Hellgate eddies-- without swimming skills and in heavy Victorian clothes and shoes.
I empathize with the horror of the first responders, acting primarily as reapers, as well as the despairing health conditions of the East River morgues; and the deep pain of silence in the scarred LES community years after the tragedy. We contemporary New Yorkers also continue to grieve 9/11.
As referenced by David Remnick in the New Yorker last fall, the General Slocum Steamship disaster was the largest single event loss of life in the New York area until the World Trade Center attack, and the subsequent Justice Department accident investigation led to the safety regulation of flotation devices on commercial vessels.
The symbolic concrete jackets currently await branding with the word "Vessels" (4th-8th images).
The Metal Arcs of the sinking paddle wheel primary structure are also complete (9th image), an irony in itself of twisted steel collapsed.
All components are progressing: the concrete life jackets, the metal work, and the collage stained glass printing. The smoke stack/pier pylon poles are next to be ordered!
As we near the June 2, 2012 Flow.12 opening and the June 15, 1904 date of the disaster, I am also including some of my research materials that led to the "General Slocum Steamship" disaster project design inspirations.
Planning and production for Famous Faces progressed gradually over the last year, but has really picked up in the last several months. This winter I made decisions regarding subjects and source images for the statues, as well as fabrication methods and vendors. The base panels are in production. The next steps are processing images for screen-printing the panels and figuring out installation logistics.
The three statues will represent Robert Moses, Jesse Owens, and Jimi Hendrix. These giants of 20th century culture seemed the most potent representations of the history of Randall’s Island. Moses marks the island as a contentious site of urban planning and resource allocation. Owens and Hendrix stand for cultural milestones in athletics and music and the park as a place of performance.
Source images for the figures were selected from Internet image searches. The source files will be scaled up for halftone screen-print on the flat statues. When freely standing in the park, the statues should be immediately recognizable yet not readily nameable as historic figures. The cutout is an inverted or negative mask. As anonymous memorials, statues without faces present a figurative paradox, highlighting historical moments while erasing “great men” and opening the past and the park as a place for the viewer to play and perhaps complete the work.