[The 90’s raw: Tovey Halleck]

Artist Tovey Halleck shows off his iron sculptures and introduces artist Robert Parker and Chris, members of a squatter community in New York City's Lower East Side.

00:00Copy video clip URL B-roll of a marble wall. The videographer, Skip Blumberg, says it’s October 29 about two o’clock, and he’s late for seeing Tovey Halleck. Various b-roll of Blumberg’s reflection in glass and polished metal. As he walks down a sidewalk in New York City, Blumberg reflects on taking chances and how risk-taking is a matter of perspective. (An edited version of this segment is included on The 90s episode 401: Taking Chances at 29:08. The episode first aired December 10, 1991.)

00:58Copy video clip URL Blumberg continues walking down the sidewalk talking about risk taking. He notes every time he shoots video he takes a chance. He says that Tovey is an old friend whom he’s known since Tovey was “a puppy.”

03:18Copy video clip URL Blumberg enters the Tovey Halleck Gallery at 206 Avenue B, New York’s Lower East Side.

03:24Copy video clip URL B-roll inside the gallery. Halleck’s art is sculptures made of iron and steal. Halleck says all of his sculptures are made using primitive tools. “No arc welding. Any of this stuff could have been made for thousands of years.” His work includes crowned thorns, andirons. Halleck says he creates art as an athletic event. “We do it the hard way, with primitive technology. The results show it.” He says his gallery is going to focus on blacksmithing, his work and that of other artists. He makes handmade nails, andirons, a length of thorns, a candelabra. He says  the neighborhood is somewhat rough, but there are families here, too. He adds that many of his friends live in the Lower East Side. There’s a whole squatter community here. He notes the forge his friend Robert Parker uses is on squatted land.

08:52Copy video clip URL Halleck, with two cats, Smokey and Tobias, on his shoulders, locks up the gallery and talks down the street to borrow coal from his friend Robert Parker. On E. 13th Street he shows a door of a church that Parker worked on. He shows the iron hardware on the door and decoration fresco above the door.

10:35Copy video clip URL Change of location. Blumberg is in the junk cluttered lot Parker uses to forge iron. He asks for permission to shoot. Parker says the house is a squat. A woman called Chris says a squat is a city-owned building that is abandoned. The housing crisis forced people into them. So they fixed them up for free, doing the city’s work, and now the government want to kick them out. Blumberg walks into the disused building and walks to the roof. He steals shots of Halleck and Parker below forging iron, various skyline shots, surrounding neighborhoods,.

18:38Copy video clip URL Back at the forge, Parker notes this little squatter’s community is like a medieval town. He says he lives next door and works on the block. Chris says the community has had four new babies on the block last month. “The next generation of squatters.” B-roll of the fire, the forge. Parker works the forge, heating up coals and iron. He says the fire is about 2,000 degrees. Halleck and Parker hammer a white hot iron sphere, to shape into a door knob for the church Halleck had shown Blumberg.

23:45Copy video clip URL They add that the church is called The Church of the Bible Crusaders. They add that work on the church was a concerted effort of this community “to show we’re not bums.” Chris adds that living and working this way is a living trade school.

25:30Copy video clip URL They take the knob out of the fire again and quickly bang a signature into it: a circle and an X. Parker explains how the forge fire is made. To start “green” is to start with paper and wood. He explains another aspect but his voice is low. He shows a piece of Cambrian mineral, the end product of coal burning. He says they get their coal from Pennsylvania, collecting it in their trucks two hours drive from New York City. “We turn it into Petroleum Coke, which is light, and Coke is what burns. Parker describes the work as a sport: hands on, exercise.

28:06Copy video clip URL Parker shows Blumberg some African-style masks he’s made of iron. He says he’d like to build one as big as a man. He says he learned forging on the job. “One day I had a need to learn it. It was in my family. I found master at Expo ’67, Montreal.” He says he was born in New York, but lived in Canada for a while. He says he met Halleck on the street one day. Halleck says Parker got him into forging. Chris says at times members of the community get together, bang garbage and make music.

