The New York City Project
New York City, New York
Tape Art Crew: Erik Taley, James Mercer, Jay Zehngebot, Michael Townsend Andrew Osech, Adriana Young, Colin Bliss, Greg Fong, Sam Sharpe, Greta Scheing
Two artists on our team were living in New York City when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, 2001. Our first instinct was to seek a method of quantifying the loss as a way to understand the tragedy. We began a memorial project that would consume our lives for the next five years
Our approach to measuring the loss was literal. Starting a week after the attacks we began drawing portraits of every fireman and every airline passenger who passed away on the walls of NYC (it took years to figure out the total casualties, so we focused on the two known groups). We were checking the news outlets' lists of the deceased daily and cross checking them. We ended up creating one of the most accurate lists out there and were actually calling in corrections to the chief medical examiner (people who were not actually dead, misspelled names, incorrect genders).
We did as much research on each person as we could before drawing them to get a sense of who they were and who they were leaving behind. The portraits were located along a path of four hearts overlayed on a map of NYC. Every time the line of the heart touched a building, we drew a figure.
Each of the 343 firefighters and 246 airplane passengers holds up fingers that represent the victims of the attacks that we were not able to draw. In that way a figure holding up five fingers was honoring five other people who had died as a result of 9/11.
For five years we returned to the city every week. When our path crossed over parks with no walls we created portraits out of whatever we could find: snow, leaves, dirt, sticks, flowers, grass.
We did this project largely without permission, but found that even a few years after the attack policemen who saw us drawing firemen would leave us alone. We left it up to each neighborhood to decide what happened to the portraits. Some neighborhoods tore them down immediately while others left them up for years. A few covered them with glass or painted over them to make the outlines permanent.
At the time we were creating more content than we knew what to do with, including bios, photographs, maps, videos, podcasts, and movies for each portrait. We spent our days managing a growing mountain of data and building a website that quickly became thousands of pages deep. This was before the dawn of Web 2.0 and social media, so there was no way to share what we were doing in real time. Ultimately after thousands of man-hours and over five years poured into it, the website became a graveyard. You can access what is left of the project HERE.
The September 11th Project remains the most extensive project we have ever done.