Ana Honigman



Michael Count, "Looking Forward", stills from video projection


The line from Blake's “London”, “And mark in every face I meet/marks of weakness, marks of woe,” felt painfully true living in New York after September 11th. Tragedy transformed anonymity into empathy. Every face was temporarily altered, but with remarkable strength and concern instead of weakness. Visible marks of woe remained for a long time.

New Yorkers regard each other as bodies, rarely as faces. When living in a city, strangers' bodies are either obstacles or passing objects of desire. Right after September 11th, strangers responded to each other with skittish, but genuine respect. That respect was signified as strangers addressed and responded to one another's faces, not only to their bodies. In April and May of this year, the Gale Gates Gallery, directed by Michael Counts, projected the faces of hundreds of New Yorkers onto the historic waterfront Clock-Tower in Dumbo, Brooklyn. Displayed on the four-sided, 14 foot clock face, the images were visible throughout Manhattan.

From afar, the faces fit majestically onto the cityscape. Belonging to a range of residents from art figures and school children to relief workers and fire fighters, they represented the city as a unified whole. Their anonymity never undermined their intimacy. Even when actress Frances McDormand or art critic Barbara Pollock appeared, their distinctness was unobtrusive. Regardless of whose face was shown, each of the faces in “Looking Forward” personified the city.
The project began as a public works installation with the faces silently projected onto the Clock-Tower. It evolved into a one-night/one-hour collaboration with local radio station WFMU and a series of photographs. When silent, the projected faces seemed to participate in an inaudible dialogue directed at the viewer. Watching them mouth their words felt like trying to follow a conversation on a crowded subway car or congested street. But when the radio station projected their voices, disappointment was inevitable. It was revealed that the faces were talking about New York-their favorite spots in the city, their reasons for living in New York, or their cherished Manhattan moments. All New Yorkers feel like connoisseurs of the city, and these stories were personal, but not especially original. While they succeeded at conveying a degree of universality, they were not nearly as universal as their previous silence.
The photographs taken by Aaron Diskin returned “Looking Forward” to its original beauty. Independent of the Clock Tower project, Diskin's images are hauntingly reminiscent of Robert Wilson's Surrealism at its most touching. Only images so apparently unreal could truly articulate the city's tragic disorientation. Diskin's camera smoothed the city scape, turning the Hudson river almost unrecognizably silky. Taken at evening or dusk, rich blues give each image depth and a sense of solemnity. The texture of the images is warm, but the mood is contemplative. The views are virtually uninhabited. People are occasionally seen below or around the Clock Tower, but are utterly abstracted by their distance. Some personal articles are visible through lit windows where they appear precious, yet abandoned.

Without the context, the faces appear godly, comic, or horrific. In one photograph, the city is the focus, presenting the unexpected detail of a massive eye peaking from the clock face as a ghastly clue. In another image, a couple glares disapprovingly outward like two disappointed parents. In yet another, a beautiful black woman with glittery lip-gloss appears as nervous as a heroine in a Hitchcock film. Yet whatever associations they conjure, the images projected on the Clock Tower humanize the city's wounded façade.

Ana Honigman
New York, New York