Monday, August 22, 2011

Laundromat Project Gets Lucky

A unique combination of public and private space is how Karina Aguilera Skvirsky describes Laundromats. She has been at Lucky Laundromat on 577 Jersey Avenue one day a week or so since May interviewing people not about fabric softeners, folding techniques or liquid vs. powder but Jersey City. It’s an art project that is part documentation, capturing the intersection of change in an individual and social change, in other words, life and history. Ask Me, Tell Me is the name of project, or at least that was what is on an explanatory postcard available here at the Laundromat and elsewhere.

She asks one question – something about how you feel about gentrification – and records responses on video. In September the video will be played in the Lucky Laundromat, as part of an installation. Yes, an art installation in a Laundromat. Ask Me, Tell Me part of the Laundromat Project.

Here is Karina’s website:

Here’s a project blog:

The Lucky Ask Me/Tell Me project is part of the Laundromat Project. Here’s that website:

“The Laundromat Project is a community-based public art non-profit that brings arts programming to Laundromats in the Greater New York area”

Well, as some economists like to hope: supply creates its own demand. I may have misheard some of these details so check the above websites for accuracy. I think there are other parts of the project and other installations planned. I am not a news source. I have enough problems with my own laundry – there are washer and driers in my building.

Nonetheless, I participated. I’ve never been interviewed on tape before. A compelling experience, but also disquieting and uncomfortable. Mainly fun though, opining about our fair city and the changes I’ve seen. I hope I sounded intelligent. I’m sure I looked fat. It was fun and there is something about the context that was pleasingly surreal – an ordinary place and you think of your place in history, your city and your city’s place in history.

I liked the Laundromat idea. I guess it’s similar to the Barber Shop or the ideal of one, but except for those movies of the same name I don’t know if the Barber Shop is where folks congregate. These days I just go in and out, I mainly talk about baseball or the weather. Besides, you only get guys in a barber shop and the same gender-centric atmosphere is true for hair salons and females. Bars are for cliques and you get people just visiting – not everybody who drinks here is from here. I guess there’s still a barfly or two willing to spew about the good ole days. Might be a skewed viewpoint.

Laundromats get a plausable cross section. Those doing their laundry have a time to spare, during the wash and drying cycles.

Unlike those other public/private space around which community coalesces, laundry is more of a necessity, a chore. Unlike say drinking or enhancing appearance, distractions here are welcomed.

Gentrification alters cities in fits and starts. You wake up one day and realize this is not the land you knew but the truth is that this transformation was going on every moment of your life and you were too busy living to notice. In the end, nobody is immune to the forces of history. Change is the master of us all and the final, inevitable change is one we all share.

Laundromats remain in suburban strip malls. Chains in this business are still the exception. Laundromats survive minor upheavals like new sidewalks, new residential zoning laws and the displacement of one economic class with another. Change comes, change goes but clean underwear and socks are forever!

Karina’s set up of a camera and recording devices and release forms occupied part of a folding table near the back of the Lucky Laundromat. It was not immediately obvious why she was there or what she was doing. Clothes swirled in mild turbulence visible in the windows on the doors of the washers and driers aligned like aquariums in a pet shop. Few customers on this sunny afternoon. They were oblivious to the art, the documentation, the changing city outside and for the moment at least only interested in enduring the waiting necessary for the completion of this chore.

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