Silence Prevails: Lower East Side Community Gardens During the Pandemic

The new iteration of this work will be shown in the exhibition “Life Between Buildings” (organized by Jody Graf) at MoMA PS1, New York from June 2, 2022 to January 2023. 

Silence Prevails : Lower East Side Community Gardens
During the Pandemic (2020)

mixed-media installation 

Field recordings, photographs, videos, texts: Aki Onda
Historical photographs: Peter Cramer, Lenny Librizzi, Marlis Momber, David Schmidlapp, Harvey Wang, Katherine Gleason, Jeanna Liotta, photographers unknown
Photo printing: Satomi Shirai
Drawings: Lenny Librizzi, Jack Waters, Ben Wohlberg
Design: Tadao Kawamura
Translation: Colin Smith
Copy editing: Jonah Max
Project assistance: Marco Lanier, Makiko Onda

In this project, Aki Onda looks to trace the memories of community gardening on the East Village by composing and compiling field recordings, photographs, and texts that capture the spirit and history of these green oases. Many of these gardens came to life against the backdrop of an economically distressed and fractured New York City in the 1970s. Often seeded by local residents and community activists, these makeshift green spaces were designated for gardening, art-making, and community gatherings. Unlike more formal public space, these gardens inverted the economic trends of the city, flourishing during periods of recession when land values fell, then disappearing at the hands of gentrification as demands on land rose steeply. As such, urban gardens have functioned as an essential communal resource when needed most and a stage for neighborhoods to assemble and hold voice against developers and city authorities when communities are threatened. As a result of this precariousness, the number of gardens in the East Village has dropped significantly over the decades. While some have fastened their position by securing permanent status, many others continue to face short-term leases in the shadow of ever-rising real estate prices in Downtown Manhattan. How these spaces will survive in the future is still unknown. 

At this juncture, Aki Onda looks to visit a wide array of these green spaces during the COVID 19 pandemic from April - August 2020, attending to their distinct rhythms and capturing their lived history. To frame these recordings, Onda looks to borrow from and pay homage to avant-garde filmmaker Harry Smith’s East Village recordings, aural ethnographies of the neighborhood’s alleyways, corners, parks, fairs, gatherings, and get-togethers. Like Smith, Onda looks for the material and spiritual resonances nurtured in these communities and gardens that still emanate today.

Group Exhibitions

2022 MoMA PS1, New York, NY, USA upcoming

2021 Don’t Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends, Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville, NC, USA

2020 Listening: Resonant Worlds, Art Maebashi, Japan