An installation on the Bruckner Expressway, Big Bronx Deli (2009, vernacular) is an iconoclastic yet poignant deconstruction of the neoliberal, post-modern megacity and compels the viewer to contemplate the geospatial hegemony of language and consumer culture. Note how the fading red, white and blue letters evoke the elusiveness of the American dream, chased by paradigms of capitalism such as LaVar ‘Big Baller’ Ball, Michael Bloomberg, and Marina Abramovic. But what is being served to the patrons of Big Bronx Deli? The missing upper section of the sign is open to blue skies.
“If you come upon Transfiguration Lutheran Church on the corner of East 156th street and Prospect Avenue, the first thing you’ll notice are the doors, spray-painted with a bright mural. (By Tats Cru) It shows an open fire hydrant with water splashing into a baptismal font. Water brims and spills from the bow onto the grass below as new buildings rise up from the sidewalk. An arm reaches across the altar, with bread to place on a plateful of food-turkey, greens and rice for the hungry.” Reverend Heidi Neumark, leader of the church from 1984 to 2000 and author of ‘Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in The South Bronx.’ Transfiguration Church was founded in Harlem by Puerto Rican immigrants in 1923. The congregation moved to the South Bronx in 1941 and expanded in the fifties and sixties.
The quote above Mercury and friends reads: “Government should be a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. Men have a right that these wants should be provided by human wisdom.” -Edmund Burke
“To move into this house was a terminal, a mission accomplished. But it became a mere wayside stop on the line on the way to something bigger and better. Where does America stop? When does it begin to sink home and nourishing roots?” -Clifford Odets, playwright and former resident of 783 Beck Street.
Clifford Odets, who grew up right off of Longwood Avenue, wasn’t the first or last Bronxite to write a play about their borough but his work “Awake and Sing” seems to one of the most frequently reproduced. In December, I saw a Yiddish version of it in the East Village and a version of it featuring zombies called “WAKE…SING” was playing in Greenwich Village. I left the play wondering why a play about a Bronx family struggling with the Depression and their own personal limitations such a hit? First, it was one of the first ‘kitchen sink’ dramas which has the intensity and relatability of everyday life. Secondly, even though it has some specifically Bronx themes including a shoutout to Franklin Avenue and McKinley Square, the story is pretty universal. Third, agitprop. If you believe that theater is supposed to spark the workers of the world into some sort of revelation and revolution, as Odets did, then this is the ticket.