Artist Intervention Honors the Writers Bench as Historic Landmark

By - Monday, February 20th, 2012

Our previous post about the MTA selling classic subway benches for $650 a piece made us think of a great intervention by the artist Erik Burke in 2009. In homage to the history of the Writers Bench at 149th Street and Grand Concourse, Burke created a convincing plaque and accompanying subway posters honoring the rich history of that specific MTA subway bench and the role it played in graffiti history as a hub where graffiti writers would meet. Watch the video above and read the artists statement below: Writer’s Bench selects the endangered language of NYC subway graffiti and memorializes it within the Metropolitan Transit system. This unsanctioned project uses the camouflage of design to lend stature and authority to the Writer’s Bench at 149th St and Grand Concourse by placing a custom-made plaque on the bench and distributing 100 silk-screened posters throughout the subway system advertising the Writers Bench as a cultural and historic site to visit. Writers Bench is just one facet of a larger compilation of site-specific projects intrinsically focused on subway graffiti. The projects develop several techniques for appropriation of physical space, using playful performances, traditional memorials, and technical devices to illuminate eradicated past events. The larger aim of the work is to share techniques that bring attention to endangered and suppressed histories. I hope these techniques empower individuals to remember and celebrate events, people, and times that seem to be purposefully forgotten by those in power. Through a hybridized style of reenacting and commemorating I hope to contribute to the present while celebrating the past. Excerpt of text from plaque: You are presently sitting on the most historic writers bench in all of New York City. The writer’s bench is an important symbol and historical marker for graffiti writers. Beyond being a physical bench it grew to be a verb in it’s own right, describing the action of watching graffiti pieces travel into the station on the train. At the bench, writers congregated not only to watch graffit but to critique, study, meet other writers, teach, sign each other’s black books, and discuss layups and yards. In a way the writer’s bench was the emergence of an unsanctioned free school dedicated to the tradition of graffiti. As time passed the writer’s bench evolved from being a great location for piece watching to a popular gathering place for writers from all over New York City. Over a quarter century ago graffiti writers from the Bronx began meeting here to watch trains carrying graffiti pieces. This was an ideal location because it was where the 2 and 5 IRT lines converged showcasing work of the graffiti writers from the Bronx and Brooklyn. The bench began attracting more and more graffiti writers to the point that it was a place of pilgrimage for writers. Other stations benches became popular but none to the effect of this bench at the 149th St. Grand Concourse Station. The first writer’s bench was formed around 1972 and located on W. 188th St. in Manhattan. Many writers’ benches flourished since that time and up through the 80’s before slowly being dissolved. Some of the most notable were the benches at the Atlantic Ave. and Brooklyn Bridge stations. Although the writer’s bench community has now shifted to other locations, such as online, these benches are remembered as icons that attest to the explosion of the graffiti writer’s movement and D.I.Y. culture.

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