A year ago today, I placed a wooden sculpture on the New Haven Green. At the time, I was doing an independent study centred on public art. This wooden sculpture was meant to be the first in a series of works I intended on installing anonymously in and around Yale and New Haven. The plan was to install the work and return at a later stage to observe how people reacted to it.

10/24/2016, 10 p.m. [Yale School of Art Sculpture Building, 36 Edgewood Ave.]
I finished the “wave wall” today. The piece dried off around 9:30 p.m.. I couldn’t lift it alone, so two grad students helped me turn it vertically. The two pieces of wood fit snuggly on the cart between the two railings. I sanded off the final few bits of glue on the wood and we set off for the New Haven Green.

10/24/2016, 10:30 p.m. [Corner of College and Chapel streets]
We found a relatively flat patch of grass. Moving each piece one at a time, we laid the biggest section flat on the ground. I put the sharpened rods into the holes I had drilled in the bottom of the sculpture’s curve, and lifted the wood until it stood vertically.

10/24/2016 10:34 p.m. [Corner of College and Chapel streets]
While we had been setting this all up, a homeless man dressed in black tracksuit pants, a warm hat and a loose grey sweater came to spectate. He offered his help, but we were almost done. He lounged on the grass and watched. He asked if any of us had change to spare. We didn’t. We asked him what he thought about sculpture. He responded that what he liked was the smoothness of the curves and the light color of the unfinished wood.

Would anyone else notice it?

10/24/2016 10:39 p.m. [Bingham Hall – 300 College St.]
Alone on the Green the wave looked small. We wheeled our cart back up Chapel Street and the man drifted off. Looking back, I could see the wave easily from the Yale-side of the street.

10/26/2016 9:07 a.m. [Corner of College and Chapel]
On my way to class this morning I biked down Chapel and turned on to College. The sculpture was gone. It looked as though nothing had ever been there.

Who saw it and decided that it couldn’t be there?

10/27/2016 3:47 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Parks Department]
I looked up the New Haven Green and found a “203” number. A woman answered. I explained to her that I had left a sculpture on the corner of Chapel and College on Monday evening and that, by Wednesday morning, it was gone. I explained that it was about 60 inches tall and seven feet long. The woman asked me to hold.

10/27/2016 3:51 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Parks Department]
She transferred me to a woman called Lynne Peacars. I repeated my story to Lynne. She asked if I had a permit to place the sculpture on the Green. I didn’t. She didn’t seem particularly bothered. Unless it had been stolen, maintenance would have dealt with the structure. They stopped work at 3:30 p.m., so she asked me to call again tomorrow.

10/28/2016 11:35 a.m. [Phone call: New Haven Parks Department]
“Hi you’ve reached Lynne Peacars at the New Haven Parks Department. I’m away from my desk right now. If you need immediate assistance please call 946-8020. After the tone please record your message.”

Did one need a permit to install public art?

10/28/2016 11:37 a.m [Phone call: New Haven Department of Traffic and Parking]
203-946-8076

10/28/2016 5:57 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Parks Department]
Lynne wasn’t in when I called, but I spoke to another lady at parks and recreation. She spoke to maintenance. They hadn’t seen or heard of the sculpture. The lady suggested that someone might have stolen it and used it to construct a kind of shelter. I went back to look, and details showed up. A maintenance team was working on a bus stop near by.

How would anyone have stolen a six foot by six foot, 100 pound sculpture?

11/01/2016 3:44 p.m [Voice message: parks maintenance team]
To save press 9. “This is Bruce Fisher from the New Haven Traffic Department. I, uhh, spoke to the foreman on the job, working on the bus shelter there, uhhh, been on the job everyday. Uhhh, he says he took no notice of the artwork, and he can’t be of any help. Uhh, sorry. Thank you. Bye.”

11/01/2016 3:48 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Police]
203-946-6200

Did whoever saw the wooden piece even register that it was a sculpture, or was it just a piece of wood?

