PRIORITY SEATING (2017-) by Bill Beirne
Bill Beirne examines social spaces through communication, interactivity, and sociological concerns with his public performance and video installations. The work in this exhibition, Priority Seating (2017-) is rooted in his artwork from 1992, The Surveillance of Nature / The Nature of Surveillance. The latter developed out of Beirne’s observation of a solitary tree flourishing on a traffic island demarcating the bifurcation of the Bronx by Robert Moses’ Cross Bronx Expressway. Like a botanist surveying nature, Beirne’s video captured how this tree provided both shelter and access to income for two homeless men, Tyrone and Sweet.
In Priority Seating, Beirne observed the plight of the homeless at Grand Central Station in 2016, where public seating was scarce. Beirne remembered how in the late 1960s, the station had a public shower room and a waiting area that was open to people from all walks of life. Priority Seating is Beirne’s response to the loss of humanity and his attempt to bring about positive change through his work. It revolves around a digitally altered “Priority Seating” sign Beirne found on the Internet. It includes “the homeless” among those for whom others must give up their seats. Three framed images contextualize the work: the first shows the original and altered signs. The second image reveals his Priority Seating label on a bench at the 116th Street subway platform. The third frame contains the actual label with the New York City Sanitation Department’s notice prohibiting labels on public property printed on the back of the label. Visitors are invited to participate in the art by taking free copies of Beirne’s label to do with as they please, keeping in mind the Sanitation Department’s instructions.
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