Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City has hosted extraordinary pieces of art since a coalition of artists and community members transformed an East River landfill and illegal dumpsite into an open studio and exhibition space in 1986.
Of the 15 sculptures that are currently on display as part of the 2019 Socrates Annual, only one is a piece of public art created by union electricians and members of the Workers Art Coalition (WAC), a group of construction workers and artists who bring representations and creative expressions of blue-collar workers into public culture.
“We are thrilled to host a collaboration of Workers Art Coalition and Local 3, I.B.E.W at Socrates Sculpture Park,” Socrates Sculpture Park Curator and Director of Exhibitions Jess Wilcox said. “The piece that they’ve created, ‘Muscle Memory,’ is a powerful reminder that the conditions of production are critical to the meaning, reception and impact of a work of art.”
The trades workers, WAC members along with students and alumni from the Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School of Labor Studies installed a one-of-its-kind spiral sculpture of joined electrical conduit using industry-grade electrical equipment and solar panels.
“It feels good to design, collaborate and participate in something in public space that shines a light on a particularly interesting group of people and workers who are constantly underappreciated and misunderstood,” Paul Vance, a member of Local 3 and WAC, said.
People like Lowely Cheung, a Local 3 member since 2012 who emigrated from Hong Kong at the age of 17.
“The union provides me with a living wage job; that is the ‘bread’ part for me and working on art projects is the ‘roses’ part of life,” Cheung said.
And sSue Sheinen, a Local 3 member since 2008 with family members in the union.
“Thank you for including me in this art project,” Sheinen said. “Socrates is a great place I have enjoyed for many years. I think it’s great that Local 3 gets to show its collaborative and creative side.”
Utilizing a process of “distributed authorship,” the sculpture is a collaborative process that reflects tradespersons’ skills and equipment as well as modern urban landscape that is always in the background. The sound component, produced by WAC and derived from interviews with Local 3 members in tandem with the Library of Congress, adds another dimension.
“Harry [Van Arsdale Jr.] set up the Educational and Cultural Trust Fund for more than skills enhancement but also the benefit of culturally enhancing the union’s members,” Local 3 Director of the Educational and Cultural Trust Fund Michael Yee said. “This project is the perfect example of that. By connecting what these members do in their trade to create this artwork, they’ve enriched their cultural and artistic passions as well. It also ties the conduit, which is one of the common parts of the industry, with emerging renewable energy.”
The solar panels provide the energy to illuminate ‘Muscle Memory’ at night. The 2019 Socrates Annual will remain on display through March at the park located at 32-01 Vernon Blvd.