This March, during the early days of the COVID-19 lockdown in New York, a massive boulder appeared on a parking spot at the corner of Montrose and Manhatten Avenue in Brooklyn. The imposing rock, most likely a glacial erratic, was unearthed during excavations for a much-contested fracked gas pipeline that is planned to run underneath large parts of north Brooklyn.
Shortly after it surfaced from the ground, Pam Lins and Halsey Rodman, two sculptors who live in the area, started gluing ceramics to the boulder as an impromptu public art installation called “THE ROCK.” In the months since then, more than 20 artists, including a few anonymous contributors, have added artworks to the ongoing installation. Contributors include artists like Nicole Eisenman, Trisha Baga, Sara Coffin, Saki Sato, and Kenneth Tam, among others. “THE ROCK” features a collection of sculptural objects, from a bust of author Octavia Butler to miniature stools, vases, and a set of tearful eyes. But now, as excavations come close to completion, the future of the installation is uncertain.
“Recently, we were contacted by a contractor for National Grid to let us know that they would need to move THE ROCK sometime soon,” Lins and Rodman told Hyperallergic in an email. The artists said that the Sculpture Center and MOMA Ps1 in Long Island City have shown interest in hosting the installation but are not able to cover the cost of moving it, which is estimated at tens of thousands of dollars.
Meanwhile, the corner of Montrose and Manhatten Ave in South Williamsburg has become a protest flashpoint against the gas pipeline. Yesterday, October 19, a group of environmental and grassroots activists held the latest in a series of protests at the junction. A police unit arrived at the scene, but there were no arrests. The protesters later continued to the nearby corner of Leonard and Stagg Street, where they successfully disrupted a National Grid crew that was completing the fourth and penultimate stage of constructions for the pipeline.
The planned pipeline will carry fracked methane gas through the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Brownsville, Bed Stuy, Crown Heights, Bushwick, and Williamsburg, and Greenpoint. An explosion or a leak would affect more than 150,000 people, mostly from communities of color, which are afflicted with asthma at a higher rate than average and have been disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus.
“Brownsville has the lowest life expectancy in New York City; it also has the highest asthma rates in the city,” Anna Tsomo, an organizer at the protest, told Hyperallergic. “If you look at the disparities of life expectancy between Brownsville and the Upper West Side, a wealthy white neighborhood, you see that Brownsville people die 11 years earlier.”
As these protests continue to escalate, Lins and Rodman have intensified their search for a home for “THE ROCK,” but accruing the funds necessary to transport it remains a challenge. A letter they sent to the city, in which they requested help in moving the installation to a permanent location, was rejected.
Notwithstanding, Lins and Rodman have immortalized the installation in a 52 by 40-inch poster that outlines its evolution over the past seven months. They also documented the project extensively on Instagram, where it received wide praise. But the rock itself, Lins said, “could disappear at any moment.”
“When we initially started this project, we thought the rock would be quickly removed or buried back in the ground,” Lins added. “But it evolved into a monument to the COVID-19 era and the Black Lives Matter protests, and people in the neighborhood responded to it.”