By Peter Hopkins
I have recently been in lengthy discussion with Katarina Hybanova, the Editor of Bushwick Daily, about citydrift, a project of mine, which has been in development for over three years, and is debuting on September 7th. citydrift is a 3 day “meta” event that seeks to connect over a dozen galleries in Bushwick, dozens of curators, hundreds of artists, poets, musicians, urban planners, and writers, and thousands (?) of curious, but somewhat skeptical participants in a 72 hour walking, thinking, talking exploration of our “urban grid”.
Describing the “point” or purpose of citydrift is something I have spent countless hours trying to do with so many people throughout these past years, that sometimes even I grasp for words to help explain it. This morning, in a beautiful moment of serendipity that mirrored the same bit of peculiar logic of finding a thing when you stop looking for it, I stumbled upon the words I was looking for in this quote from Oliver Sacks in his article in the August 27th New Yorker entitled Altered States, where he describes the need for a project like citydrift in ways I could never quite sum up:
To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; We need meaning, understanding, and explanation…And we need freedom (or, at least, the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves. We may seek, too, a relaxing of inhibitions that makes it easier to bond with each other…
We seek a holiday from our inner and outer restrictions, a more intense sense of the here and now, the beauty and value of the world we live in.
citydrift, was created as an homage to my first gallerist, Colin De Land, and his ground breaking gallery American Fine Arts Co. In 1986, I had the great fortune to be a part of the beginning of De Land’s amazing endeavors, and I went on to exhibit and collaborate with him for over a decade. During this time I came to witness firsthand the ways that playfulness, and “letting go” can open up powerful states of creativity. He and his partner (later wife) Pat Hearn of the Pat Hearn Gallery went on to found not only their own unique and powerful art galleries, first in the East Village, and then later in SoHo, but also other incredible concepts like the Gramercy Hotel art fair, which originated the idea that the art fair booth could be in your hotel room, rather than necessitating travel to a distant city, like Basel or Cologne, and taking on all the expenses of participating in a fair. Now since done to death, this model was at the time enormously risky, and having been present at the first one, where I sat on a bed talking to a few of the attendees about a drawing of mine that was in the bathroom, I can say with certainty it seemed a poor model for future success. Later, he and Pat helped create the Armory Fair, and it too at that time seemed a project doomed for failure, just like all past attempts to hold a contemporary art fair in New York City had been. The West Side piers was at that time no one’s idea of a “hotspot” for gathering hundreds of galleries and tens of thousands of viewers from around the world.
The lessons I learned from these and the other things I saw were, first, to look for “the future” in unlikely places, places most everyone else had decided weren’t worth paying attention to, and second, to not try to replicate other past successful platforms, but instead “let go” of pre-conceived ideas and let your mind…drift.
After his untimely death in 2002, and Pat’s in 2001, I wanted desperately to re-imagine what Colin might do with the collapse of the art economy and wondered what he might now think of how his own successful attempts at changing the ways in which the art world perceives itself had become two more cogs in the machinery of normative culture.
I started to realize how his concept of “letting go” of fears and expectations was essential, and I embraced his willingness to critically inspect “the rules”, all the protocols that govern our daily art behaviors. None of this mattered, though, until I came to Bushwick in 2006 after having spent 23 years in Williamsburg. It’s here that I discovered the same artists and galleries thinking, talking and working in ways I had long since come to believe did not exist anymore. These incredibly thoughtful, risk taking individuals were creating the future; freshly graduated 25 year-old creative minds alongside 60 year-old former “whatevers”, from stockbrokers to recovering artists and everybody in between, all inside a thriving, ethnically diverse community. Most of them seemed completely uninterested in auditioning for somewhere else (Chelsea, Wall Street, the usual aspirant ranks). Most simply decided to be where they were and take the chance to create a new model of what was possible. For an example of this new spirit, look no further than the now-famous Roberta’s, a literal “hole-the-wall” pizzeria on the surface, but that once opened up shows itself to be something much more: a tiki bar, an urban garden, a radio station; an establishment that is open sourced, unpretentious, and deeply responsive to the needs of its community. This is the template of what Bushwick can be.
It is another question, though, whether this spirit can be maintained. It will require a delicate balance that I am at times wildly hopeful for, and at others profoundly pessimistic about. I am, at the very least, lucky enough to have witnessed this change taking place and I hope that citydrift will play its own small part in it. I look forward to reading here in the coming months about the different opinions and perspectives from others from this same place called Bushwick.