From CT4CT: Creative Tools for Critical Times

REPOhistory's Lower Manhattan Sign Project

REPOhistory is a New York based collective of artists, scholars, social critics, and educators who explore history's relationship with contemporary society.

According to REPOhistory:

REPOhistory began in Manhattan in 1989 as a study group of artists, scholars, teachers, and writers focused on the relationship of history to contemporary society. It grew into a forum for developing public art projects based on history and a platform for creating them. For the past ten years REPOhistory's goal has been "To retrieve and relocate absent historical narratives at specific locations in the New York City area through counter-monuments, actions, and events". The work is informed by a multicultural re-reading of history which focuses on issues of race, gender, class and sexuality. We choose to create public art because we wanted to expand the audience for art by going outside the confines of the museum and gallery structure. By choosing to create work with strong, alternative social commentary we are drawing on a tradition in art that is often ignored; the legacy of the Berlin Dadaists, Russian Constructivists, the New York Photo League and contemporary organizations like Political Art Documentation/Distribution (PAD/D), Group Material and Grand Fury.


Artistic Projects

Entering Buttermilk Bottom

Buttermilk Bottom, 1995

REPOhistory's Entering Buttermilk Bottom (1995) is a site-specific public art installation that honored the history and former residents of Atlanta using street signs and markings.

According to REPOhistory:

This project honors the passing of a community destroyed by Urban Renewal to make room for Modern Atlanta and the "New South." This site-specific public art installation consisted of signs, street markings, and a pavilion installation that illustrated the history of the community, as well as a reunion of former residents. The historical information was donated to the Martin Luther King Library and the reunion has become an annual event.

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Lower Manhattan Sign Project

Lower Manhattan Sign Project

REPOhistory's Lower Manhattan Sign Project was inspired by the celebrations surrounding the 500 year anniversary of Columbus' 1492 "discovery" of the Americas. The project used historic signs, walking tours and other events to present alternative views of history.

According to Lucy Lippard:

Amid the signage jungle of lower Manhattan, the metal plaques attached high on lampposts might first be taken as standard warnings from officialdom. But the imagery seems unlikely, a falling body, the photo of an open grave, portraits of a homeless man and a radical politician, a floating ladder and noose. And the texts just don't have that bureaucratic thud. On closer scrutiny of the information offered, mutiny is apparent. The lively array of pictorial signs are, of course, art. But rather than "review" the products (most of which work really well in context), I want to explore the process of this exemplary public art project.

The goal was to repossess history. "Whose History is Remembered? Who Will We Forget?" is the fundamental question asked by REPOhistory, a multiethnic collective of artists, writers. and educators whose Sign Project opened with panache and a parade in lower Manhattan in June 1992. The two-sided. 18 x 24, three-color photo silkscreen historical markers, 39 of them in all. are clustered between Canal Street and the Battery, mostly south of City Hall Park. Although their projected life span is one year (through June 1993), some may last longer. It's kind of a miracle that they are there at all.

The project was conceived by alumni of PAD/D (Political Art Documentation/Distribution), the activist art group (and Archive. now at the Museum of Modern Art) that almost survived the 1980's, and other experienced activist artists. First called The History Project, it began as a study groyp and developed by the fall of 1989 into a proposal (offered by REPOhistorian Greg Sholette) to "retrieve and relocate absent historical narratives at specific locations in the New York City area through counter-monuments, actions and events." Because many of the members were working already to counteract the official Columbus Quincentennial events, it was suggested at early meetings that the theme of colonialism/racism be adopted and the signs be scattered throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, so that people could deal with their own neighborhoods and local education. One ambitious idea was to map the entire city and catalogue the historical sites in order to determine an overriding theme. Finally the group decided to focus for the time being on the lost history of lower Manhattan, where it all began, and where most events could be categorized as colonialism and racism.

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Out From Under the King George Hotel

Out from Under the King George Hotel, 2000

REPOhistory's Out From Under the King George Hotel (2000) is a public art project that documents the history of an abandoned hotel in Houston, TX.

According to REPOhistory:

REPOhistory was invited to Houston, Texas, to create a public art project. We chose to document seven layers of history on the location of the King George Hotel. We chose this site because the abandoned Hotel was across the street from a homeless shelter and one block from the site of a new baseball stadium that was the cornerstone of the cityƕs plan to redevelop the downtown. We created a printed document that was distributed throughout the city. The document was also wheat pasted to the facade of the hotel with the permission of the Non-Profit Housing Corporation of Greater Houston, an organization that was renovating the structure as a halfway house for homeless. The Housing Corporation used the document for fundraising and will permanently hang a framed copy of the document in the lobby of the renovated structure.

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Voices of Renewal

Voices of Renewal, 2000

REPOhistory's Voices of Renewal (2000) is an extension of their Entering Buttermilk Bottom project.

According to REPOhistory:

Voices Of Renewal" is the second phase of REPOhistory's public art/public history work in Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward. Following on the heels of the 1995-96 "Entering Buttermilk Bottom" project, this Public Art Residency is a collaboration by REPO artist Tom Klem and residents of the Fourth Ward's Glen Iris neighborhood. Working directly with those who lived these histories, six artist-created public history markers were created and were installed permanently on the private property of those residents whose histories were unveiled and celebrated.

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