Construction scaffolding bullies its green-ness onto almost every block in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Ad nauseum, those green wood panels interfere with sidewalks, with traffic, with sunlight.
In the words of interior designer Sharon (Sascha) Ascher, “they’re disgustingly ugly.”
It’s no surprise that she would have strong feelings about scaffolding. Her studio in Greenpoint is next to 61 Franklin Street, a city-owned building at the corner of Oak and Franklin, which has been scaffolded for eight years.
As bad luck would have it, the scaffolding went up the day after Ascher signed her lease in 2006. She had left Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, where she lived and worked for more than 20 years, when gentrification hit that neighborhood hard, and the building that housed her studio “went condo.”
Scaffolding is, of course, intended to be a temporary structure, and a permit is required to erect one, according to NYC rules; they must also be renewed every six months. It appears that in this case, the scaffolding has become an ersatz permanent fixture for a building that’s falling apart.
This “forever” scaffold recently “was bringing her down,” more than usual, the artist says. But, as depression is often the mother of invention, she had a eureka moment when she came up with the idea to organize an art installation around it, and one that would also bring community into the process: “I realized I could create a more enlightened way of envisioning Oak Street,” says Ascher.
Ascher and fellow artist, Beth Goldowitz, who encouraged and joined Ascher in her vision, put up a mesh fabric onto the outer portion of the scaffold shed, and with colored ribbons weaved intricate and decorative patterns. About a dozen people have also come to participate since it started in early August—all ages.
As Sascha sees it: “…the developers are using these, what I find, to be obtrusive structures, and they have no sense that people in the community have to see these every day. They have their vision of a beautiful building they are creating, and nothing else. They don’t understand that vision is about process, and that they go hand-in-hand.”
“So, my goal is to develop an aesthetic around scaffolds,” says Ascher.
Fabric and textiles are at the heart of both Ascher’s and Goldowitz’ personal work.
Ascher, a clothing designer, is interested in how people are affected by the fabrics they wear and what happens to the fabric. She is also an interior designer: “I like to change environments and give people the opportunity to see the world differently where they live.”
Her Oak Street studio, called Oak Street Light Collective, often serves as a pop-up gallery for her own work and for guest artists.
The tapestry, which was about 20 feet wide when this reporter visited the site, has a neon glow when viewed from the opposite side of the street. Inside the children’s clothing store, Flying Squirrel, shop owner Kate Schmitz describes her support for the project:
“I am so happy and inspired by what Sascha and Beth have done out there. It reminds me of what Williamsburg and the Lower East Side use to be like. I don’t see people making art on the streets anymore, so I’m very happy to see this, not just visually but psychically.”
A section of flowing ribbons are almost reminiscent of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s iconic 2005 Central Park installation, “The Gates.”
“Interesting that you say that,” says Sascha. “It’s the other side of the same coin. It’s the feminine side. We’re taking a structure that already exists and working with it, using color and texture but creating an undefined design, coming about because of a collaborative effort; not just Beth and myself, but attracting a lot of energy to work on it. The feminine aspect is like its own muse, and has an attractive quality to it.”
Ascher envisions the project as being like quilting circles of the past, when women would participate anonymously for the benefit of the whole community.
“The project is becoming open source,” the artist adds, “and as it develops it’s becoming a bigger idea of what it is, and evolving. The Gates was very structured as a work of art.”
Goldowitz, an accomplished artisan and educator—a maker of beaded bags, felting, weaves, quilts, embroidery, and crochet, (she also served for many years as the Center Director for the North Brooklyn Y at Borinquen Plaza)—knows about the visual affront of scaffolding, too. Her building on Scholes Street has been fixed with one for over two years, also for an indefinite period of time. According to Goldowitz, it is there to keep the brick façade from falling down and hitting any passing pedestrians. “It appears to be cheaper to rent a scaffold, than to invest in repair,” says Goldowitz. “It’s been up so long, we might as well beautify it.”
Like the Oak Street ribbon installation, Goldowitz is working with volunteers, including residents of her building at 13 Scholes Street. In this tapestry, the theme is more pictorial: “It’s a landscape for an urban tree, a rolling green hill,” she says.
Sascha’s and Beth’s plans are to not stop at Oak Street or Scholes Street, but to “ribbon-fiti” as they term it, throughout Greenpoint and Williamsburg.
“We want to do this with all the scaffolds we see,” says Ascher.
“Under Construction” ribbon-fiti may be coming soon to a block near you!