Wednesday, July 19, 2006

New York complaints become art form

By Daniel Trotta

NEW YORK (Reuters) - What are you complaining about? If you're a New Yorker, it's often about noise and trash and occasionally about politics or morals.

Those are some of the concerns expressed over the past 300 years by citizens writing to their mayor, as unearthed by an artist who mined the city's archives to create The New York City Museum of Complaint.

The museum is actually a tabloid newspaper reproducing 31 letters from 1751 to 1973, currently being distributed in city parks. Some letters are elegantly handwritten, others typed, and all of them complain about something.

"Some of them are on the verge of paranoia, others are on the verge of genius," said Matthew Bakkom, the artist who created the project.

"I tried to find letters that had a genuine voice of their own somehow. It's a bit like being a DJ, I suppose."

The city has preserved complaints as far back as 1700, when the American colonies were under British rule. Bakkom discovered the archive while doing historical research and decided these disaffected voices from the past needed to be heard.

"It just seemed to me something very vital and very original and very striking."

The first in the collection, from 1751, seeks compensation for a series of ills. "The report of the small pox being in this city hinders the country people from coming to market," Andrew Ramsey wrote, noting that he "lost two Negroes last winter."

A 1900 letter on corruption from the president of the Citizens' Progressive League decries avarice: "The only thing purely 'American' that I can find in New York City, after many years' search, is the abnormally developed spirit of money getting."

The 1930s are represented by five letters, including one from 1935 that seeks a change in the law so "that girls in the burlesque shows in New York would be allowed to display their charms without more interference of the police."

Bakkom has a few favourites, such as one from the London woman Mary Elizabeth Cook who, calling herself an attractive brunette of 29, wrote in 1949: "Could you possibly help me find an American husband."

"I can send photographs," she added.

It was leaked to the press and produced a spate of letters from lonely people looking for mates, Bakkom said.


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