31:20Copy video clip URL Chris says she came to New York in December of last year. I called people who go to 9 to 5 jobs “drones”. I couldn’t see myself doing that. She came from California. She came out to New York to work on a concert and the job didn’t work out. People told her to stay away from Tompkins Square Park (in the Lower East Side) because it’s so dangerous. So, of course, that’s the first place I went.  She says she has a couple jobs. She works sound at a theater so she can get cash, but she adds “I can live comfortably on five dollars a day.” When asked what happens when winter arrives, Chris somewhat dreads it. “I’ve heard horror stories of six, eight people sleeping in one room.” She says she has an electric heater but they’re dangerous. She probably won’t use it. She’ll use lots of blankets. She adds that she associates with how her grandparents talked of growing up in a communal area. “I feel like I’m home.” She says her family would probably come and try and get her if they knew how she was living. When asked then how she feels being on TV, Chris says she doesn’t appreciate the media and how they manipulate an image. She adds that people need to know shelters are a place people go to die. “There’s disease and drugs. This is a healthier choice.” She thinks living as a squatter, being able to do her own thing, helps her develop as a person more so than if she went day after day to a 9 to 5 office. “I feel sorry for people who can’t see that we are taking the rubble and doing something with it.” It’s complete anarchy here. You have to be strong and let your opinions known. It’s tough when you first get into a squat and no one knows you. In our building there is anarchy unless there’s a crisis. Then we all come together and work it out.

38:16Copy video clip URL B-roll of Parker forging a hand made iron nail for Blumberg. Parker explains the building they are at is one of the last buildings available for squatting. There’s no roof.

43:48Copy video clip URL Halleck picks up his cats and heads out. He notes that Parker is his teacher, but he’s had other blacksmithing teachers. He worked with a German blacksmith for a year. Blumberg shoots an establishing shot of Parker’s yard and building. A hand painted sign out front reads: “Oct. 17, 1991, Der Mr. Dinkins, T’was a squatter who told (informed) you about the Quebec Hydro Dam Deal. You backed off from the deal. If it wasn’t for the NYC Homesteader you would not have been aware…” sun glare prevents the rest of the sign from being read.

45:10Copy video clip URL Halleck drives Blumberg in his truck to the Socrates Sculpture Garden in Long Island City, Queens. Halleck takes out some of his sculptures, and the bucket of coal he borrowed from Parker, and enters the park. Halleck shows Blumberg the forge he built and uses to make his iron sculptures. It is located in a make shift shack. He notes of his shack, “They told me I could only make straight lines and could not make something visually obtrusive. He shows Blumberg a security gate he is in the middle of forging. He notes that each vertical post has a different theme.

51:17Copy video clip URL He starts a fire from scratch using newspaper and coal. He explains he was working for an artist Richard Serra as a studio assistant for eleven years. It was a big step to leave and become a full-time artist. I was getting a good salary from Serra and now living on about half of what I was. But it’s a little more exciting to follow your own vision.

52:38Copy video clip URL B-roll of the metal sculpture in the the park.

53:55Copy video clip URL Halleck lights a fire in the forge. He admits that once in a while he gets burned, but not too bad. Halleck demonstrates forging. He notes that his forge is handmade.

55:55Copy video clip URL Halleck works on a pole of thorns sculpture, hammering and forging.

57:05Copy video clip URL Halleck says the hammer he uses weights three-and-a-half pounds. He says he is making a scarf in preparation to weld the two ends of the pole of thorns together. He is going to bend the pole into one piece of metal: forge welding.

58:05Copy video clip URL Halleck says he’s always worked with his hands. He got into welding but thought forging was more interesting. He says he learned mostly from Parker and the German blacksmith. He adds he went to Hunter College part-time while working for Serra. He determines the radius of what will become a crown of thorns. He measures the length of the pole of thorns. 63 inches. Sixty-three divided by three is twenty-one. So it’s going to be a twenty-one inch diameter. He draws a circle on he dirt floor twenty-one inches in diameter. As far as learning in school, Halleck says that some people, like himself,  learn best by experience. “So far. You never know.” For him, he feels he doesn’t have a choice. “It’s kind of late now.” Living and working this way is how it is for him. When asked he says he is 26-years old. He notes his parents are both artists.

01:02:33Copy video clip URL Various b-roll of Halleck at work, forging.

01:03:00Copy video clip URL END.



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