Art for Yards sake? Man sleeps in window and makes a larger point

The Brooklyn Paper
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A sleeping man was waking the neighbors on one Dean Street block this week with questions on the meaning of nature, art, and the 22-acre mega-development that is for some as impossible to ignore as a slumbering form in a storefront display.

When Clinton Hill artist Travis Clarke decided to spend seven nights sunset to sunrise in the eight-by-eight front window of Soapbox Gallery at 636 Dean St., he came prepared with typed description of the live art installation, titled “Wishing dead trees back to life.”

The piece is about “attempting to do something that seems impossible,” said the artist’s statement posted at the gallery, which sits between Carlton and Vanderbilt — directly across the street from Bruce Ratner’s controversial arena, residential, office and retail project.

Little did Clarke know just how the statement, the dead tree limb in the window and his somnolent, halogen-lit body next to it would resonate with neighborhood residents, many of whom have learned a whole lot about trying do something that indeed has proven to be (so far) impossible.

“Could the tree also be representing the possibility of a future dead neighborho­od?” asked one area resident, Amy Greer, on the anti–Atlantic Yards blog, No Land Grab.

The owner of the gallery, Jimmy Greenfield, also couldn’t resist the metaphor.

“It’s an homage to nature right across a piece of property that will eventually be covered in tarmac against the wishes of a community that tried very hard to stop [it].”

Clarke’s stay in the front window alarmed at least a few people crossing Dean Street on their way home.

“I got a call at 2:30 in the morning from my buddy,” said Dean Street resident Jim Everitt. “He was like, ‘Do you know there is a man lying in the window down here?’ ”

Everitt described the live art installation as “pretty weird.”

“I just don’t believe he can actually sleep,” he said. “A lot of trucks and buses bang around down here.”

Clarke agreed that getting rest was no easy task, even with two mats as bedding.

“The other night someone yelled obscenities at me,” he told The Brooklyn Paper during the daylight hours when he is not imprisoned in the gallery. “He was with his family and children. A couple of people have commented on how the piece is an example of gentrification. People talk about money a lot.”

One mother, Sarianda Baptiste, pushing a stroller past the window on Monday night said that her daughter had asked her if Clarke was dead.

“I told her that he was breathing and sometimes art is physical,” said Baptiste. She said she wondered if the art was about homelessness. Baptiste lives in a shelter one block from the gallery — a shelter that will also be razed to make way for Atlantic Yards.

Clarke said a connection could be drawn between his art and Ratner’s controversial, state-supported development, albeit not one he made before his nights on Dean Street.

“People in this neighborhood went up against a very powerful system,” he said, adding that the connection wasn’t “the most curious thing” he heard from passing sidewalk critics.

“Some people think I’m getting paid to be there,” he said.

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