Under lockdown, artist Amber Hany observes Bushwick through her window, recreating its developing houses and details in miniature dioramas. Ralf Jean-Pierre explores what motivates this Normal, Ill., native and her persistent urge to re-use materials in her work.
(gentle music )
- [Amber] I like the intimacy of small details
and just, the little nuances you can bring out
of something small
and you really have to get close to it to see it
which I think really is something that's important to me.
- It kind of, so that like demands engagement
like you got to get down to it's level.
- Kind of, yeah, you really need to take your time with it
I think, to kind of see some of the nuances and subtleties,
especially in like a the little neighborhood like that,
I feel like it reflects like the neighborhood I live in.
There's so many little things to find things
and things are constantly changing.
(gentle music playing)
(theme music playing)
- Neighborhoods like Bushwick have a way of evolving
into a game of industrial and residential musical chairs.
Members of the community are constantly playing Peekaboo,
climbing into and out of these tiny spaces
that make up Bushwick.
The same space can be a business, a home, a church,
a commune, a school.
- [Ralf] Hi Amber
- [Amber] Nice to meet you.
- Good to meet you.
Today I'm visiting Artist Amber Hany,
- [Ralf] after you
- [Amber] Let's go up to the second floor
- [Ralf] I might be the first person she's seen
- One of things that I'm working on now
is this little satellite dish which I'm making out of,
umm, it's actually eggshells that I'm cutting up
just to look round like this.
It's so part of the landscape
and what I see out the window
like there's so many little...
- Satellite dishes
- Just satellite dishes and details
and they're all different
and they're all kind of like wonky
and like old, and so.
- Man, I haven't thought
of how much inspiration somebody could get
just from looking out of their window
but what is unique about what you're seeing out of Bushwick?
- Well, the past couple months for this whole thing,
I've been very strict about being home
and not going anywhere
and so I've spent a lot of time looking out the window.
I've been in this neighborhood about 10 years now
and it's just constantly changing.
One example is even on this street,
the beautiful little like homes with character
like every single one is right next to each other,
is so different and then all of a sudden
there'll be this giant housing complex go up
and it just totally changes the tone.
- Is it fair to say
that these little pieces are like a record
of the neighborhood?
- It's influenced by the neighborhood.
It's also influenced by like my own experiences
with just what feels like home and the city.
And, I grew up in Normal, Illinois
so things are different here than they are there.
- What part of Illinois was that?
- Nor... wait what?
- Normal, Illinois. Yeah.
- [Ralf] Normal, Illinois.
- I thought I'd heard it before
and I was like, okay, maybe this is
some sort of phrase that I'm not used to
- (laughs) Nope. It's ...
- Is Normal normal?
- Yeah, I have to say it is,
which is probably why I left.
- That's so interesting that you grew up in Normal,
you went from Normal to New York
and you make these small pieces about New York
but you also bring some pieces of Normal into New York
- I think so, (chuckles)
- [Ralf] I feel like you have some really interesting tools
that you have to work with
to work at such a miniature level.
- And I've got lots of just like carpentry tools,
I work as a scenic slash carpenter
back when we all had jobs.
but I've got like, I've got these guys which help
to look at really small things.
Like I've got this dremel that's key.
I've got lots of just little, (chuckles)
like little versions of things, I guess.
Like here's a little magnifying glass,
with like a little tweezers.
It's like a miniature hand drill - basically if it's cute,
I'll use it! (Ralf chuckles)
I started this work
when I didn't have any money and it's just a lot
about just like being conservative
and being smart with my stuff.
And also, over the years I've been more conscientious
of my consumption and my waste
and so that's important to me.
And also, a lot of the materials,
is stuff that I've found around the neighborhood.
Like the top of this church the piece of church
that literally came down.
I think it was after Hurricane Sandy.
Part of the steeple fell off of,
like a giant part of copper
or like a really beautifully patina piece of copper.
I just used it for like,
the cross on this church - [Ralf] Okay.
this little church slash bathroom,
slash apple cider carton.
And then I just like, I kind of just hoard stuff, I guess.
Like I have all of these little light bulb boxes.
- The amber yellow boxes
- Like these were from a job that I worked on at my shop.
We were putting together like a giant carousel.
I think it was, and they needed like a hundred light bulbs.
And I was like, well, all of these boxes are the same size
and they look like cute little apartment units.
Anyway, that was the first thing I thought of
when I saw them.
And so, I just grabbed them all
cause they were going to go in the trash anyway.
- Why is that important to you?
Like, is that just as a way of working you stumbled upon?
or is that like an intentional,
like I want to do this to make work.
- I just love things that have like a story
and things that you can make a new story out of.
As far as like, just the world
and global warming and just material like scarcity for one,
and then just the damage that we're doing,
based on how some materials are made.
Constantly hyper aware of how much stuff that I go through
and trying to be... trying to like justify that
by like repurposing as much as I can as part of it.
- I love that idea of like, not only wasting less
but whatever your quote-unquote "waste" is,
transforming it into something beautiful.
