Turn on the water work.
Fort Greene artist Dread Scott has never been one to shy away from controversy, and on Oct. 7 under the archway of the Manhattan Bridge, he will try not to shy away from a powerful blast of water emanating from a firehose. Scott will be soaked as part of a performance piece that evokes iconic images of civil rights workers being hosed for their activism in the 1960s, but the artist says it is about more than that.
“Fundamentally, it’s about the struggle for freedom,” he said. “The people who have fought for freedom have been battered and brutalized. And that struggle is vital and important.”
Scott, whose working name references the 1857 Dred Scott Supreme Court decision that declared African Americans could not be citizens, has also grappled with oppression and the limits of democracy in the past. In a 2012 piece at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, he read from that court decision while four nude black men stood around him, guarded by barking German shepherds. The audience then filed past and into a voting booth — reflecting on the idea of a democracy rooted in slavery, he said.
In another piece, Scott burned a copy of the United States Constitution, and in 1988, he created an installation titled “What is the Proper Way to Display a U.S. Flag?” which invited viewers to stand on the stars and stripes as they wrote a response to the piece in a ledger.
Scott’s new performance, organized by More Art, a group that produces public art pieces, is called “On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide.” It will consist of him standing at one end of the Manhattan Bridge archway while water from a firehose is blasted from the other end. He will stay in the pressurized stream of water, walking towards the source, for as long as he can. He hopes to make it up to a full hour, but admitted he has no idea how long he will be able to last.
“I suspect I’ll be knocked down a few times,” Scott said. “I’ll be beat around and battered a little.”
Scott has lived in Fort Greene since the ’90s and is currently working out of a studio in Dumbo. His connection to the neighborhood is part of the reason he chose the archway as the location for the performance. But he also considered Walt Whitman’s connection to the area, and the poet’s vocal support for the emancipation of slaves.
“There’s a history to this,” he said.
And remembering history is how Scott reminds himself that he will make it through the physical challenge of the firehose piece, he said.
“If people have historically been able to stand up to this, so can I,” said Scott.
“Dread Scott: On the Impossibility of Freedom in a Country Founded on Slavery and Genocide” (Beneath the Manhattan Bridge archway off of Anchorage Place between Pearl and Plymouth streets in Dumbo). Oct. 7 at 1 pm. Free.