Posts Tagged ‘museum relief fund’

Interview with Liz Beeby

Longtime Brooklyn resident and City Reliquary fan Liz Beeby has created a marvelous souvenir for us as part of our Museum Relief Fund Drive: the City Reliquary in a Nutshell! She recently spoke with us about that project, Cloud City, collecting, and looking to the future in an uncertain world.

Liz and her fake dead pigeon (of which more below)

How did you come to New York City?

I’m from California, from Sacramento, and then I lived in Berkeley and Oakland. And I loved California so much I thought I’d just move to New York for 2 years, just to appreciate California more. I thought the first year I’ll be too homesick so it won’t count, the second year I’ll get to have fun in New York, and then I’ll go back to California. But then it turned out New York is really fun, obviously, and it also turned that out I wasn’t homesick and I didn’t want to leave. November 2019 was my 15 years here, and I feel like I still want to go back to California but I don’t know when. So I guess it was sort of a whim that stuck.

And what kind of work do you do here?

I work for an agency that’s for medically fragile kids and their families, and so it’s kids who would have to live in the hospital if not for this Medicaid program that can get them nursing and equipment to live at home with their families. Which is a win-win for everyone because it’s cheaper for the state to give them Medicaid and have them live at home, and then most families want their kids at home too. I’m in charge of the babies and toddlers program, so it’s a lot of parents who are first bringing their kids home from the hospital and trying to figure out how to get everything in place so their kids can live home and be stable. I really like working with the families and feeling like I’m helping, or at least trying to. It’s nice to be able to tell them, “It’s going to be ok. It’s still going to be hard, but there are things that can make this a little easier.” 

When I moved here I knew I wanted to work with kids, and I looked on Craigslist and found this job, and I’ve had it for 15 years. It’s the only job I’ve ever had in New York!

Cloud City decorated as a funeral parlor for Dinette show

You’re also one of the co-founders of Cloud City. Can you tell me what that is?

It’s an arts and performance space, that’s the short answer. We just had our 7 year anniversary. Before this we ran a space called Dead Herring, which was on South 5th, and we had music shows there a couple times a month. Then we got priced out of that space, as is what happens. We were looking for something else and found this space, and thought maybe we could give it a try. At that point people who were here did more theater stuff, so we were doing more theater performances. And lately we’ve been doing nothing, obviously, but before that we had a lot of comedy shows. When people walk by it can be confusing because on the outside it doesn’t look like anything, and so people wonder, “What is this space?” But then when they come in I feel people are often like, “Oh, this is cool!” And I get such a thrill out of it, every time. 

And sometimes I feel like… how did I end up partially running a theater? That is not where I thought I would be in life. But I also think it’s really fun. I like having space where people can come in and do their stuff, and I really like working the door and getting to chat with people as they come in. And even when shows are exhausting, the people putting the shows on are usually really lovely, and it’s so… rewarding. I’m trying to think of a less cheesy word but I can’t. I also think it’s exciting seeing all the crazy things people do and how creative people are, and I feel honored to be in the periphery of that, even though I’m not a performer. 

I feel like it’s the thing I’m proudest of, that we started this and it still exists.

It’s an incredible achievement, especially since so many community spaces in Brooklyn are closing.

Yes, my old roommate organized a show RIP DIY. It was photos of bands playing in all the places that had closed, and looking at that was just like, oh my gosh, so many places have been shut down by the changing neighborhood. We still have on our wall the list of all the spaces in the show, and people always come and say, “Hey, you forgot about this place.” There are so many places that weren’t included and so many that have closed since then too. And so I do feel like we’re amazingly lucky to still be doing this.  

Where does the name Cloud City come from?

From Star Wars, it’s probably copyrighted. It’s Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, I think, I don’t even know if I’ve ever seen the whole movie. But Lando Calrissian has a city in the clouds called Cloud City. And when the people come to visit him and ask, “Aren’t you worried about the Empire finding you?” he says, “It looms like a shadow over everything we’ve built here.” That’s his quote. And when we were starting this space, that’s what one of us used to say every time someone would ask, “Aren’t you worried about this, or that?” He would say, “It looms like a shadow over everything we’ve built here.” So it’s a Star Wars reference. Which is how you name things, right?

