Invitation To Participate
Greenpoint Public Art
By Martynka Wawrzyniak
Ziemia is a public-art project which I will create in collaboration with residents of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NY. Taking the form of a ceramic sphere atop a meadow platform in McGolrick Park, the piece aims to bridge divides between the neighborhood’s disparate subcultures by serving as a portrait of the residents’ nostalgia for their personal homelands.
Greenpoint is currently experiencing a demographic transformation as gentrification pushes out many longtime residents, largely from the Polish immigrant community. With the rising displacement and relocation of peoples across the world, there is a greater need to reflect within communities on migration not merely a global phenomenon, but as a local, micro experience that unites us all.
I will invite community members from various backgrounds, cultures and socio-economic classes, to contribute soil samples from sentimentally meaningful locations that they have left behind, drawing upon the universal concept of soil as a symbol for one’s roots and identity. Fired out of local Brooklyn clay, the hollow orb will be glazed with half of the collected soil and filled with the remaining half. The ceramic sphere will rest on top of a meadow, composed of doppelganger species native to Poland and the Northeastern United States.
Physically encapsulating the residents’ pasts—memories imprinted in the soil of their homelands—in the clay and soil of the land where they now reside, the piece symbolically gestures to the primal connection to Earth that underlies each individual’s migratory experience. The public artwork will additionally serve as a site for cross-cultural interactions to occur through a series of organized activities and gatherings.
Though strong cultural identities often unite groups, they can also isolate them. This might be especially true of the Greenpoint Polish community, which can seem like a time capsule of the 1980s Poland that many of its residents left behind. The piece will therefore be especially significant to the Polish participants in the way that it embodies their displaced identities and engages them in a therapeutic process of remembrance and reconciliation with their immigrant statuses.
Greenpoint residents are invited to select and provide soil samples from specific, personally meaningful locations that they have left behind. I will audio record each participant’s explanation of the significance of their chosen location, which will later be exhibited alongside a map made from the geographic coordinates. Participants whose soil is from the U.S. will be invited to send it directly to New York. Soil samples from Poland and other international locations will be shipped with an official USDA soil importing permit and heat-treated in the chemistry department at Lehman College. I will travel to Poland to personally collect soil on behalf of Polish residents who are unable to send it themselves.
Constructed out of Brooklyn clay with a glaze created from half of the collected soil, upon completion the ceramic orb will be brought to McGolrick Park, followed by a ceremony during which the participants will fill the orb with remaining half of their soil. The orb will sit atop of a meadow platform, composed of doppelganger plant species that have been carefully selected by a botanist for their presence in both Poland and Northeastern USA. The meadow alludes to the transcontinental links between nonhuman and human ecologies and challenges the contemporary ideology of nativeness.
The public art piece will become a central location for a variety of events to encourage cross-cultural exchanges and provoke thought and dialog about immigration and the human relationship with the natural world. I will invite local artists and members of the community to practice traditional methods rope-making using flax harvested from the meadow. This activity references Greenpoint’s history as the once fertile land that sustained Native Americans and settlers, and later as the manufacturing center of the 9th and early 20th centuries—home to the largest rope factory in the world that employed many Polish immigrants who were experienced in the craft.
Ziemia will contribute to the network of projects currently exploring Greenpoint through a social and ecological lens, and will serve as an umbrella for cross disciplinary collaborations. The team of chemistry research students at Lehman College will test for traces of pollution in the Greenpoint soil, known for being highly contaminated with industrial toxic waste. This partnership aims to further the project’s goal of bringing attention to the ties, both sentimental and vital, that we have to the land we call home.
You can also write to the Consulate General of Poland in New York, 233 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Reprinted from Consulate General of Poland in New York newsletter December 2016