planet: April 2010 Archives

Harry was always an activist (here he is saying hello to the late Keith Cylar)

ADDENDA: I've now located* the original full image of the photograph I included above when I first did this entry, as well as the text which accompanied it, from a pre-summer issue of OutWeek published almost twenty years ago; this is Keith Cylar and Harry Wieder's reply to the photographer and activist Michael Wakefields's question about their ideal getaway:

"We would live in a world where we would then have the freedom to do more than just fantasize, where our fight to end AIDS has brought a reality, and there are countless sexual possibilities, especially for a militant sexual dwarf"

I've also added an image further into the entry, of Harry inside the maw of the beast, an ACT UP Monday night meeting

He described himself as a "Disabled, gay, Jewish, leftist, middle aged dwarf who ambulates with crutches", but Harry was much more. He was the essential activist, and he was much loved.

I first met him through ACT UP, where I sat next to him at a Monday night meeting, and after that he seemed to be everywhere, especially wherever there was something to be said to power. I was deeply proud to call him a friend.

I hadn't yet heard his own multifarious description of himself, but as I came to know better both the man and his work I watched his identity as an activist and as a man gradually enlarge in my own consciousness. Eventually I seemed to have assembled an image of all of his various hats and identities on my own, even adding "person of color" in my enthusiasm. I can't account for that add-on. Harry might have been a bit "swarthy", but I think it was his compassion and his natural affinity for the issues which affected blacks, or maybe there was even an ambiguous word from Harry himself. Then, only years later, when he told me where he then lived on the Lower East Side, in a home for the deaf, did I realize that his physical challenges included a hearing disability.

The news magazine OutWeek called Harry a "militant sexual dwarf" in a 1991 article which included the photo above. He's seen peeking into the swimsuit of Keith Cylar, one of the co-founders of Housing Works. Barry remembers, "he was [certainly] aggressively flirtatious".

We all loved him.

During all of his active life he worked to improve transportation for all so there was more than a little irony in the fact that he was struck down the night before last by a taxi on Essex Street, on the Lower East Side where he lived. It's one of the most dangerous of the stretches which had attracted his latest traffic-control activism, virtually up to the moment of his death. He was leaving a regular meeting of Community Board 3, one of several groups which has been concerned with the neighborhood's safety.

Board 3 will be joined by Community Board 2 at a public hearing scheduled by the NYC Department of Transportation for next Thursday on the issues of traffic and safety in the Village and the Lower East Side. Harry will certainly be a part of it.

Harry, waving from the front row during a 1990 ACT UP meeting [detail in a still from a video]

For more details: DNAinfo; The New York Post; Wall Street Journal (blog); the Lo-Down; Gothamist; The Edge (for starters)

When I first published this post I was unable to locate Michael Wakefield's original, uncropped image, but Bill Dobbs located it in the OutWeek archive and pointed me to it (it's on page 36); it now appears here at the top

[first image by Michaeld Wakefield from the OutWeek archive; the second from James Wentzy]


Today is the eighth anniversary of this blog.

I said it last year, and I'm delighted and incredibly privileged to say it again: This is also the anniversary of what turned out to be the most important event in my life, the night Barry and I met (now nineteen years ago).

Last year I also wrote, looking at the world outside our circle of close friends, that I was "more upbeat about the world" than I had been the year before, the eighth year of our second Bush, adding, "but only a bit". That hasn't changed, a bit.

And happy birthday, Paddy Johnson!

[the image is of a portion of the street number on the glass above one of the Art Deco entrances of the former Port Authority Commerce Building (1932), 111 Eighth Avenue the wall seen several feet behind the glass is covered with gold leaf]


Brothers Mike and Doug Starn's Metropolitan Museum roof installation, "Bambú: You Can't, You Don't, and You Won't Stop", opens today, April 27. Barry and I were at the press preview yesterday morning. I'm sharing here a few of the images with which I returned.

I'm not really drawn to openings (of any kind, galleries, performances or film) just for the sake of being there first. There has to be some other lure; it might be the prospect of being around creative friends. And only the promise of something very special, also something which almost has to be experienced in the relative isolation of a preview could normally bring me to the Upper East Side before noon, but there we were yesterday at 11 am, standing in the rain on the roof of the Met, and there wasn't a friend of any kind in sight.

Oh yes, I admit that I was also there because I was looking forward to some terrific, uncrowded photo opportunities, even if we weren't going to be able to scale the heights of the bamboo cloud surrounding us.

It turned out that the "Bambú" itself was friendly enough, even if the wet-blankets working at the underwriting desks of the museum's insurance company refused to let anyone enter the internal footpaths. It's a prohibition which can be expected to be applied, throughout the spring, summer and early fall, whenever the surfaces become wet.

The Starn's piece will not move across the roof, as did their earlier bamboo sculpture at the former Tallix factory in Beacon, New York. There the structure, assembled inside an enormous, 320-foot space, was continuously reconstructed by dismantling individual poles and carrying them down the floor to be reassembled into (another?) monumental piece, several times over and over, and then back again.

