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Artists Liene Bosquê and Nicole Seisler are roaming the streets of the Lower East Side in April with a cart full of clay, ready to be pressed by willing hands onto the built environment. As part of their Shifting Impressions exhibition at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space in Essex Street Market, these artists ask the public to engage in a tactile way with the details of the urban landscape.
“I think of clay as a conduit between people and place,” Seisler explained to Hyperallergic. “Porcelain is a material that we deal with daily — our toilets, our sinks, our coffee cups, and our plates are all made of it. We deal with it in the domestic realm, but in its raw state on the city streets it transforms and becomes an entry point into the project.” She added that their cart with its trays of clay blocks also draws the curious who ask questions like: “Hey, is that tofu?,” “Are you selling cakes?,” “Is that butter?” Often these people end up making their own mark and adding it to the City Souvenirs collection, a now 800-object project that started in 2009 and has mostly centered on New York and Chicago.
“By introducing and providing tools for tactile engagement, we open up a dialogue about art, visceral materials, the built landscape, and personal experience within the public space,” Bosquê stated. “No walk is ever the same because they each change depending on the city, the neighborhood, and whom we encounter.” In 2010 with Art in Odd Places, for example, the artists had a retired firefighter take an impression of a plaque for those lost on 9/11 at his old station, an Israeli veteran use the back of his prosthetic leg to imprint a High Line bench, and Seisler and her brother make interlocking impressions on a Union Square building.
From Cuchifritos, they’ll lead participatory walks on April 11, 18, and 25 that focus on different themes of immigration, the arts, and change. Curated by Lynnette Miranda, the installation at the Essex Street Market gallery has clay impressions arranged by when they were gathered, with floral flourishes from architecture, jagged lines possibly from sidewalk cracks, and scraps of words all together and available for gallery visitors to make graphite rubbings. As the exhibition continues, new impressions will be added from the Lower East Side.
Essex Street Market is at this moment in a huge state of change, with redevelopment scheduled for completion in 2018 that will move all the market’s businesses across the street. The group of four 1940s buildings constructed to house Lower East Side street vendors will all be torn down as part of the Essex Crossing mixed-use development project, with demolition currently underway at 115 Delancey Street (the building hosted Creative Time’s Living as Form in 2011). As curator Miranda put it, Shifting Impressions and the City Souvenirs project situate “individual impressions and ephemeral daily experiences as a critical piece of collective memory of the constantly developing Lower East Side.” Each clay block just captures some small shapes and the grip a hand, but the action engages that person with the physical identity of a place, which in New York is constantly in flux.
Shifting Impressions continues at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space (120 Essex Street inside Essex Street Market, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through April 26. Walks are at 4pm on April 11, 18, and 25 and start at Cuchifritos.