Top, Newsday subway station poster, bottom, John Fekner’s “Doomsday” (1983) intervention on the Newsday poster (photos by Brian Albert/John Fekner, reproduced with permission) (click to enlarge)

Artist John Fekner recently found this previously unpublished photograph of a subway billboard street art piece he created in 1983. He transformed a Newsday newspaper poster in the Ely/23rd Street subway station in Long Island City, Queens, into a more ominous scene under a yellow sky.

Unlike street art interventions today, Fekner’s work disappeared soon after it was created — he estimates that it survived for a week or two at most — and it did not have an afterlife online.

I asked Fekner what was it about the mood of the Reagan era that moved him to create this piece. “Politically, 1983 didn’t feel good at all. Things were pretty rotten and nasty all around … AIDS, heroin, others drugs,” he explains. “I was doing collaborative works at the time with David Wojnarowicz in painting, audio and found object work. I would walk down 2nd street in the East Village and one day you were at a birthday loft jam party for Lee [Quiñones] and the next day you noticed the block was filled with drug dens.”

In light of the continuing nuclear disaster in Japan, this work has an added poignancy as New Yorkers continue to raise concerns about the Indian Point nuclear plant north of the city. While AIDS and heroin don’t have the same sense of urgency in the city that they once did, other more threatening dangers loom on the horizon.

Here’s hoping that during this year’s Earth Day will raise people’s consciousness and make all of us aware just how fragile the world we live in actually is.

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic.

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