At a time when the opportunity to see live performance is at a minimum, it is exciting to learn of an outdoor art installation theater that will travel to public spaces throughout New York City. Taking place on four consecutive weekends beginning January 30th at Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 ,The House Our Families Built is a mobile public art installation by Brooklyn based artist Caledonia Curry (Swoon) with Jeff Stark.

The fantastical diorama-styled sculpture is constructed atop a 14-foot box truck. With its elaborate, hand-built aesthetic, one is reminded of the caravan in the film The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, though instead of stealing souls, the performers recite intergenerational stories and experiences from user generated narratives contained in the PBS American Portrait database. It is part of a national series commissioned by PBS, from its American Portrait initiative on what it means to be American today, a major storytelling project in celebration of the network’s 50th anniversary. According to a press release, “it is the first time PBS has commissioned original art of this magnitude for a national public arts initiative.”

Marshall LaCount/Swoon Studio

Photo: Marshall LaCount/Swoon Studio

Employing her signature aesthetic, Swoon evokes the intimacy of home life for inquisitive passersby to discover as it moves throughout New York City. The eclectic atmosphere of this roving stage of visual and performing art features a series of intricate cutouts, paintings and ephemera including wallpaper, framed family photographs and plastic toys inspired by domestic scenes. The sculptural stage will alternate between live performance of 15 minute stories and recordings of the audio played via directional speakers so passersby can always engage with the narrative. “The House Our Families Built will create moments of public reflection about what legacies we carry forward into this new future we are building, and what legacies we make a conscious choice to leave behind,” Curry said.  “My collaborators have distilled hundreds of stories into a glimpse of American life that begins at the dinner table and travels deep inside who we are, via the things we struggle to overcome.”

Mother and child in Swoon box trip for PBS American Portrait

Photo: Steffie van Rhee/RadicalMedia

Other Swoon projects in New York City have included her Hurricane Sandy-themed work for the Bowery mural in 2013 and the stunning climate change-themed installation in the Brooklyn Museum in 2014. Jeff Stark is known here in New York City as the founder of Nonsense NYC and the Empire Drive In.

There will be two additional works of art connected to PBS American Portrait nationally — The G.A.P. Van by Rick Lowe and Greenwood Art Project running from January 18 to May 15, 2021 in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Altar to a Dream by Carlos Ramirez running from January 29 – February 14, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. Bill Margol, PBS Senior Director, General Audience Programming and executive in charge of PBS American Portrait stated, “When building PBS American Portrait we aimed to elevate the voices of people in communities across the country. These three installations shed light on the memories and histories of each of these communities, exploring traditions, values and legacies. We believe audiences will be surprised by their novel and distinct forms.”

The House our Families Built

Photo by Caledonia Curry/Swoon Studio

“Collaborating with artists to elevate storytelling by everyday people all across the country allows us to engage the public in ways that are original, provocative and resonant,” said James Spindler, Creative Director for the project at RadicalMedia. “Through the singular and visionary perspective of artists, we can further amplify the voices of Americans everywhere in a way that is inclusive and engaging.”

Here is the schedule for The House Our Families Built: 

Jan 30-31: Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 1 (Jan 30 from 10am to 6pm (Idle Exhibition with recordings), Jan 31 from 10am-6pm with performances at 10:30am, 11:15am, 12:00pm, 1:00pm, 1:45pm, 2:30pm)
Feb 6-7: Prospect Park (Flatbush and Empire)
Feb 13-14: Flushing Meadows-Corona Park
Feb 21: Union Square, North Plaza (17th Street)

Next, check out the top 10 secrets of Brooklyn Bridge Park.