Soukh Liberta by JenJoy Roybal / Andre Haeneggi / Paul McLean / Christopher Moylan / Matthew Bissen
Identify a public space
Hart Playground and Park in Woodside, Queens has in recent years been a focal point of issues around free speech in relation to sexuality, immigrant rights and the right of public assembly. The park is a pickup spot for day laborers, many of them undocumented immigrants from Central America, and a social hub for the innumerable communities that make up this area of Queens. Pickup is a loaded term in this context…In the past several years local residents have identified groups of men congregating in the park as sex offenders, although the police reported that there was no indication that such a problem existed. Other men have been rounded up as illegal aliens, although the only indication that they might be so-called illegals is that they had the temerity to wait at a street corner for someone to offer them low paid work.
As the location for a free speech project, Hart Playground offers high visibility, close by the BQE and Grand Central and within walking distance of neighborhoods and commercial districts associated with Indian, Mexican, Thai, Tibetan, Central American, Caucasian and, in Jackson Heights, LGBT communities, among others. The park is in constant use and is large enough to accommodate different uses and facilities. This section of Queens is underserved in terms of municipal services yet its restaurants and shops draw an enormous number of people from around New York and the suburbs, making it peripheral and central location at the same time.
We propose a modular arcade constructed by members of the community in association with members of this team, using inexpensive and easily assembled materials: interlocking tubular framing and cardboard tubing for the interior walls. The arcade, or soukh as term it, will offer thematically organized spaces for local groups and members of this team to explore issues of identity, status, sexuality and basic human dignity that have become so embattled in this park and in New York generally. The use of low cost building materials makes the surfaces of the soukh an extension of free speech discourse and direct action; the walls will be available for placards, posters, graffiti, even defacement since the materials are inexpensive and easily replaced and even archived. The enclose stalls will run the length of one side of the park, operating in conjunction with Bread ad Life, a truck that delivers free meals on a weekly basis, and with local immigrant rights groups and community organizations. By soukh, or Soukh Liberta as it will be called, we hope to conjure the warren of stalls and spaces so typical of Middle Eastern cities (and such an escape and fascination to me in my several periods working as a professor in Jordan and Bahrain). This is not a commercial space, certainly, but it will be open to whatever artifacts members of the community wish to bring to the work done there.
The project will use low cost, easily assembled tubular interlocking frames and cardboard tubing for the interior walls. The individual units of the arcade may be modified, even taken down, fairly easily and inexpensively. In effect, this is a smaller, neighborhood friendly analogue to the kinds of impromptu yurts and tents and huts put up quickly in the recent Occupy-inspired occupations in Gezi Park in Turkey, in Brazil and Egypt. All of the members of this team were quite active in Occupy and post Occupy direct actions and something of the carnivalesque spirit of certain aspects of Occupy (the Revolutionary Games group in particular, the group responsible for various street theater and Situationist direct actions). However, this is not an occupation or protest. It is a low tech arcade, similar to the carnivals and street fairs that open around the city, but dedicated to free speech and with ambitions of some degree of longterm duration. Each member of the team has a different point of interest and emphasis to bring to the project. Andrea Haeneggi is a choreographer and dancer with wide experience leading groups in exploring movement and body awareness as forms of speech. JenJoy Roybal has professional expertise in public art and urban design, along with an interest in women’s sexuality in areas of free speech.
JenJoy Roybal, formerly of the Buckminster Full Challenge and a consultant in development of arts and culture programs, put out a call in the Novads list, a post Occupy anarchist art collective, for people to brainstorm about this call for proposals. She was initially interested in projects involving free speech and women’t sexuality.
Andre Haeneggi, a choreographer and artist, developed several Occupy direct actions involving reclamation of free movement, body awareness, public free speech. Andrea suggested that a corner park in one of the outer boroughs might be an interesting area to consider developing a space for free speech, working with neighborhood groups.
Paul McLean, who was very active in Occupy with Art and has since opened Good Faith Space in Brooklyn, a collaborative art space and gallery. He has long advocated bringing visual art outside the gallery art world and into the community. He has run alternative art spaces in the Southwest and California.
Christopher Moylan, an associate professor of English, collaborated with Paul McLean on integrating food cooperative and art cooperative ventures, as well as developing Occupational Art School, an experimental art and media center in Brooklyn. He lived for many years in Sunnyside Gardens in Queens and identified Hart Playground as a likely site for this project.
Matthew Bissen is an architect who has worked with Andrea on turning a derelict repair shop in Brooklyn into a center for movement and alternative theater. Everyone connected on the Novads list and began to collaborate.