Last weekend in Brooklyn Bridge Park, the artist Caledonia Curry, otherwise known as Swoon, drove up to the end of Pier 1 in a box truck and—two hours of furious unpacking and unfolding later—transformed the vehicle into a gorgeous, elaborate sculpture that doubles as a multi-tiered stage. The piece is called The House Our Families Built, and it's part of a nationwide series of artworks created as part of PBS's American Portrait, and the inimitable Jeff Stark developed the performance aspect of things with Queens director/experiential designer Irene Lazaridis.
The theme to both the sculpture and the performance is the legacy of family histories, whether comforting or traumatic, and the short readings by five actors—the script is an assemblage of 25 real-life stories pulled from nearly 13,000 submitted to PBS—explore the many ways in which we carry forward our past, or find the strength to leave it behind.
Special family recipes and food rituals are a common topic here—as one character says, recalling a childhood spent in a multi-generational household in Chinatown, "food was used as an expression of love and care," even when words were not. Abuse, religion, and coming out are other recurring themes. It can be weighty stuff, but the emphasis throughout is on embracing "the promise of a brighter tomorrow."
After nearly a year without any sort of live events, witnessing the 15-minute theatrical performance (which repeats throughout the day), combined with Swoon's lovely, densely-layered work, felt like hitting the cultural jackpot. As co-director Stark told Gothamist, "the chance to put on a live show in this incredibly difficult time, the chance to actually get together and work with people on a shared project, was thrilling."
You still have three more chances to catch it: this weekend they'll be parked just inside of Prospect Park at Flatbush and Empire (update: the Prospect Park event has been canceled due to weather); the following weekend it will be at the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows Corona Park (Saturday is for sculpture viewing only; Sunday will include the performances); and, finally, on Sunday, February 21st, at Union Square. For details and updates, follow @swoonhq on Instagram.