I Heart I Rub New York

14 11 2010

Thursday evening I attended a screening of the film my dear and lovely friend Lauren DeFilippo directed. I Rub New York is a documentary about the eponymous public art project spearheaded by urban artist Carol Caputo. The art is just what it sounds like: Carol goes out into the city and passes out paper and crayons, encouraging passersby to literally rub New York City.

Rub what?? Well, step out onto a New York street or into a New York park. A quick look around will prove that this city has myriad “rubbable” surfaces. Anything with texture goes. That means pavement, brick walls, signs, railings, and all those beautiful buildings with their incredible cornices and columns and adornments.

Why rub?? The answer to this, it seems, is manifold. First, some pretty incredible artwork comes out of New York’s surfaces. Then there’s the fact that crayons are a very happy thing (when was the last time you were angry while coloring? Think about it). More to the point, it’s something everyone can do. Artistic or not, anyone can take a crayon and rub a textured surface. This is what makes the project so liberating: There’s a certain thrill that comes from making something beautiful from those crazy cellar covers (yes, I’m using the technical term) that make so much noise when one walks on them on the street. The simple task of taking pad to paper and literally taking to the streets is liberating, and at the same time it brings people together in a communal project, a communal love of this city.

In short, this project really encapsulates much of what makes New York great. Here we are, millions of people on this crowded, yet lovely, island, living together and working together, playing together and, now, making art together. United in our love for this city. I Rub NY helps to solidify that bond, both with New Yorkers and with New York itself. Caputo notes that there is so much about New York that we miss. We hurry along the streets, all too often ignoring the sights and sounds and smells — and feels — that make this city, and its individual neighborhoods, so unique. This project, brings us back to the nitty gritty (often literally) of New York, allowing us to touch the streets on which we walk daily. It makes art out of the daily objects we’d ordinarily pass right on by, and asks us to notice things we’d otherwise ignore.

What really got me, though, was when after the film Ms. Caputo talked about the layers upon layers of New York that exist, different in each neighborhood based on that ‘hood’s history. I have an obsession with that idea of layering here, of the urban palimpsest. Whether it’s layers of wallpaper in an old, much inhabited apartment of those faded advertisements and signs one sees on the facades of buildings, evidence of this city’s long and storied history are ubiquitous. And what I love about this project is that it invites “ordinary” people to leave one more layer (made from the other layers) upon this incredible, multi-faceted city.

Follow Ms. Caputo’s blog here.

Oh, and here is my rubbing from the School of Visual Arts, lots if brick and railings and even some of the grating. I warn you: Do one rubbing and you’ll find you want to rub all surfaces in the city — in a strictly artistic way, of course.

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