I was in the theater district, having just come out of a Red Bull Theater reading of “The Shoemaker’s Holiday,” when I saw these curious roofs sitting on the ground behind the chain link fence on Eighth Avenue. I momentarily thought they may have been some sort of set design too large to build in a theater, but a closer look revealed that they had nothing to do with theater; rather it was social commentary I was looking at. There are no ticky-tacky, matching subdivision houses below them, just the grey asphalt shingle rooftops sitting in the last empty lot in midtown Manhattan.
Installation artist, David Brooks, has created “Desert Rooftops,” an eerie reminder of driving along the Interstate 15 North in Southern California, before the housing bust, on the way to Palm Springs where subdivisions and big box strip malls popped out of the baking-hot desert floor like a children’s wandering Lego project. I always asked, “Who lives out here?”
California subdivision rooftops are as out of place as they could be at the Last Lot project space just blocks from Times Square in New York City, which makes this parody of a Southern California subdivision even more sardonically humorous. This 5,000-square-foot sculpture comments on “the monoculture that arises from unchecked suburban and urban sprawl with that of an over-cultivated landscape” and creates “desertification.”
Unfortunately, desertification does not mean a cupcake shop on every corner but rather “land degradation into arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors including human activities and climatic variations derived from over-development” with a resulting landscape often “inhospitable to other life.”
David Brooks’ rooftops make me grateful for my 3rdfloor walk-up in a 110-year old building with an actual cupcake shop on the corner. I’ll take New York City-style “dessertification” over California-style “desertification” any day.
Although you don’t need to LOOK UP to see these street-level rooftops, Desert Rooftops will be on view at the corner of Eighth Avenue and W. 46th Street through February 5, 2012. The Last Lot project space will be programmed with public art through August 2012, after which time it will likely be developed – this is midtown Manhattan, after all!
(Please note the first two photos were taken from internet sites.)