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Revolutionizing History:
A Conversation with Olivia Robinson, Josh MacPhee, and Dara Greenwald

by Jesse Ball


Artists Olivia Robinson, Josh MacPhee, and Dara Greenwald make the invisible visible, from daily routines to entire cultural moments. Passing through the streets of Troy, New York, the trio felt a mounting sense of dismay at the changing cityscape and the loss of visible history. So, they hatched a project to re-create the façade of a missing building and thereby trigger its psycho-physical space in the landscape as well as its historical context. An examination of possible sites led them to a two-fold prize—a vanished building and a revolutionary abolitionist.

Liberty Street Church was located at the corner of Liberty and Franklin; in 1840, it housed a black congregation and a whirlwind of a pastor, Henry Highland Garnet. That year, his leg was amputated, which only seemed to spur him on. He fired blistering sermons from the pulpit, preparing the way for his famous 1843 speech, “Call to Rebellion: An Address to the Slaves of the United States of America.” This was not mere rhetoric: “You act as though your daughters were born to pamper the lusts of your masters and overseers…you tamely submit while your lords tear your wives from your embraces…we ask you, are you men? Where is the blood of your fathers? Has it all run out of your veins? Awake, awake; millions of voices are calling you! Your dead fathers speak to you from their graves. Heaven, as with a voice of thunder, calls on you to arise from the dust.”

Dara Greenwald, Josh MacPhee, and Olivia Robinson,
Spectres of Liberty: Ghost of Liberty Street Church,
2008. Interior view.

Image: Bart Woodstrup


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