Defenestration Project could get a bright new life before its looming death
Then again, any demolition of the building will require a litany of proposal reviews, permits, and budgeting that could take longer than the 18-month lifeline. In other words, Defenestration will continue to occupy the same conspicuously abandoned and, depending on whom you ask, dilapidated building at the corner of Sixth and Howard.
Originally funded by a combination of maxed-out credit cards, a $3,500 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, "sweat equity" from more than 100 volunteers, and a staggering $14,000 raised on the project's opening night, Goggin — understandably — doesn't envision the same type of institutional support existing in today's economy for his present renovation. Still, he's positive. "I feel like this can be done," he said, adding that $75,000 "is not an outrageous amount to be raised. It's much less than Burning Man projects that only stay up for a few days."
Which got us to wondering how in the heck Goggin came up with the idea of Defenestration — a word that means throwing someone or something out a window — in the first place. "I was an apprentice to a sculptor in Europe for a number of years, helping him set up shows, and he invited me to go create an installation in Paris," Goggin told us. "There was this one area where they were demolishing 18th-century buildings, and I could see remnants of the walls and portions of the staircases and tiled elements of the bathrooms and old shelving. Through the course of imagining what could fill that vacant space that so many had lived in, life and form created a drama."
For years, it was a drama that played out solely within the artist's head. But Goggin eventually received the NEA grant, and like a kid who just received his allowance, went shopping around. "I just started knocking on doors, asking people who had buildings if they'd be interested as a base for this installation," he told us. "Most owners were interested in the idea but then, when they found out what would be involved in installing the piece, became less interested. After I was told off a 16th time, I was riding my bicycle by the Hugo Hotel and I noted the sign." The sign Goggin is referring to is still there. Posted for potential buyers of the building, it reads: "LOT & BUILDING for SALE. Limit '130' ZONED: RC. 3 HEIGHT," and lists a fax number.
"It looked vacant, so it seemed like a good option," he said. "I sent them a proposal."
Sumati Patel, the daughter of the buildings owner, loved the idea, and over the course of a few weeks, convinced her father that having Goggin work on the building would ultimately be advantageous to the real estate. Squatters had become a problem since renovations on the building had stalled in the 1990s. "Lots of squatters," Patel told us. "Tons. They're pooping and peeing. They would have rallies. It gets tiring. It gets expensive." Under the artist's agreement with the owners, Goggin sort of took responsibility for the building. "If a squatter got it in, Brian would go over there and take care of it," Patel said. And how does she feel the project turned out? "I remember once picking up my AAA magazine and seeing an article about Defenestration and showing my dad, like, 'See?'"
The agreement between Goggin and SFRA to keep the work hanging certainly testifies to the success of the project. It has become part of the neighborhood, and although its days are numbered, perhaps they will be brighter than ever before.