The Last Days of 5 Pointz

5 ptz, Long Island City, New York, 2013.

Even if you don’t follow street art or hip hop, you might have heard the news: 5 Pointz is dead. Technically, the old warehouse in Long Island City is still standing — though it is slated for redevelopment — but its essence as an art space was stripped away in the early hours of November 19, when 20 years worth of graffiti was covered with white paint. Since 1993, 5 Pointz has been a mecca for artists and graffiti writers from around the world. Inside, 200 artists worked in subsidized studios, while the exterior of the building became an enormous canvas for just about every kind of street art you can imagine, from throw ups to paste ups to elaborate murals.

The building was sold to property developer David Wolkoff, and in August, the New York City Planning Commission approved its demolition. Though the new development will include low-cost housing and a “curated” space for graffiti — along with 1,000 condominiums — the 5 Pointz community has been vigorously fighting against it. The whitewashing was the developer’s attempt to make a point: we own this space now, not you, so fuck off. When I first heard what had happened, I was reminded of the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan, and while that might seem like an extreme comparison, the two actions come from the same wellspring of contempt for cultural difference.

Not long after the whitewashing, I was emailed by Eric Lau, a New York-based designer and photographer. He wanted to share with me some photos he had taken at the last hip hop battle that occurred at 5 Pointz. The photos were taken on black and white film. Here’s a lightly edited version of what he told me about his experience.

5 ptz, Long Island City, New York, NY

The first time I met 5 Pointz was around five or six years ago. I had to go to MOMA PS1 for a school project. Long Island City was quite out of my way, so to make my trip more worthy, I went online to see if there was anything fun around and the number one recommendation was 5 Pointz. I read a few “reviews” and had no idea what is it all about. Is it a museum? Is it an exhibition? I was looking around and didn’t find an entrance, opening hours or anything. I walked around this industrial building and finally got to another side and I was like, “Woo… that’s like a graffiti paradise.” I just couldn’t put it into words. The entire building was covered with different graffiti, different styles, from artists all over the world. Unlike PS1, there wasn’t an entrance fee, there wasn’t a map. I like the informal quality of it.

So life goes on and it wasn’t until two years ago when I started to pay more attention to street art again. I met Kidlew during an Art Directors Club event and I was impressed by his live graffiti performance. I started to look up more about street art and and go to 5 Pointz on the weekends and hang around. A month or two ago, I was photographing around 5 Pointz again and Kidlew was working on some pieces. I came across my first hip hop battle. The passion of the performers, their body language, the judges and audience — it was an experience I had never ever seen before. The music is banging, the dancers forms team of three and go alternately for three rounds, performing, dancing, challenging another team, in an almost in-your-face style. Another team would respond in the next round, challenge another team to amp up their game again. The judges are not sitting and taking notes but actively engaging with body movements, hand gestures. At the end of the last round the judge will announce the winning by voting, one vote each, by pointing to the team they vote for at the same exact time. If they think it is a draw, they make a cross with their hands.

The dance was finally done and they announced it was the last event of the year. The winning team celebrated, and gets the box of donations — a cardboard box passed around with dollar bills in it. The music kept going, the judges couldn’t help but start break dancing, the audiences as well. They formed circles and everyone went and performed in the middle of the crowd for a bit. There was a system, although it wasn’t formal.

I couldn’t believe this was my first but also last hip hop experience at 5 Pointz.

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5 ptz, Long Island City, New York, 2013.

5 ptz, Long Island City, New York, 2013.

5 ptz, Long Island City, New York, 2013.

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You can see more of Eric’s photos here.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday December 18 2013at 07:12 am , filed under Art and Design, Heritage and Preservation, Public Space, Society and Culture, United States and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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