a community-based art project with performative act*
created by Stephanie Dinkins in collaboration with The Laundromat Project, Create Change Public Artist Residency, Bedford Stuyvesant Brooklyn, October 2007
Book Bench is the result of an 8-month residency with the Laundromat Project (www.laundromatproject.org). My proposal was to create a full-scale installation that addressed the idea of multiple literacies in my neighborhood, Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. I was excited about the project. It presented a rare opportunity to create art in, and for, a community of color. As you will see from the images in this book, the project I ended up with is quite different from the one I proposed. The process of finding a local laundromat to host an art installation was full of frustrations. Art, beyond 2-D images, is still an anomaly in my neighborhood. Still, the larger problem seemed to be the general lack of faith the laundromat owners I approached have in the people they serve. They had no confidence that their patrons would be able to look at and comprehend an art installation. I was told, “they won’t know what it is or how to act around it” several times. The laundromat owners also did not believe the people they serve could respect the artwork. The owners said, “THEY will vandalize the artwork.” One laundromat owner even suggested that I take my project to another neighborhood like Park Slope or Williamsburg. The owners were missing the point. I was discouraged. After months of meetings with laundromat owners who liked the idea but had countless reasons for not participating in the project, I decided to change the proposal from an installation to a mobile sculpture. The project would go on guerrilla style if necessary. With the modified project proposal, a laundromat willing to allow Book Bench to be temporarily set up just outside its doors was finally found. Seven months into the process and my project for the Laundromat Project finally had a home, GiGi’s Laundromat. My faith in the business class of the neighborhood was somewhat restored. Two weeks before the project was scheduled to make its first public appearance, I began assembling the bench with the confidence of knowing where and how it would be displayed. Then a week before the project was to go live, another symptom of urban living got in the way. Someone stole all the copper pipes from the building that houses GiGi’s Laundromat. The project was scheduled to coincide with a number of other events in the neighborhood, so the show had to go on. Book Bench made its debut in front of a closed establishment.
Community interaction in this location was limited by the lack of families coming to wash their clothes. Still, all who passed were encouraged to take and/or donate books while I sat reading on the bench. Reading in public, an activity I hardly ever see in my neighborhood, was the performative act of the project.
The next day, I took the bench to Marmy Laundromat, a business I had unsuccessfully discussed the project with months before. They reluctantly allowed me to put the bench outside of their establishment for the day. This location was just what I was looking for. A lively corner with droves of people passing by. On day two, Book Bench was visited by a steady stream of laundromat patrons, curious kids, church goers, and neighborhood regulars. The greatest victory for the project came when the doubtful owner of Marmy Laundromat enthusiastically invited Book Bench back. By the end of the project, hundreds of books had been donated and taken. The community interaction engendered by the project made it all worthwhile, but what a journey…