Interactive Shadowboxes bring the legacy of village artists to life


At St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, there is a shadow box – a three-dimensional square display case – containing a black and white photograph of Charlie Parker. His lips are pursed, his fingers are set, and he plays the saxophone with deep concentration.

In the upper right corner is an orange QR code. Scan it, and actor and comedian John Leguizamo’s voice begins, crisp and clear.

“A flamboyant jazz virtuoso and developer of bebop, Charlie Parker, or ‘Bird’ as he was known, changed the course of music,” says Leguizamo. “He was a saxophonist, a pioneering composer, a genius of improvisation who ushered in a new era of jazz.”

Leguizamo tells the story of bebop, the fast-tempo style of jazz that Parker pioneered. At the height of his career, the saxophonist moved to the East Village, where the shadowbox is now located.

“Trumpeter Miles Davis once said, ‘You can tell the history of jazz in four words: Louis Armstrong. Charlie Parker ”, continues Leguizamo. “He was the musician of a musician.

Charlie Parker’s installation is one of 21 shadow boxes on display in Greenwich Village, East Village and NoHo. Each commemorates a site where a famous neighborhood figure lived – including Jackson Pollock, James Baldwin and activist Jane Jacobs – or where historic events took place. (The Billie Holiday and Bob Dylan exhibits use augmented reality and can be viewed through the Membit app.) And many boxes are voiced by current village residents like Leguizamo, including Alec Baldwin, Ed Norton, and Joel Gray.

The interactive outdoor exhibit “Village Voices”, created by the non-profit organization Village Preservation, kicked off Monday and will run until October 13. Village Preservation board member Leslie Mason (as Leguizamo’s wife Justine Leguizamo) spearheaded the idea last year.

“We want you to have the experience of seeing something and be like, ‘Wow, who knew? Maybe I could do something like that, ”Mason said in an interview.

Not all passers-by realize how Jackson Square Park, Washington Square Park and Christopher Park are filled with stories of art, music and literature. But adding celebrity voices from the current neighborhood may also spark some interest, said Andrew Berman, executive director of the preservation group.

“It’s a way to engage audiences and connect the present with the past,” he said in an interview. “These stories exist, but what you need to do is find ways to get people to exploit and care about them.”

John W. Draper, whose shadowbox is at the eastern end of Washington Square Park, is relatively unknown in today’s culture, but he remains deeply interesting: he took the first successful photo of the moon, from the roof of the New York University building.

Draper’s box features a replica of the inverted image of the daguerreotype that made history, speckled in black and white. Penny Hardy, founder of the PS New York design agency, which designed the 21 shadowboxes, used the daguerreotype as the basis for a collage of a telescope, photos of the moon, and Draper himself.

However, there is a box that is not associated with an individual. It represents the fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory.

In March 1911, the deadliest industrial fire in New York history took place at this factory located in the 23-29 Washington Place building. Today, a shadow box containing a miniature shirt-waist dress embroidered with the names of the 146 textile workers killed in the fire marks this address.

The garment workers were mainly young immigrant women, and one of them lived in the Mason neighborhood. Each year, his name, Marguerite Lopez, is chalked on the site of the fire.

Village Preservation brought in actress Kathleen Chalfant to record a voiceover for the box.

“This was, in a way, one of the times when the modern labor movement was born, both the modern labor movement and the idea of ​​women at work,” Chalfant said in an interview. “So he’s extremely resonant. “

Chalfant, who lived for 20 years on the corner of West Fourth Street and West 11th Street in the village, read a poem by Robert Pinsky entitled “Shirt“for its shadowbox segment. (The audio and digital components of the exhibition were designed by Serge Ossorgine, sound designer twice winner of an Emmy.)

“The infamous Triangle factory fire in 1911,” she read. “One hundred and forty-six died in the flames on the ninth floor, no hydrants, no emergency exits. “

A few blocks southwest of 58 Bleecker Street, another shadowbox marks the building where the first and third women to earn medical degrees in the United States – sisters Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell – founded the first hospital in the United States. country with female staff.

Sculptor and jewelry designer Jill Platner now houses her studio in the same building. “It’s very special and you always feel like you’re taking care of people,” Platner said. “Everyone who comes in feels very comfortable here.

“And then when I found out about the Blackwell story about 15 years ago I was stunned and thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, that completely explains everything I felt. “There is a story here of people being cared for.

Learning this slice of history, in fact, led to a creative breakthrough for Platner. In the same year, she launched a collection of over 30 pieces – her name was Blackwell.

Leguizamo felt a similar connection with Charlie Parker. While Leguizamo came to jazz later in his life, he found it to be deeply powerful.

“It speaks to me as an artist: improvisation, freedom,” Leguizamo said in an interview. “Mostly artists who are trying to break and change music like Charlie Parker and Miles Davis. And the fact that he lived in the Village, the East Village, where I started my performance, was a big problem for me.


Comments are closed.