Citygroup: Off the Fence
One of six installations for the digital exhibition by winners of the 2022 League Prize.
On a typical plywood construction fence painted forest green, a ribbon of 46 color posters announces community members’ reactions to the transformations underway in their neighborhood.
In the Lower East Side of Manhattan, amid rampant luxury development, slick commercial posters advertise expensive leather goods, sunglasses, performances by famous musicians, and addictive TV series. These enticing images conceal the hard realities of gentrification, which is accelerating rents that were already spiraling out of control.
In a development process that favors the few and powerful, the community seeks a tangible way to voice its concerns. Government-mandated forms of public comment such as the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) offer hollow modes of engagement, theater dressing to marshal “consensus” on the unwavering march of real-estate speculation.
The public consequently pursues unofficial tactics to foster debate: political flyposting, for example. Often installed covertly, posters bolster democratic agency by emblazoning public commentary within the spaces they concern, bringing immediacy to critique and letting the entire city act as a forum. From the writing on the wall [מְנֵא מְנֵא תְּקֵל וּפַרְסִין mene mene tekel upharsin] to da zi baos (大字報), political posters present anonymous, ephemeral, yet incontrovertible evidence.
Building on this tradition, Citygroup produced a series of political posters addressing gentrification, displacement, development, and real estate speculation within Chinatown and the Lower East Side. Each features a statement collected from media sources and local residents responding to the construction of yet another supertall. This project was inspired by the poster projects of Group Material, an NYC artist collective formed in the 1970s, whose collective structure and political focus are touchstones for Citygroup.
These posters reclaim the pedestrian viewshed and offer a moment to pause, consider, and discuss what is possible for the future of the community—announcing that it’s time to get off the fence.
Project team: AJ Artemel, Michael Robinson Cohen, Sebastijan Jemec, Merica May Jensen, Georgia McGovern, Violette de la Selle, Will Sheridan, Radhika Singh, Alice Tai, David Andrew Tasman
Image credits: Em Joseph