Right, I used to think about like the archival quality
of work a lot and I think about that more.
It's like, "why do I want my work to last longer than me,
when there's already a problem
with stuff just lasting longer
than people can take care of it?"
It kind of forces you to like appreciate it now
and live in the moment.
Just like how everything is changing in the neighborhood.
like this block wasn't the same thing,
it wasn't the same block 10 years ago.
And so I try to like capture little moments of that
because so much is temporary.
- [Ralf] Where was the studio?
- Honestly, I almost didn't recognize it when I came here.
It's been so long since I've been here
and it's all different.
It's now a hotel.
They had this just commercial space in the basement
that we had to build out from scratch.
So we put in the walls, the lights, the ventilation,
water heater over the two years.
I would say we maybe had between 25, 35 artists total.
There were like 14 studio spaces
and they were kind of semi-private.
We wanted it to be like community oriented.
So the walls didn't have doors or anything.
So some people shared studios
and then some people sublet those studios
and then some people stayed a few months.
Some people stayed the whole time.
- [Ralf] Was there a name of the place?
- [Amber] We called it The Lounge Underground.
- [Ralf] The Lounge.
- I made this shirt to help fundraise some,
just events that we had, art shows, music shows and...
- Whoa, so you got a whole variety of events?
- Yeah, It was a really great,
it a really just immersive creative space.
- [Ralf] This is what year?
- This was in, we found it, I think in 2012
and then we lost it in 2014
to this hotel that sort of took over and kicked us out.
- What even happened that made you guys
have to pick them and leave.
Did they just say you guys have to get out?
Did they keep raising the rent?
Where did it start at and where they go if that's the case?
- They sort of gave us, like, I think they gave us a month
like three to four weeks when they were like,
this is what's happening.
And it wasn't really like an option.
You know, I still look back at that era
and I feel so, just grateful to have had it at the time.
And as upset as we were for having to leave,
it's like to even have had that opportunity
to create such a community and a space
that people could really like, be a part of and afford.
And I don't know, I have bittersweet feelings, I think
- It's wild, how some things in New York are so,
This is New York.
This is solidly in New York
and some other parts of New York are just as characteristic
but they're what would characterize them
is that they're ephemeral.
- It's a whole scene for a minute
and then five years later, it's gone.
Hey, I wonder if that experience has had any effect
on the work that you're making.
Like, the impermanence of it, like ...
- It's definitely connected.
Like my passion for materials came through,
like we built it with materials that we found or that we had
or stuff that was discarded around the neighborhood.
So a lot of those sensibilities really came into play
when we created the space and it really is
a reminder to kind of like take a breath
and like, be present and like just to appreciate
what you have when you have it.
I mean, especially now there's so many things
that I realize I've taken for granted that,
you can't anymore like work, health.
- Just to let it die...
So, sorry (chuckles)
- Thanks. (giggles)
- Long live the Lounge!
- Yes! (chuckles)
- Long live the Lounge!
- It's striking me that, you're this woman in Brooklyn
from this mid Western small city
or town and you're making these small pieces
about the places that you're from
and the place that you're living in.
Would it be a mischaracterization to say
there's something very American about your work?
Is that something that ever crosses your mind
or is that not really resonating with you?
- I think that's a fair observation.
It's not something that I really thought of
but I guess the idea of what is American is something
that I'm not sure I have a super clear grasp on anyway.
- I don't think any of us are really sure
what that means anymore.
Even our founding fathers, as we know them more
or even whether we're questioning
and sort of rejecting the idea of Christopher Columbus,
like all that, so to be
from literally the heart of America
to come to New York City,
and be in the middle of this pandemic
and be in the middle of this revolution
and be sort of making this document
of your life, of both parts of your life,
both places that you're from and the minute changes
that probably then these micro changes
that probably speak to the macro.
There is an irony there.
and I think what's more beautiful
about it is I feel that you are like
I think always but now even more like
in the process of meditating upon that very, very thing.
- I think that's why it's like such,
it's nothing's ever been finished.
A lot of these projects
just have like a trajectory that's always changing.
And so, I think that's part of
just how complex and how like changing we are
and how I am and how things are.
A lot of this has been like an ongoing process.
So it certainly evolved over the past few months
just based on events in the community,
events in the world, and that's my personal life.
- [Ralf] Sometimes if you look at something
that looks real big from a different vantage,
that thing can seem more understandable and manageable
It can make things that seem mammoth seem almost delicate.
People come from all over to be in New York.
They fall in love with this city
and the tiny spaces they inhabit.
Anyone can find a little cubbyhole to make their home here
and belong, just as much as anybody else.
And then just like that, some people leave.
That must be the secret to why,
New York always feels so alive.
Nothing is permanent.
More Episodes (16)
- VisualArtist Coby Kennedy turns conflict into art at Superchief GalleryFebruary 26, 2021
- Visual‘Flowstate’ explores lives of 16 North Brooklyn artists during lockdownFebruary 19, 2021