11/01/2016 7:51 p.m. [New Haven Green]
Excuse me, do you mean to tell me that somebody … stole this sculpture?
I’m not sure, I put it there on Monday evening and then on Wednesday morning I went back and it was gone, and I’m just trying to figure out where it went. It was pretty big. It was like this big, and like this wide. So I’m just curious as to where it went. [how to convey gesture]
I’m sorry I didn’t see it.
Do you know if, if there’s someone who normally stays in that area that would have seen it?
It’s hard to say. People come, people go. People come, people go.
Okay.
A lot of people sleep over there.
Yeah.
Yeah.
Okay, Maybe I’ll come back later and see if anyone …
What’s your name?
Steph
Steph? My name is Gordon.
Gordon. Nice to meet you.
Are you a student?
Yes.
And … What’s your major?
Ahh. Ha. I haven’t decided yet, actually. I’m thinking maybe politics or maybe art, ‘cause I’m making sculptures.
Wow. That’s just so cool.
Haha. Thank you. Thanks. Yeah, it’s good.
So this is what, your first year?
Second year?
Second year? And you still haven’t decided?

How was it possible that no one had seen or heard anything?

 

11/03/2016, 5:05 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Police Department]
What did you lose?
A sculpture.
A sculpture?
Yup.
Alright. Uhh. Are you in New Haven at this point?
Yes.
I don’t know if we have access to cameras on the Green. I don’t know who does. Did you report this missing?
So I spoke to someone at the records department and they said that I needed to file a police report. The thing is …
Are you in New Haven at this time?
Yes.
Alright. I can send a police officer to you to, uhh, file a report and perhaps they can help you, umm, determine, if there is anyway to view the cameras, if there are any, and who they might belong to.

11/03/2016, 5:05 p.m. [Phone call: New Haven Police Department]
203-946-6316

11/03/2016 5:19 p.m.
900 Chapel St., No. 703
“On 11/03/16 at 17:19, I was dispatched to the lobby of 1 Union Avenue for a late report of a theft that occurred at College and Chapel Street. After arriving, I located the complainant (identified as Stephanie Barker) and she explained the following: On the 10/24/2016 at approximately 22:00 hours, she placed a six-foot wooden art structure on the New Haven Green near College and Chapel Street. On 10/26/16 at approximately 09:00 hours, she returned to the said location and saw that the said art piece was on longer there. Barker didn’t see this incident occur.

Barker explained that there’s no actual value for the said art piece.

Barker wanted this incident documented so she can go to the New Haven Hall of Records to try and watch any video surveillance in the area on her own.

Nothing further at this time.

What was it worth? The value of wood?

11/29/2016 3:52 p.m. [New Haven Police Station Records Department – 1 Union Ave.]
Can I have your case number?
Yeah umm … it is 16-56776.
Yeah, we would only have 14 days of worth of camera footage, and it’s been already a month, over a month. We won’t have back to November, the beginning of November. We have like two weeks from today back.

A month later, I made another wave and placed it back on the corner of College and Chapel. For 24 hours, I watched it from a Bingham dorm window. After 12 hours and 10 minutes, a pickup truck drove onto the Green. A man got out, broke the sculpture into four pieces and loaded them into the back. He drove away. I watched the Green for another 11 hours and 50 minutes. While I waited, I read an article about the performance artist Ana Mendieta. In the article, Ara Osterweil writes about Mendieta’s land art. The artist had a signature process. She would lie down on the ground, and bury herself in a landscape, covering her body with rocks and soil, flowers. When she climbed out of her grave, her outline would remain – a reminder of her body, and where it had been. Osterweil concludes her article with the sentence. “Absence can often feel like the most conspicuous form of presence.” 10:30 p.m. rolled around, and my 24 hours was up. I left my perch on the window and went to bed. A kind of heaviness settled over me. When I woke up the next morning, I decided not to call anyone.