Broken Window

installation view, Avant-Guide to NYC, Apexart, New York, 2009 Inkjet print on 4 mil matte vinyl, 4’ x 7’, 2009

This piece was created on the occasion of Avant Guide, an exhibition that revisited the spaces of the Avant Garde in New York. This piece was presented as a posthumous proposal for Food, the restaurant/art space that Gordon Matta-Clark ran in Soho in the early seventies. Printed on self-adhesive vinyl and applied directly to the wall, the poster describes all the steps involved in the production of a short action film, from concept and references to spatial details and the planned sequence for the action. The text, which can be read directly on the poster, is reproduced below.

Between ‘71 and ‘73, during the time Gordon Matta-Clark, Caroline Goodden and others ran the restaurant Food in Soho on 127 Prince Street, artists submitted projects for an event series hosted at the restaurant and called Sunday Night Guest Chef Dinners. This secondary usage of the space, overlaid on the primary activity of the site, provides the first clue for the way I would like to retrace the history of this site. In other words, I am going to confront the situation transversally.

Window Blow-Out, Matta-Clark’s piece of ‘76, along with his performative intervention for the Ideas as Model exhibition at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Resources provides my second clue. What I find relevant in this case is the disjointed nature of this encounter between sites, the South Bronx where the images were photographed and the Manhattan location of the Institute for Architecture. Remarkably, Matta-Clark chose to amalgamate these two sites by means of an even more disruptive gesture, shooting all the windows on the floor of the Institute.

The third clue is given by the current protests against sites of financial capital in the wake of the present global crisis. A case in point is the recent activists clash with the police in London at the Royal Bank of Scotland, which resulted in its windows being smashed. Of note is the fact that this was not solely the breaking of their windows but also a breaking into the spaces once secluded from public scrutiny by the Bank’s ironically transparent windows. Significantly also is the occurrence of these broken windows not in the typically decayed urban environments they tend to be found.

The idea is to do a film based on a posthumous proposal for the Sunday Night Guest Chef Dinners, dated approximately to the moment right before Food stops functioning, sometime in ‘73. This proposal indicates the replacement of the window glass on the Wooster Street façade of the 127 Prince Street building with sugar glass, literally a cooked artifact commonly used in the movies. This provision paves the way to the main event that is to take place in the film: the violent traversing of its main character’s body through the glass, propelled by an incident to happen in front of the space.

The location set for the film encompasses the street and building façades ranging from 112 Greene Street to 127 Prince Street. These addresses locate the two sites with which Matta-Clark remained deeply associated during the more intensive collaborative years of his artistic production. In the proposed film these two sites will provide the circumstantial bookends for the action. But the film will focus more on what happens between these two markers, the buildup toward the main scene. Given the preservation of the local Cast Iron architecture, much has been preserved of the look of the area from 40 years before, except for the obvious contrast between the depressed atmosphere of the declining manufacturing economy of the early seventies and the decadent high end flair of the shopping district into which the area has turned.

Intent in gaining some insight over what the area was like around ‘73, and more particularly about the site’s physical characteristics when Matta-Clark redesigned the space to accommodate the restaurant, I set myself the ungainly task of searching the New York’s Municipal Archives and the Department of Buildings for publicly available plans of the building. I felt that if I was to plot an attack on the space at the time of its demise, I needed to better understand its architectural configuration. My experience revealed a story of missing records. I faced a portentous bureaucracy that retained nothing but a portrait of its own inability to represent the immediate past, despite the area’s status as a historical landmark. I found more information about the space and its culture from Matta-Clark’s own movie about Food.

The main character could possibly be a bike messenger, or something else altogether. While there no bicycle in sight in the film, the fact that he wears a helmet suggests that he could be riding one. He looks belligerent. He wears stunt protective gear on the outer side of his clothes. This certainly protects him from impending falls but also makes him look like a force to be contended with; he is definitely not someone to be ignored.

The film’s monochromatic style derives from the blueprint color found in vintage architectural plans and is intended to suggest a plan to be implemented. It will be shot in black and white and treated with a deep blue color. The cityscape backdrop will be photographed at specific intervals and composited together to form an extensive panorama which will function as the backdrop for the action. The live action will be photographed against blue screen at intervals of 8 frames per second, then interpolated in post-production to create intermediate frames for the scene as to attain a constructed quality for the movement.

If nothing else, what should be clear when the film starts is that something must have happened since the main character first appears on scene walking in an imbalanced manner and then suddenly starts running. He looks disoriented at first and then growingly angry. He could possibly have parked his bike to deliver a package at 112 Greene Street and then, when he tried to fetch it, got puzzled that it was no longer there. He then realized that some motherfucker probably stole it. It is hard to say for sure. But one thing is certain, he looks pissed. Whoever made his bike disappear is going to get it. That bike was his thing. But more than that, that’s how he moved around and made his money. The bike was his bread and butter so to speak, the thing that allowed him to get other things. In other words, someone appropriated his means of production. He sets out in full pursuit of whoever did this. He runs and runs, jumps over whatever shit he finds in his way. He is now in full pursuit. Except that, it is not known of whom. But his intent to find the culprit is so blind and his pace so determined that someone has got to materialize in front of him. It is clear that something is about to happen. The event that triggered this furious action and which was never fully revealed as to assure us of its occurrence is to be replaced by another event, not less decisive, but also not even a bit more conclusive as to offer us closure and defining certainty over its justification. He is about to crash through the glass window of 127 Prince Street. Perhaps he saw someone hide in there or perhaps his fury created the very conditions of a mere accidental outcome. It is once more, hard to determine. Without the factual knowledge of what was taken and without the certitude over what was indeed attained by the action, we are left in suspension, wondering about what is to do done with the transformative force we’ve just witnessed.

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