What if you could go camping without leaving the city? This is what Thomas Stevenson, a Williamsburg artist, is offering. And it is awesome!
The location is secret and you only get a playfully mysterious email a few hours before: “Somewhere in Morgantown, this is all we can say.” Photographer Essie Graham and I arrive at the given address, in front of the door a few people with pillows and sleeping bags looking as inquisitive as we are. Just a short four story climb and we arrive on a rooftop with a gorgeous sunset to welcome us with an orange sky, an illuminated Manhattan vista and the Empire State Building overlooking everything. Luckily, it has stopped raining (Thank you, crappy New York Spring…).
Stevenson, the curator, and his friends are still setting up the camp. They build seven tents plus a canteen for food, all custom-made to be easily transportable: a wood structure, waterproof bright yellow canvas and protective mattresses on the floor. Each tent comfortably sleeps three.
Most people participating are coming in groups of friends, but some of them, like a Argentinian designer named Pedro, decided to come by himself to get the full experience. No expectations, just plain curiosity and a desire “to feel alive,” as he describes it. After only a few hours, he is seduced by the project. “Look at us! Here we are all the same, everybody knows how to fit in,” he says.
By 12:30, everybody is hanging out by the grill, making burgers and exchanging life stories. In typical Bushwick fashion, a handful of residents from the building join us to share beers and music. We stay up until the middle of the night; it is all about meeting new people, talking and just having fun.
This is exactly what Stevenson was aiming for with this project. His art is about bringing people together. Three years ago, he started reading about outdoor spaces in New York, and found out that people, just like today, would go on rooftops and fire escapes to get away from the heat. He had this idea to build a camp to be set up anywhere and invite people to come and join. The point is for just one night, you disconnect and get away from your daily life.
Likening his project to a performance, Stevenson says, “You come, eat and sleep, and then go your way.” His only rule is keeping everything on the down-low, so that it does not transform into big rooftop parties where people just show up.
As we are getting ready to go to sleep, we receive a packet with a flashlight, a Sharpie and a knife, so we can carve or write a message for next campers on the wooden structure.
The next morning, campers slowly wake up and gather around coffee and fruit, exchanging impressions about the night. One camper, Margot, is really convinced by this unique experience and says, “It is a nice way to get out of the city. My biggest take-away is the people I met and their stories, like how they got here for example.” It was her first time in Bushwick!
Wanna join next time? Stevenson is setting up camp through July, you can register online. And if you’re travelling, similar camps are happening in Boston and London!