After finishing his project Ghost of Ellis Island as a part of his Unframed series, exhibiting it in Hong Kong, and filming a short video featuring Robert De Niro, JR continued his explorations on immigration problems. This week, his new artwork, done on the streets of New York, will adorn the cover of this week’s The New York Times Magazine. Unfortunately, the image was short lived and it took around three and a half hours to place it and only hour and a half to remove it.
JR, already known for his technique of pasting the large photographs on city walls all over the world, continued his practice in New York by making the enormous pavement picture. JR extended the approach to the problem of immigration in his works and went on from posting archival images on Ellis Island to taking the photos of actual immigrants. Earlier, JR photographed 16 people who came to New York in the preceding year and made their portraits while striding down the streets of North of Little Italy (NoLIta). For the installation, they chose a portrait of a 20-year-old waiter at Azerbaijani restaurant, Elmar Aliyev. After winning the green-card lottery, Aliyev emigrated from Azerbaijan to the United States last August. JR especially liked how Aliyev swung his arms while walking, and that resulted in 45m tall image of him walking to the east.
The image was printed on 62 separate segments of paper and on April 11, JR and his team started placing them on the ground at Flatiron plaza at 4 in the morning. It took three and a half hours to finish the pasting in the heart of Manhattan, on the triangular pavement between Fifth Avenue, Broadway and East 23rd Street. But still, people were walking right over the image without noticing it. To really see the image, you had to be really high above it, so JR, in order to document it, went up in the helicopter.
The temporary image paid a tribute to one of the city’s 3.1 million immigrants, but it was mostly unseen by people passing. When the sun almost went down, around 7:45 p.m., a water truck came to wash the paper off the paved triangle. As early as 9:30 p.m., the image of Azerbaijani immigrant Elmar Alyiev was gone. The life in Manhattan continued like nothing has happened.
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Featured images are courtesy of Marc Azoulay, David La Spina, Andrew T. Warman and The New York Times Magazine.