At long last, there’s something on display in the Seaport other than expensive retail and cheap tourists. In the area of 109 Northern Ave, near Seaport Common, installation artist (and longtime DigBoston contributor) Pat Falco has assembled a model of the kind of three-story multifamily home that is synonymous with Dorchester and symbolic of much more.
“Mock is … taking the form of a ‘full scale mock up’ and shifting it to a three decker,” the artist’s description of the project explains. “Through a collection of archival and contemporary images, handmade wallpaper, and an updated redlining map reflecting the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy … the piece is an investigation into the history of workforce housing and how it fits into the city’s development, past and present.”
We may be partial to appreciating Falco’s ideas, but we also know that we are not alone in sweating his bold public endeavors. In any case, we wanted to know more, and so we threw a couple complicated questions at our old pal.
Let’s take a quick look back at a project of yours that I can’t help but think reflects another side of Boston’s peculiar if not wretched housing quagmire—Luxury Waters, which, at the very least, I’d say made a clever mockery of the kind of sky-scraping development we’re seeing in Boston, particularly around the Seaport area. What’s the connection between that and Mock?
Well, I guess the three-decker is the obvious connection. In Luxury Waters it was stealing and critiquing the aesthetics of luxury development and applying them to a three-decker, adding 60 stories and making it out of glass. Mock is almost a reversal—taking the form of a full-scale mock-up, which usually precedes luxury developments, and transforming [it] into a three-decker and placing it directly in the Seaport. The main connection, though, is really they’re both focused around housing justice—exploring, elevating, and critiquing these histories and policies that have led us to where we are.
Your explainer on the legacy of the three-decker is moving, spot-on. Specifically, “Part of a legacy of racist and anti-poor housing policy, the consequences of these actions helped build the framework of Boston’s current housing crisis.” I see a lot of Boston throwback-mongering—everything from Originally From Dorchester stickers and hats to screen-printed triple-decker T-shirts and coasters. But a lot of that is beyond any thoughtful contemporary context, it’s basically mindless. Can a project like this actually communicate a more substantial kind of nostalgia? One that can help us understand the situation we are currently in?
I hope so—I think that aesthetic nostalgia can draw people in and then the content can force them to engage in a different way, ideally with more than the project—and start to think critically of what is actually going on around us. Putting these conflicting ideas in direct proximity provides a visual example to accompany conversations already going on around gentrification.
Tell us about some of the photos that you chose. We’re big fans of historic Boston pics and especially of the Leslie Jones Collection, from which you grabbed, “Fan Yard Pier, Northern Avenue, South Boston. Shows fireboat, bridge tender’s house, Commonwealth Piers 2 through 5. ca. 1926.” You only had a few frames to fill, so it couldn’t have been an easy decision.
It was very tough narrowing down the photos. I had an amazing time going through the collections and definitely left out a lot of photos I would’ve liked to include. Ultimately it was about presenting a group of photos that worked together, approaching the arrangement like “family photos.” I tried to highlight the similarities and contrasts in Boston over centuries in a way that was equalizing and not aggressive.
What kind of looks did you get while installing this thing? What kind of conversations have you had with people? Are you able to look a 20-something who lives in a $3,500-a-month apartment in Fort Point and has never been to Fields Corner in the face and discuss gentrification with them?
It was definitely all over the place. I generally try to avoid talking to people, but I had some really fulfilling interactions with the workers and the service industry people who are commuting to the Seaport from other parts of the city. I tried to be as direct as possible about the content, and I think some people really appreciated it and some people were really turned off. That’s great, that’s part of it.
Have any dogs pissed on it yet?
I hope so, probably a couple stumbling drunks too.
In your long history of doing interesting installations like this, what are some very basic lessons you have learned? Like, for example, what materials are a no-no if you’re working outside?
I feel like I’m still learning. On this project, especially on the “interior,” it was a lot of problem solving—how to present the wallpaper and photographs in a way that could withstand weather and be secure. I think you can probably make anything work if you want to, but especially in New England you have to be considering drastic temperature changes and really any type of weather—and how what you’re using will react to that.
What are some things that an artist like you does to make sure that their work on something like this lasts in the public consciousness long after the physical structure is gone? I mean, I know that I still have some of the posters from Luxury Waters. Is it about disseminating media through portals like this?
This is the first project that doesn’t really have any physical takeaways on the site—but I am working on a zine/publication that sort of documents this project and goes into a little more depth on what’s happening. Ultimately the most important part is the impact beyond it being just an art piece, and how you can best get the information to disseminate and turn into actions.
Mock is on view in the area of 109 Northern Ave. near Seaport Common through 11.30. There will be a reception of sorts Thu 10.3 5-7pm. More info at illfalco.com/mock.