While the art media of New York have been busy reporting from the opening of the Whitney Biennial and a number of art fairs such as Armory and Independent in recent weeks, the opening of Sandwiched in Brooklyn has attracted far less attention. Each day for six days Jacob Fabricius has walked up and down the Fulton Street Mall, a shopping street, wearing a sandwich board of the kind usually worn by people advertising a restaurant or shop nearby. Each day he wears a different sets of signs created by a different artist. Ten years have passed since Fabricius first carried art around on his shoulders in this manner.
The first Sandwiched event took place in Los Angeles in 2003. Fabricius got the idea while carrying out research for another public art project, Rent-a-Bench. As he was driving around the streets of the city, looking at its public benches, he noticed the many people carrying sandwich boards up and down the streets:
“The people taking on this low-status job – acting as living advertisements – were often Mexicans or African Americans. They would stand there in the glaring sun for up to five hours at a time, stuck – quite literally sandwiched – in their working function and, presumably, also in terms of their identity and sense of belonging; many of them were illegal immigrants. I noticed that people would comment on the messages stated on the signs – political messages in particular prompted a lot of responses. This made me think about how art in public spaces, certainly in Europe, often has ‘no mailbox’; it does not offer any opportunities for responding to the statement made by the art. That gave me the idea of using the sandwich board as an opportunity for moderating art – a chance to give and receive,” says Jacob Fabricius, who is also the director of Kunsthal Charlottenborg in Copenhagen.
Fabricius entered into a simple agreement with the various artists involved: if they would create a set of signs, he would carry them. The signs would be returned to them afterwards. A pure, straightforward exchange of labour. Back in L.A. he spent 20 days walking with his sandwich boards, showing the work of 10 different artists. Shortly afterwards – at the behest of Wrong Gallery (the small New York venue run by Maurizio Cattelan, Massimiliano Gioni, and Ali Subotnik) and the Public Art Fund – Fabricus was invited to do it again in New York later that year. He accepted the offer and decided to stage the event in Fulton Street Mall in downtown Brooklyn – a very busy shopping area near the Brooklyn city hall and a location where many different cultures meet and mingle. He did not want to use a touristy or artsy area for the project.
This past week Fabricius has returned to walk up and down Fulton Street Mall again. This time carrying works by Kerry James Marshall, Sergej Jensen, Marie Karlberg & Lena Henke, Alfredo Jaar, Margaret Lee, and David Horvitz. No particular curatorial approach or theme underpins the selection of works. The idea is to feature all kinds of different artists – some who often work with politically charged art in the public space, and some who work with e.g. abstract painting.
“I thought it would be interesting to repeat the project ten years later in the same location – partly to see how the city has changed, but also to gauge the impact of the project ten years later. It turns out – then as now – that people mostly respond to sentences. A single word or a picture gets too abstract. And apart from Sergej Jensen, who created two small canvases covered in bank notes that had been painted over, all contributions for this incarnation of Sandwiched have featured texts. The responses from audiences vary greatly. Alfredo Jaar’s sign in particular elicited many comments: it bears a line by the Japanese writer Oe Kenzaburo: ‘Teach us to outgrow our madness’. One guy gave me a long story about how he had spent 22 years in prison and found it difficult to build a life on the outside after having been engulfed by madness for so long – while another person shouted ‘You should be standing in Washington!’ at me.”
As you look at Jacob Fabricius walking down Fulton Street Mall next to fellow sandwich board-men wearing similar signs advertising everything-must-go sales or dumplings you soon lose sight of him in the throng of people in the bustling shopping street. But then he emerges again, takes up position on a street corner, and waits – for passersby who want answers, who give answers, or just observe from a distance, wondering.