Cloud City’s Back to the Future 2-inspired party

Of course! And apart from running an art and performance space, you’re an artist yourself, right?

Well, I wouldn’t really say I’m an artist. My friend teases me for not saying I’m an artist, but I feel like I’m a social worker, and I make stuff on the side. I like to make props and things for people’s performances or movies. So I’ve mostly made stuff for shows at Cloud City, or for my friends’ videos. We had a couple art shows here. One of them was an anti-Trump fundraiser… you know how in Back to the Future 2 when they go back to the bad 1985, Biff was based on Donald Trump? So I made a miniature Biff’s Pleasure Palace Tower. So I like making little things, and then big things too.

Can you talk through your process? How do you go about making things?

It’s harder for me to come up with an idea out of the blue, which I sort of think is why “artist” doesn’t seem to fit right for me. When we had art shows at Cloud City it was like here, make something for the show, and I had no idea what to do. But if someone says, “I need a dead pigeon,” then my mind can start working and my brain spins really fast, and I think, “OK, I can put this and this together, and I can do this.” I think that’s why I like making things for other people’s projects. It’s exciting to be like, “Oh, you need this weird thing, I could make that.”

Have you actually made a dead pigeon?

Yes! My friend was going to use it in a webseries, but then I don’t think they ended up using it after all. I tried to make it look like it had been hit by a car. It was a stuffed animal, filled with cotton fabric, and the woman I was making it for got me some feathers – although I did pick some feathers off the street too. It looked pretty realistic. After I finished I held it up and took pictures with it, and people walking by were really grossed out, so it was pretty good. And then I saw a real dead pigeon on the street and I thought oh, I could have just put that in the freezer and used that.

And now you’re making the City Reliquary in a Nutshell. How did you first find out about the museum? 

I think back when it was just a window at Havemeyer and Grand, just from walking past, it was such a cool thing to see in the neighborhood. And I have a lot of collections myself, I’ve inherited that from my dad. So I thought it was cool that someone used their ground floor window to show collections. 

I don’t remember when it moved to the actual museum, but that’s just always been my ideal dream place of history and collections of things and New York all in one place. And so when people visit I say that’s the number one place you have to go. You can go to the Met if you have time, but the City Reliquary is a very important stop to make. I love how it holds onto all these things that would get thrown away otherwise, like a brick from the sidewalk. I think it’s amazing that those things have been preserved and presented for people to see. My dad’s a geologist so all the geology core samples… that gets my heart right there. Like wow, core samples from Manhattan! That’s so cool!

Then there’s the way that the Reliquary engages in the community so much, like the Bike Fetish day where everyone brings their bikes and shows them off, and also the community collections, all the weird things, like argyle socks and dipsticks and things. I feel like so many places could start up a museum and people could go to look at stuff, but I don’t know that it would necessarily be so focused on that community engagement. So the fact that that’s always been such a forefront of the Reliquary is so cool. It’s my favorite place in New York, and one of my very favorite places in the world.

We’re so honored! Can you tell us about one of your own collections?

At the City Reliquary in the 1939 World’s Fair collection there’s that button that says, “I have seen the future.” You know what I’m talking about? The first time I went to the museum I saw that and thought, “This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen, I want that so badly, how do I get one of those?” So I borrowed my friend’s button maker and made one, and then eventually realized that Ebay could help with that too. And that started a 1939 World’s Fair collection, because I think that fair is the best fair. Everyone was so optimistic and thought that technology was going to make everything better. They had so much hope for what the world of tomorrow would bring. It didn’t maybe work out the way they thought, but still that sense of, “everything gets better from here,” I love so much. 

And how does the City Reliquary in a Nutshell fit in to this?

