Author: Gaby Steiner
Published by Kerber Verlag
104 pages, 24 x 30,6 cm
Price: 140 lei
This book project is about a man who lives on his property without the protective walls and roof of a house. The house was demolished a few years ago due to potential collapse by New York City housing officials. Since then his furniture and personal belongings remain on the ground and in the open air. This property in Greenpoint is defined as “vacant land” by the Department of Buildings in Brooklyn. The home of this man does not exist. Jerzy Sulek came to New York in the 1970s from Warsaw, Poland, as a trained architect and his story today illustrates the paradox of public exposure and visibility alongside loneliness and isolation in society. His private life is exposed to the elements and on public display to everyone passing by. This situation is symbolic of the precarious position of the human condition in contemporary urban life and the vulnerability to constantly shifting relationships between public and private realms. It also poses urgent questions about ownership and personal autonomy in an era of diminishing property rights.
This work is an investigation into a non-existent property and an exploration into what defines personal space. Jerzy’s property is not a neutralized space with fence but it nevertheless possesses a strong identity. His life appears on a permanent stage where Jerzy is simultaneously protagonist and audience. His fence functions as a single, large window, which connects his home with the outside world on both sides in a permeable way.The interior and exterior unite, but a common history remains absent between him and his surroundings.
Over several years, I have crafted a portrait of Jerzy’s life. I have witnessed seasonal transformations of his property, examined visual processes of the disintegration of his material possessions exposed to the changing environment. He would give notes to me with instructions as to when to pass by his property, often considering the movements of the sun, existing in an almost atavistic sense of times passing. Jerzy lives within a precise daily schedule, which includes sports, reading and writing. He also maintains his interest in architecture, composing abstract landscape plans of the lot and surrounding properties that take the form of imaginary city maps.
The inherent paradoxes in his lifestyle illustrate eternal conflicts of balance between order and disorder within the human condition and space. His situation is most saliently one of his own design. His privacy starts at night in the dark, when nobody can see into his home and in the summer, when the leaves are covering the fence. His property becomes a metaphor for visual loneliness and the transition of time. The photographs do not attempt to freeze the moment but to evoke consideration of the before and the after in the photograph, something that is outside of the frame.
Greenpoint was originally a neighborhood in New York where Polish immigrants settled. Today there is a fast-paced gentrification. City developers are trying to rename Greenpoint to “Green SOHO,” referencing the trendy neighborhood in Manhattan to attract buyers. My project raises questions about how fast urban districts can change and if the separation of private and public in society is still a valise concept or if there is a need of new definitions and vocabulary. I intend for this project to stir discussion and contemplation of unconventional habitation, pursuits of security, and questions of ownership and personal autonomy.