How does an artist acknowledge forgotten people? In a new film from the ART21 New York Close Up series, artist Abigail DeVille stalks the streets of Harlem with a trash-laden push cart, creating temporary sculptural interventions along the way. Stopping at Lenox Avenue and 131st Street, Bronx-born DeVille tucks a smiling plaster cast of her face into an outdoor planter. It’s the site of her grandfather’s childhood home, a former brownstone converted into a conspicuous eyesore of an apartment building. DeVille explains that placing the sculpture there is an act of personal and historical reclamation, a way of acknowledging “groups of people that occupied a space that no longer exists…but helped shape the space into what it is now.” Over Super 8mm film footage of contemporary Harlem, DeVille describes a landscape under the constant pressure of development and gentrification. “It feels like the the earth is shifting,” she says, “New groups of people are moving in and old groups of people are being pushed out. So it’s almost like migratory patterns of birds.” Pushing her unwieldy cart to the East River no man’s land at the base of the Willis Avenue Bridge, DeVille unloads heaps of distressed wood, rusty metal, mannequin heads, and trash bags. This unkempt and unceremonious site is the presumed location of a pre-colonial African burial ground where free and enslaved families buried their dead when Dutch settlers farmed upper Manhattan, dating back to the seventeenth century. Deville characterizes her sculpture as “an exercise in acknowledgment” and asserts that trash is the ideal material for talking about a forgotten history “because that’s how those people were treated. That’s how that site is being treated.” Featuring DeVille’s artwork Harlem River Blues (2014).
Abigail DeVille (b. 1981, New York, New York, USA) lives and works in the Bronx, New York.
CREDITS | ART21 New York Close Up Created & Produced by: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Editor: Erin Casper. Cinematography: Ian Forster, John Marton, & Nick Ravich. Sound: Wesley Miller & Nick Ravich. Design & Graphics: CRUX Design & Open. Artwork: Abigail DeVille. Thanks: Steve Cossman, Antonio DeVille, Elizabeth Gwinn, Sean Hanley, Amanda Long, MONO NO AWARE, PAC LAB & Studio Museum in Harlem. An ART21 Workshop Production. © ART21, Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.
ART21 New York Close Up is supported, in part, by The Lambent Foundation; the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; and by individual contributors.