When I was looking online for 1939 World’s Fair things, they have this World’s Fair in a nutshell, and there’s also one that’s New York City in a nutshell. And they have foldout pictures inside. I got the World’s Fair one first and then I got the New York City one, and I love them so much! And I thought that the City Reliquary has so many cool things, those could be in a nutshell too, that could be a good souvenir. And now I’m up to my ears in walnuts. I don’t even like walnuts!

For the people who get this nutshell, is there anything you’d want them to think about as they’re going through it? 

I guess I feel like… OK, so the people who bought them in 1939 probably had such a fun day at the fair and they wanted to remember everything about it. You could get a ton of souvenirs from that fair, but it’s such a small and compact way to get a bunch of pictures, and they must have enjoyed it so much. On the tags, you can see on the backs that they were for mailing. You could just put it in the mail and the nutshell would send, for 2 cents. So people had such a great time at the fair, and wanted to send not just a postcard to their friends but a weird nutshell, to share the world they’d just seen.

And so, I think about when you go to the City Reliquary and you’re trying to tell people how cool this museum is. They have an old shovel in there, they have geology core samples, they have water from the river – there are so many weird things that you wouldn’t think to see in a museum necessarily, but that you should see! Also the City Reliquary has so many things in there. Even when I was making the pictures I did a lot of culling so that it wouldn’t be too thick a strip to fit into the walnut shell. You go in there and you’re like, I saw so much cool stuff I don’t even remember what some of it was! So it’s a way of remembering what you saw and what the museum holds. Especially because some of it is from the rotating exhibits that aren’t there anymore. I tried to make it a sampling of all the historic and weird and small bits of life that are preserved there. It’s how one could remember a lovely day at the Reliquary.

Thank you so much, Liz!

For a limited time, City Reliquary in a Nutshell is available for purchase through the Museum Relief Fund Drive.

Interview with Artist Jason Eisner

Friend of the City Reliquary and Brooklyn-based artist Jason Eisner spoke with us recently about his work, including his beautiful limited-edition print depicting Negro League great John Henry Lloyd that is part of our Museum Relief Fund!

photo of artist Jason Eisner
The artist and his materials

You moved to New York from Chicago to study art. Can you tell me about your early years as an artist in New York City?

I studied painting at the Studio School, but while I was there I also had to have some type of job, so I started working at Boxart as an art handler. Along the way I met all these fantastic people, and it was fun to be part of this community that formed around work, and it really changed my relationship to art making. I wasn’t really an art handler, I was a crate maker, the foreman of a crate shop. So I had to make a crate for Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night… three times, because they don’t save the crate. And every time they’d be like, “Make it especially nice.” But we’d already made it especially nice! It meant something the first time we made it, but then we had already made it two other times. 

And I just started thinking like, this whole thing, what does it really serve? Who is going to these shows, who is allowed in? And I started asking myself these much bigger questions and turning further and further away from any kind of desire to actually have exhibitions. While I’d love to make a living on art making alone, it doesn’t seem like that’s something I’m bound for. But I can’t stop making, you know, I’m driven to create, because I feel like there’s something extraordinary about the process. It’s about possibilities. Taking that impulse beyond the gallery or museum world became something I got myself very interested in.

What do you mean when you say the process is about possibilities?

Sure, and I can speak directly to the print. Negro League Baseball has an amazing history and needs more celebration. I don’t know if you’re into Star Wars at all, but my brother and I, we grew up as the Star Wars movies were coming out and we collected trading cards. And my brother also started collecting baseball trading cards, he got deep into it. So now he’s buying the Star Wars cards for the new movies, and they’re ridiculous. There’s like a million cards, you could never possibly get a complete set, you’d have to buy boxes of them. And there are characters who appear on the corner of the screen for a nanosecond, and even they have their own card. 

But there aren’t cards like this for the Negro League players. And that burns me up. Topps, the great baseball card company, is making these Star Wars cards. Why not do some form of celebration of the Negro League? And if the card makers aren’t doing that, then why not have the art makers do that? My approach to art making has always had a certain kind of do it yourself. I guess I like to see art as its own solution, but one that can suggest other possibilities. 

What does this look like in some of your other work?

