Artist Legacy Russell Explores Personal Geographies of LES and EV


This past summer we wrote about Legacy Russell, an artist embarking on a year-long project that in its different phases (called “rites”) explores the nature of memory in the East Village and the Lower East Side. When we first met Russell she was working on the first “rite” — the “Rite of Remembrance” — in which she sat in Tompkins Square Park taking down people’s stories of the neighborhood. Now, Russell is in the midst of the third “rite,” the “Rite of Rearrangement” in which she takes portraits of people in a local site of their choosing. She will eventually print those portraits out as large scale black and white images that can be hung up as public sculpture. The rite “is going to be an opportunity for people to look at and evaluate their personal geography,” she told Runnin’ Scared this week.

After making appointments for hour-long photography sessions with people through email, Russell asks her subjects to pick a spot in the Lower East Side or East Village that is most meaningful to them in which to be photographed.

“Even though the site itself is not what’s being documented — it’s the individuals themselves — I’ve found its been really nice to have people in a space that they feel personally connected to and that sort of allows for an interesting exchange of memory and collective consciousness,” she explained.

When she transforms the images into posters they will be placed in areas that have some significance to the subject in one way or another. For one man who no longer lives in the neighborhood, the poster will go by the concert venue Cake Shop on the Lower East Side. Though he noted the neighborhood has undergone many changes, Russell said, the space is special to him. The image then becomes a “means of leaving a relic of his mark, his existence and paying homage to that.”

But, Russell explained, the posters won’t always hang in places where people are at their most comfortable. Russell and another subject, who lives on East 13th Street off of Second Avenue, decided her portrait would hang past Avenue C — some place she’s never been.

“We talked about what would it mean to have a moment where she would make that choice and how to explore that as a space,” Russell said. “And so we decided to leave her mark there.”

The portraits should be up by the beginning of May, Russell said.

This third rite — there’s one more left to go — was born out of considering themes of change in the Lower East Side and East Village Russell encountered when undertaking the first two. The second, the “Rite of Reclamation: MINE (NOT YOURS),” invited people to reclaim parts of their neighborhoods as their own with signs and ribbons. Watch a video about that rite below:



The entire project will conclude during this coming summer.