Flowstate /North Brooklyn Artists


Amber Hany

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.

AIRED: March 31, 2021 | 0:14:17

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- [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.

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- 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.

- Hello,

- [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

since lockdown.

- 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?

- Normal.

- Nor... wait what?

- Normal, Illinois. Yeah.

- [Ralf] Normal, Illinois.

- Yep.

- 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)

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- [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)

(gentle music)

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,

(Ralf chuckles)

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.

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- [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.

- Yes.

- 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.


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