I’ve done things recently more in the street world, kinds of site-specific sculptures, and I have a whole brand associated with this – AOK. Physically AOK is a site specific installation, but I would rather call it a performance intervention. Installation is the residue, ok? Although it may also be the impetus. For example, there was a subway station on Church Avenue where there used to be an advertisement, but for a long time this advertisement was missing and never replaced, there was just a metal frame. And I wanted to repair this space, so I measured it and made a painting to fit into that, that said “WORK,” but using the same font as you would see in the subway tiles that announce the station. So the site itself was the inspiration for the work.

AOK: Work

But then after measuring and painting this thing, there’s this whole moment of having to install it, which is a moment of tremendous risk. Because I’m doing something illegal, you know, and messing with the MTA is beyond just the city, that’s one of those things that could really get me in some trouble. So I try to dress as official in appearance as possible, I put on construction gear, and really hope that my measurements work out. That I can stick this thing in there, screw it in, and leave in as short a time as possible. 

And so the actual art is the performance, the sort of trick of me or my crew going to a site and leaving something behind, almost littering. And then whatever’s left behind stays there as long as it stays there. Some things are there for a very long time. That piece on the subway was there for a couple years, until the whole thing was repaired. So the performance end of it is the installation. And the intervention aspect of it is what it might do for whoever passes by in the life it has on the street. The intervention is something that might disrupt their routine. 

Is there something special or unique about doing this kind of performance intervention in New York City? 

Well, everything we do with AOK is site-specific. Another thing we did quite a bit of was putting revised barricades all around the city. There’s a kind of striped white and orange barricade, you see them everywhere, that means you’re not supposed to go by that sewer or you’re not supposed to go across the sidewalk or something. But often times they just get left alone or they’re broken. I started seeing these things all over the place, and having worked at Boxart made me want to reuse all kinds of scrap wood, to give this thing a second life. 

So I was taking scrap wood [from the barricades] and reassembling, creating these gestures, taking the vernacular of these barricades but making these shapes, and then having them stand inside of the A-frames and just sort of place them around the city in random locations. So that they looked like they were supposed to be there, but there was something impossible about them, their shape. So if you saw it in passing, you’d probably be like what, why is that there? It kind of slows you down, hopefully, to make you think a little more. And there again is that possibility. We go from one place to another in New York City without very much pause. And I was hoping to move art beyond the confines of the white cube into a public space, where anyone could have access to it as long as it was there, and it could offer them some new experience in their routine. I know it’s kind of a romantic idea.


Can you tell me about some of the interactions you have had during this process?

One more solitary AOK project had to do with me clearing out the weeds from the street tree beds in the Mott Haven area of the Bronx. My whole aim was to engage with the people who live in the Bronx. I didn’t want to be one of those artists who was just going to the Bronx to bring art to the Bronx. I wanted to experience the Bronx almost like a religious experience with a sense of humility. So I felt like, well, being on my knees and pulling out weeds and junk from these tree beds and aerating the soil was a nice way to get to know people. 

And that was a sustained project, I did that for months, one spring. Most people didn’t pay any attention at all. They saw what looked like a uniformed person doing official work and let me be. But then there were people who really took time to try to understand what I was doing, and the range of comments and conversation were really extraordinary. So in terms of possibility, of the people that saw me, some people stopped to ask me questions. And that’s mission accomplished. And the interaction level was interesting because I was first confronted by that New York hardness, and then embraced by that New York core, that warm core. It was a cool shift. 

Let’s return to the print. How did you select John Henry Lloyd? 

When I think “reliquary,” that’s a religious object that is left behind to remember. And you know, a lot of the stuff that the City Reliquary has is kitschy and schmaltzy, and that’s Americana. And there’s something religious about that and I appreciate the Reliquary’s commitment to that. But there’s also a tremendous amount of history that is profoundly spiritual and has a major impact on people, that either never had an object made for it, or had an object made and it was loved to death or washed away in a flood or sold at a garage sale or lost in a fire. 

