2010–2013: Moon Guardian

A three-year art-based participatory research project studying processes of marginalization and gentrification of one of New York City’s most eccentric and fast-changing neighborhoods: the Meatpacking District. The study was done in collaboration with More Art Art and Social Change, School of Visual Arts (SVA), students from public secondary school M.S. 297, and local residents.

Described by anthropologist Shannon Matten as “out of the ordinary platform of uniqueness,” the Meatpacking District used to also be considered dangerous and shady, but it had a rare character. During the first two decades of the twenty-first century the area went through a rapid urban change and became one of the most luxurious parts of Manhattan. The research used a variety of invented methodologies including participatory mapping, performance-based research, visual anthropological research, interviews, and historical and archival methods in order to contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the area’s socio-cultural shifts. In the heart of the research was a collection of site-specific oral histories from long-term residents who experienced the district’s evolution through various phases of gentrification. These interviews shed light on the area’s transformation, from a neglected neighborhood known from its sex industry, night life, and artistic endeavors to a center for high-end commercial and artistic enterprises.

The research culminated with Moon Guardians, a series of site-specific video projections around Gansevoort Square in the heart of the Meatpacking District . The work took form as video haikus that revisited the historical and social context of the Meatpacking District. Ghost-like figures, directly emerging from of the neighborhood’s storied past, were rear-projected on the windows and storefronts facing the square, each gazing at the viewers and creating a bridge between past and present.

Research outcomes:

·     Exhibitions: “Moon Guardian” at the Meatpacking District, presented by More Art; “HOME(WARD),” The Nathan Cummings Foundation, 2016–2017, a group exhibition which included documentation, visual research and reflections on the project.

·     Publications: Cnaani, Ofri, “Moon Guardians”, in: Martegani, Micaela, and Jeff Kasper, eds. More Art in the Public Eye. New York, NY: More Art Press, 2019:188–196

Drew, Emma and Cnaani, Ofri. “An Interview with Ivy Brown,” in: Martegani, Micaela, and Jeff Kasper, eds. More Art in the Public Eye. New York, NY: More Art Press, 2019:197–201.

·     Research Documentation: Ofri Cnaani speaks about the research for Moon Guardians, 2013

·     Network and collaboration: “City as Site,” an international program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA). The program focused on public performance and social engagement and used the Meatpacking district as and urban lab and main site of study.

·     Audience engagement: The public video installation was seen by 20,000 people.