October 9, 2013
Dear Wolkoff Family,
I perused my Facebook newsfeed while drinking my coffee this morning (as per my morning ritual), and came across Nir’s and Bagli’s piece from yesterday’s Times. I sighed and thought, “let’s see what the latest news is.” Sometimes, being in the “future” is a very strange thing indeed. You see, I’m writing from Abu Dhabi where it is already Wednesday morning, when you would be sitting at a City Council meeting anxiously waiting for a decision about the fate of a place you truly underestimate and undervalue.
And I’m sure this open letter, destined for my blog, will not reach you (literally or resolutely), but I just had to do something…say something, anything. I’m positive that folks have already told you this, but what you are about to destroy is much more valuable than you realize.
Under the careful curatorial and caretaking efforts of Meres1 (aka Jonathan Cohen), the space of a meaningless warehouse at Jackson and Crane became a cultural place called 5Pointz—meaning people have invested emotionally, socially, and meaningfully in a space that is now, quite literally, the mecca for graffiti writers internationally. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the people who have, through their labors of love and commitment, transformed that space into a place are not (by and large) people who have the capital—financial or cultural—to “save” it from extinction. And yet, they are determined to do so.
Since news of the proposed demolition of your 200k sq. ft. building went public, there have been petitions, videos (…so many videos), newspaper articles, TV news stories, and social networking campaigns to “Save5PTZ.” In one of those videos, you state “we love it, we think it’s terrific…but unfortunately times change.” And now I’m sitting here, thinking about the complicated relationship graffiti art has (and the writers who practice the form have) with the notion of “saving” and the carnivorous capitalistic desire for “changing” cities under contemporary urban planning practices (more often than not leading to gentrification and displacement).
Graffiti art breaks all the rules about “saving,” and for this reason the proposed demolition of 5Pointz is in a lot of ways the ultimate irony; and the desire to save it, a profound shift in the cultural habitus of the greatest contemporary public art form of the late 20th century that we’d be amiss to ignore.
5Pointz is called a “graffiti museum,” but I think that’s not just a misnomer, but an underestimation of its significance. 5Pointz is not just a museum, or a tourist destination. Sure, random tourists visit 5Pointz and enjoy the tours, but when writers (from the US and abroad) come to NYC, 5PTZ is always a primary destination—it’s a kind of rite of passage. But it is not like other tourist sites, where people visit and passively experience what is offered. They come to 5Pointz and contribute to its significance as a place, a cultural meeting point. They add their stories to the walls and windows of the building in a way that is cumulative, improvisational—a visual and vigorous call and response between writers who’ve painted that spot before and writers who will paint those same spots after. If 5Pointz was a person, she would be hailed as a living archive bursting with Hip Hop’s oral history. Each time a graffiti artist comes to her and offers an untold story through colors and composition, she records that narrative and whispers it to the next artist who approaches.
Demolishing 5Pointz will erase those stories, and that part of Hip Hop graffiti’s history—silencing a multitude of voices that otherwise would not be heard. And for what? Condos? Housing that the majority of Queens’ residents can not afford? Story-less towers, affectively empty spaces.
We ask that you withdraw your petition to construct those towers, knowing you probably won’t because cash rules everything around us. But I had to say something, anything, in the hopes that my call elicits some kind of response.
Please save 5Pointz.
Dr. Jessica Pabón