So the Negro League history is something I’m new to myself and really interested in learning about. It’s amazing, and at the same it’s also an important part of remembering American racism. That’s something we shouldn’t be forgetting. Many people seem to be forgetting about it all the time and never learning a lesson about it. And I wonder if maybe some of that forgetting has to do with not having the object to remember. After the integration of Major League baseball, that was kind of death knell for the Negro Leagues. So these players that established long histories and made a livelihood and were heroes, and were too old to join the major leagues, were in a way lost because of this integration. So I was compelled in some way to make that object for Reliquary, a place where you should be remembering.

And then selecting the player. I work at the Tenement Museum, so that’s what I’ve done for over 10 years now and learned the process of doing historic research. So I just started looking through what Brooklyn Negro League teams there were, who’s an exceptional player on one of those teams, to celebrate New York, to celebrate the Negro League, to celebrate the Reliquary. And I settled on John Henry Lloyd, who just had an amazing long career. They called him “the shovel,” it was a name he was given in Spanish. The story is that when he’d catch a ball shot way out into one of the outfield positions, he would be able to grab it but would also grab up a chunk of earth with his mitt, like a shovel, bringing up the turf. And I thought, “Wow, who is this guy? What a hero!” And he was eventually known as Pop, because he was a kind of father figure, just a sweet guy. So he was somebody who was a very celebrated athlete, and also very human, and an inspiration to his teammates. And like many people who played, he played on all kinds of teams, but he was on the Brooklyn Royal Giants for just a couple years, so there’s a New York connection. 

We talked about the relationship between possibilities of the process and the product in your performance interventions. What does that look like for this print, and how is it different?

When I was in undergraduate school I found myself at one point very stuck with painting, which is what I was studying. And then I moved into printmaking and I think there was something physical about the process that I really needed, that I wasn’t getting either in sculpture or in painting. There’s the trick in printmaking of everything being the reverse of what you see. And that’s also magic. It’s totally magical. And I can never get over it, I still love that. Of course it’s embarrassing when it’s type and you get the type backwards, but that’s ok too. 

But in the process of making this print, for me the research and the reading about John Henry Lloyd and the Negro Leagues will be ongoing. And there’s always an ongoing imagination about what was, because there’s not a possibility of me experiencing it, and there’s very little material culture left behind to remember it through. So I felt like in making this print, some kind of double magic. Like there’s the magic of the printmaking process, which is exciting, you never know what you’re going to get. But the other magic part of it was like, maybe conjuring into life the possibility that this history might be remembered through an object, where maybe it didn’t have an object before. 

So this particular print is less like the ephemera of the performance interventions, and more like an iconography. Like this is an icon that would be surrounded by candles that burn away. So as I was making it I felt a kind of responsibility beyond just trying to represent a portrait of John Henry Lloyd. There seemed to be more at stake in the representation. The idea that people will continue this learning on their own is a quiet goal that I do hope becomes a part of the process. Beyond me. I want to see everything live beyond me. 

Many thanks, Jason! You can see more of his work here.

Support the City Reliquary With Your Purchase of Limited Edition Items!

An illustration of Brooklyn Royal Giants player John Henry Lloyd by Jason Eisner

The City Reliquary Museum Relief Fund Drive is now live! You can purchase limited-edition swag at the link while helping to support our work! The Relief Fund Drive will run only until MAY 15 and is your ONLY chance to get these special items!

We chose to launch this donation drive on April 15, Jackie Robinson Day, a tradition born in New York and celebrated nationally. The day commemorates the breaking of the baseball color line with Robinson’s official major league debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. While baseball is on pause, the rallying spirit that usually fills our stadiums can be felt among New Yorkers even now.

Support the City Reliquary with your order of a signed and numbered print by Brooklyn artist Jason Eisner (proof pictured above), an enamel pin featuring the City Reliquary logo, a challenge coin designed by our own Jacob Ford, or a miniature City Reliquary In A Nutshell handmade by Liz Beeby and inspired by a popular souvenir of the 1939 World’s Fair!

We are tremendously grateful for the generous support so many of you have already shown us. We are particularly thankful to Jason Eisner and Liz Beeby for their incredible contributions to this fundraiser!