A sculpture paying tribute to the people of New York City will be displayed in Jackson Heights next month.
Artist Derick Melander’s new sculpture, “The Witness,” will be installed outdoors at Diversity Plaza and Travers Park for three days beginning on Nov. 12 through 14, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The design of the piece is modular and flexible, allowing for multiple configurations. Throughout each day of the installation, Melander will rearrange the units and actively engage with passersby about contemporary art.
“The Witness” — which is made from wood and thousands of secondhand garments sourced from the local community during the COVID-19 pandemic — refers to the collective act of living through the ongoing pandemic and pays homage to New Yorkers.
With this work, Melander hopes to reach those who aren’t as exposed to contemporary art and who are underserved by cultural programming. Most importantly, he hopes his art will bring emotional recovery to those who were impacted by the pandemic.
“Art communicates with its own unique language. It can bypass the mind and provide a direct balm for the heart, to help us heal,” Melander said. “Art should be a part of our emotional recovery but it should also be a part of the economic rebuilding of NYC. I recently read a report from The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis that states that the arts and culture sector contributes $119.9 billion to New York’s economy, representing 7.8% of the state’s GDP.”
Melander is one of 3,000 New York City-based artists to receive $5,000 through the City Artist Corps Grants program, presented by The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA) and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCLA), with support from the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME) as well as Queens Theatre.
The artist has received a New Works Grant for the second time. This project is made possible, in part, by the Queens Council on the Arts with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.
Melander first moved to Jackson Heights around 1987 to form a garage punk band and spent the interim years living on the Lower East Side. Living in the city for years, surrounded by different arts and culture was an inspiring experience for the artist.
Melander has now lived in Jackson Heights with his husband for more than 20 years. He first started making art with clothes around 2002.
While working on a series of sculptures made with hand-carved metal suitcases, he came up with the idea of creating display columns from carefully folded secondhand clothing. Over the course of that project, he started working with clothing, making new projects every day.
Melander creates clothing sculptures that explore the intersection between global consumerism and the intimate relationship that people have with what they wear. Most of his recent works are made from secondhand clothing, sourced from specific locations and populations.
“I work with secondhand clothing because it is an emotionally resonant medium. As clothing wears, fades, stains and stretches, it becomes an intimate record of our physical presence, like a second skin. It traces the edge of the body, defining the boundary between the self and the outside world,” Melander said.
During the exhibition in Jackson Heights, the artist will collect secondhand clothing at the events and use the donations to create additional units for future installations. Clean garments of all types will be accepted at the event and pickups can be arranged as well.