Skyhole

Artist with green dentist's chair reflects on the old trolley days

LOCATIONClinton Hill
RENT$450 [no lease]
SQUARE FEET375 [20-foot-high room in late-19th-century industrial loft]
OCCUPANTSGreg Castillo [artist; construction head, FusionArts Museum]

The last time I saw you, I was being lowered down a manhole to a secret tunnel 22 feet down into the earth, all dank and brown. It was the old Long Island Rail Road tunnel underneath Atlantic and Court, sealed up since 1861 and discovered in 1980 by your former colleague Bob Diamond. Was there a theater piece going on down there? Some chiffon tutus.

That was back about two years, during the end of your run as curator of the Brooklyn Trolley Museum, the restoration project on the Red Hook pier where you and founder Bob Diamond polished up old trolley cars every day, laying down tracks and hoping for a revival of the quiet, non-polluting romantic loop around Brooklyn. Today, though, it is but a dream deferred. Wasn't there some tugboat that slammed into the pier, which almost made the trolley cars fall in the water, and you thought it was the mob?Yeah! They rammed the pier with an oceangoing tug and then it broke the bulkhead and it snapped. Certain people didn't want the place developed.

Next, a sleep clinic in California. Stanford. I was doing apnea studies.

You were listening to people snore! And I finished my epic poem. I'd been writing it for over 20 years, 675 pages.

How did you know you were done? [He shrugs.] "I mount Bucephalus noble steed—with rein in hand . . . "When I was married, I wrote another one. My wife ran off with the number-three guy in the American Indian movement.

Then you lived in Red Hook for five years while you worked on the trolley project. Where are we now? What's the hole in the ceiling? It's a skylight. Somebody went with a jackhammer and hammered it through. This is a dentist's chair. I'm renting space from Shalom Neuman, who started the FusionArts Museum on the Lower East Side. The whole bottom space here is Shalom's studio. He bought this building eight or nine years ago. It's about 6,000 square feet. He teaches at Pratt, where I went. We're going to make loft spaces here for visiting international artists. Eventually put two more stories upstairs, build a café out here when the neighborhood gets a little more stable. Shalom's from Czechoslovakia. His family settled in Israel. He came here.

His visions are so large. Everything he said, we're doing. I like doing stuff and he always has something to do.

There's a sign on the front door: "They ate us because we're petty."There are three tenants upstairs. One's a rare-book dealer. Down the street is the famous Broken Angel house. [Gables, towers. The exterior is delineated with pebbles.] The owner's a Pratt guy. [We walk into another space.]

You get this 900-square-foot studio included in the rent! Look at all these tools. If there were a catastrophe, you'd be able to fashion a whole new world. I'd be able to fix up a trolley.

These heavy steel things—welders, saws. How can you lift all this? I hate lifting things. Me too. Everyone who looks at me says, Lift it. I heard the previous owner of the building was a descendant of Bartholdi, who sculpted the Statue of Liberty. The descendant had an accident building the place. I was told he died. [I look up at the crumbling ceiling.]

Do you get lonely here? I have a car . . .

A snappy red jeep with windows that zip. I have friends in Williamsburg, family in Brooklyn.

Right, you grew up in Flatbush in an 1890 house with four sisters and a brother. Your mother was a drill inspector. Why is a fluorescent light in your living space?It's the way the place was. Fluorescent's a little odd. It emits certain color frequencies that can be irritating—ultraviolet and green. Plants like it, but it jacks people up.


schlesinger@villagevoice.com

 
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