The forest at the Met will continue to grow in height throughout the spring and summer, and the existing paths constructed within it (in the sky, so to speak) will be extended further during at least much of that time. Visitors who are not so unfortunate as to show up on a drizzly day can expect to encounter a number of sturdy rock climbers, mustered from northern New England and the European Alps, working on the piece above their heads.

The other friendly faces we encountered were those of the Starns themselves. I've been encountering their work for more than 25 years, and I've never been disappointed by what I've seen as they've reconfigured the world around them. On Monday they were completely generous with their time and open to any queries from the press.

"Bambú" likely represents the most complete transformation of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden in the twenty-three years of the space's history. It may also turn out to be the most successful, not least because for its visitors it's probably going to be the most exciting ever.

I thought it was a pretty awesome piece, not least for the fact that its rather serious scale depends on only a rather smallish carbon footprint, and for being a frankly ephemeral construction (ephemeral except in the memory of those who will experience it). The very fact that it was done at all is a remarkable accomplishment for the artists, the Museum, and, yes, that insurance company too.



Now I'm thinking about the piece as art. It's a maze, with elements both random and designed. It's a forest of natural, wooden materials, yet bound together with synthetic, nylon cords. But this "forest" has been planted in the middle of, and yet above, a great artificial metropolis by the hand of man alone. It has been accomplished through the borrowing of the products of nature as well as human genius. It displays attributes of chaos as well as order, and the contributions made by nature and by man both exhibit each of those. Every piece in it was assembled, arranged, and bound into place by artists, although working closely with their collaborators. Every element of the structure has an intelligence and a rhythm. Not one part of it is quite accidental or entirely superfluous.

The forest maze closes forever on October 31. I wish instead that we could flood the roof and watch it grow forever.




the artists: Doug (l.) and Mike

gone, but surely not forgotten

It's Earth Day. It's also the day the White House and the City of New York decided to junk hundreds of bikes, the vehicles used by New Yorkers to reduce their carbon footprint.

From Gothamist, two hours ago:

Obama has no idea what he just got himself into. Someone sent this photo to the blog This Is FYF, which reports that "citing security concerns that bikes might be secret pipe bombs, NYPD officers clipped the locks of hundreds of bikes along Houston Street this morning in preparation for President Obama's speech at Cooper Union. The bikes were unceremoniously put in the back of the truck. Onlookers were not given information as to what would become of the bikes. Happy Earth Day!"

Those bikes are at least as important to their riders as cars are to their drivers, and, in some cases, represent as major an investment for their owners as a car does for those who like piloting their own multi-ton metal vehicles around the city. Would the NYPD be so cavalier in junking hundreds of those precious planet-scarring cars?

The history of the NYPD's war on bikes tell us that for the men and women in blue today's crackdown on innocent parked bikes is a win-win situation: The cops get to pretend they're guarding us from terrorists, and at the same time they're reducing the actual number of bikes (and, perhaps more crucially, discouraging potential riders from thinking of bikes as a reasonable alternative to cars).

Has anyone noticed the stories in the media and the glossy posters telling us that in just about one week we can begin celebrating the fact that "May is Bike Month in New York City!"? Someone should share the information with the City authorities.

And perhaps in one final note here, prollyisnotprobably reminds us that Bicycling Magazine put NYC within the top ten on its list of the most cycling friendly cities in the country. The prollies had already suggested our city doesn't belong there.

RELATED: "NY activists drop rainforest banner at City Hall"

[image by Anthony Rebholz/Thisisfy via Gothamist]


UPDATE: [2 PM, APRIL 22, 2010] Both Tims were released a short while ago, after an arraignment in which each was charged with two misdemeanors: "Obstruction of Government Administration" and (a Parks violation) "Unlawful Posting of Sign"; each was also charged with one violation: "Disorderly Conduct"

ADDENDUM: [April 22, 2010] Tim Keating discusses the issues in this excellent Rainforest Relief video, recorded on a New York subway platform in April, 2008

Added six hours after this post was published: It's just like the late 80s and 90s: We're still having to learn to do stunts and run through hoops just to get the attention of elected officials, bureaucrats, journalists and the people who take and handle our money, in the hope of persuading them, or their handlers, to do what they should have been doing all along. It seems to be the new American way.

Two intrepid activists from the group, "Rainforests of New York" (yeah, New York rain forests: we're actually the country's #1 ongoing consumer of the irreplaceable wood from the planet's vanishing tropical rain forests) at midday today shimmied up two of the 40-foot flagpoles planted at the foot of City Hall Park. There the team, Tim Doody and Tim Keating, masterfully strung a handsome 150-square-foot banner broadcasting, to Mayor Bloomberg, the people of New York, tourists on foot and sitting in open-top buses, and by now the whole world, the gross hypocrisy of a city which talks green while refusing to acknowledge its dependence on "exotic wood" products purchased (with public money) from those whom our building appetites reward for continuing to destroy rain forests and altering the entire world climate.

The action was organized by Rainforest Relief and the New York Climate Action Group [NYCAG]

The banner was unfurled some time after noon, and it was still in place at 1:45 pm, well after the triumphant climbers had lowered themselves to the ground. They were arrested by gloved members of the "Police Emergency Service" while being hailed by the supportive lunchtime crowd, which then saw them driven off to the First Precinct.








This page is an archive of entries in the planet category from April 2010.

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