Bench opens eyes to homelessness in public spaces 1

A public art piece in Long Island City looks to “highlight the dehumanization” of homeless individuals.

In the shade of several honey locust trees and within a small thatch of bushes on an unassuming triangle opposite MoMA PS1 sits a public artwork of unique provenance and unusual profile.

Weary commuters and visitors to the Long Island City museum may be surprised to come across the wood-hewn bench taking the shape of a silhouette of a man in repose.

French artist Fanny AlliÈ set in place “A Bench for the Night” in May in collaboration with the Parks Department as part of the organization’s Art in the Parks program. For AlliÈ, the piece, on view until Nov. 15, is one in a string of projects in urban parks, and the second with NYC Parks.

In 2011 she showed the neon-lit “The Glowing Homeless” for “Bring to Light NYC: Nuit Blanche,” and in 2013, she brought the steel sculpture “Serendipity” to Tompkins Square Park.

Several common themes run through these works. All take the forms of silhouettes, which AlliÈ said she enjoys because it offers a minimal perspective of an individual, “the bare trace of a person” which is left for the viewer to fill in.

Each of the pieces mentioned above is also inspired by homeless or formerly homeless people whom the artist observed or met in these parks.

Part of AlliÈ’s intent, she said, is to highlight the dehumanization of these individuals by abstracting their human form, and by changing the behavior passersby generally show toward homeless individuals — approaching rather than avoiding.

For AlliÈ, “public art is connected to community,” and in the case of “A Bench for the Night” she hopes that people will stop and sit awhile.

The work is somewhat transformative for the area, which lacks for public seating, providing a temporary rest stop for the duration of its run.

The setting suits the piece very well, being in the midst of so much change in the developing Western Queens neighborhood, since “A Bench for the Night” means to evoke a shift in the viewers’ perception of the homeless.

AlliÈ said that one of the benefits of working with NYC Parks was the access to that unique position — a location that is “at once urban, but also a retreat from the urban environment.”

The organization’s “Greenstreets” initiative enlivens medians and other odd-paved surfaces by changing them into small garden areas, in this case transforming the previously barren area into a green space in Long Island City.

Across the street, the former site of graffiti mecca 5Pointz is fenced in as the neighborhood prepares for new condos to be built.

Four months after its debut, the bench bears some wear from the weather and a few scratch marks from visitors — relics from its exposure to the city, and perhaps analogous to the experience of the thousands that sleep on the streets.

Yet it retains a quiet dignity, somewhat cloistered by greenery, in the shadow of elevated trains and high-rises, seen and unseen.

‘A Bench for the Night’
When: Thru Nov. 15
Where: NYC Parks Greenstreets;
46th Avenue and Jackson Avenue, near MoMA PS1, Long Island City

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