This has been a rough winter, and we have not escaped it, despite our island status. The neighborhood is quiet during the winter, one of the charms of living here. But it can also become claustrophobic. The wind howls across the water, making it difficult to venture outside. Boats are brought up into dry-dock and block our views to the open water. Gates to the street beaches are locked; even if you could walk through them the beach is covered with washed-up icebergs this year. No quiet reflection at water’s edge for now. Walking the sidewalks can be treacherous with months of hardened ice and heaved-up concrete from the bitter cold and snow.
City Islanders celebrate the holidays with whimsy and good cheer. The Christmas decorations were a bright spot in this dreary winter, and brought smiles to my face as I tromped around in the sub-freezing weather looking for signs of life. Today is the first day of spring; it’s snowing mightily.
First, I was surprised to discover that this park is in Queens, not Brooklyn. Standing on the beach at Dead Horse Bay, you can look past the span of the Marine Parkway – Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge toward the Rockaways. On the other side of the buildings of the north shore of that spit of land lies the beach, its art deco bath house and numerous other buildings and landmarks – remnants of another Robert Moses project. This beach development was meant to attract lower income families early in the twentieth century. Moses chose this site because it was accessible by bus. Today, the beach looks deserted. Yes, it’s winter. But there’s a general atmosphere of disrepair along the boardwalk. There are no orange fences holding back the encroaching sand, which buries the steps from the beach to the boardwalk. Small buildings are in ruin; handball courts overgrown with weeds and beach grass. Still, there’s something alluring about this place. The buildings were designed to mean something. Attractions – tennis and basketball courts, mini golf – span the roadway running parallel to the boardwalk. It’s a good destination and I look forward to traveling there in season.
Fort Tilden lies just beyond Jacob Riis Park. It was an artillery base spanning the years between the start of our involvement in the first world war and the late 1970’s. At one time it was home to a nike missile base. At present time, the fort consists of a number of buildings that are in use by artist groups. There is a theater, an art gallery, a children’s art space and a community garden. Kind of nice to see this peaceful overhaul of a remnant of the cold war.
Close to the beach lie a number of abandoned buildings covered in graffiti. As a lover of street art, I see this as an extension of the more formal endeavors at the main site of the fort. I was able to photograph the interiors of most of the buildings before a park ranger shooed me away. Apparently the public is welcome to roam the area as long as we don’t enter the buildings – but this isn’t specified on any signage.
Mia and I returned to Dead Horse Bay. She got busy working on a mandala – gathering beach glass, shells, metal objects and sorting them by color. She then used an old piling to create
a compass, and drew a large circle, then a spiral, in the sand. The collected objects went into the piece and it was a pleasure to watch her creative process unfold. I constructed some small weavings in the woods near the site, but I was mostly captivated by the place that day. The tide was going out quickly and, with each passing few minutes, more discards were revealed at the tide line. I walked south to discover some metal structures and other ruins along the beach. I photographed everything, and still can’t get enough of the tarnished magic of this place.
Mia, Nelly and I traveled to Dead Horse Bay in Brooklyn on November 8th to create an installation reflecting our responses to the site. Dead Horse Bay is a former landfill located across Flatbush Avenue from Floyd Bennett Field. I documented our installation at this unique New York City site. This tree has been a long-time ongoing art project and we were surprised to find it empty – stripped of the bottles and artifacts we’d seen hanging from the tree in the past. After Sandy the installation was damaged, but still visible, and it had been restored since the hurricane. It was curious to see that something or someone had removed the pieces, leaving the branches bare. We decided this would be the perfect place to create our weaving pieces. We used materials brought to the site and some materials found at the site. We also brought home some artifacts, completing the cycle of engaging with the environment.