In the summer of 2014, I built a model of New York City containing many of the city’s landmarks, skyscrapers, and a bevy of subway cars. This creation measures a mere 28 by 36 inches and is made entirely of wood, paper, and plastic.
Over the years, I slowly built this dollhouse. Using balsa wood, cardboard, and scraps salvaged from the garbage, I glued together the numerable pieces of furniture. Odds and ends (many from my sister) such as bottle caps, cloth scraps, and earrings complement the intricate displays. None of the materials are purchased from a conventional model store. They are all hand assembled – either for the sheer joy of it, or as a skill-building exercise in model-making.
The former Essex Country Jail sits forlorn and abandoned amidst desolate parking lots and lifeless prefab boxes. In the so-called University Heights “neighborhood,” the jail is testimony to the past. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, this 1837 structure is one of the oldest jails in America. Abandoned for over thirty years, no successful preservation efforts have materialized.
Gradually, the urban jungle of junk trees, vines, and garbage conquers the veritable old fortress. The warden’s garden that zealous prisoners formerly pruned and weeded is now overrun with weeds. Used syringes line the cell-block floors. Not a single window is unbroken. Not a single wall is straight or strong. The rigid geometry defined this urban castle is now blanketed in decay.
Yet, this fortress of old is still a home. A constant trail of homeless squeeze through the rusted barbed wire fencing. They carry with them their few odd “valuables,” cans to be recycled or shopping bags of discarded clothes. Every night, they sleep in the very cells their luckless brethren slept in decades before. Every day, they aimlessly wander city streets. Ironically, the physical prison of brute force and searchlights has evolved into a metaphorical bastion of poverty. Both prisons, new and old, are refuges for the luckless. As its occupants have changed, so has the prison. Both are ghosts. Both are vanishing.
Visiting China, I was shocked by the massive reach of globalization. On the train, I witnessed an endless treadmill of mile after mile of identical crops, villages, and cities. The polluted skies and downcast weather hinted at the relentless combine of economic growth.
Returning home, I earned greater appreciation for my own artistic creations. They seemed so much more innocent, smaller, and quainter – a naïve refuge from the real world. I had something independent of cruel modernity I could call my own. No matter how much the volatile world changed, my art would remain a time capsule of my youth, my Unmanufactured Landscapes.
This lightweight and colorful creation explores how perception alters through shifting one’s vantage point. Inspired by the shapes of Italian Futurist sculptures, this “tree” is part sculpture, part Tower of Babel, and part abstract spaceship. Dimensions: 3 ft diameter base by 8 ft high. Materials: Zome erector kit and floodlight beneath for shadows and contrast.