In October 2009, I was in NYC rehearsing and performing for Hanne Tierney's "My Life In A Nutshell" at HERE Arts Center. I was still recovering from a long bout with pneumonia so my bicycling treks along the Hudson River Bike path was less rigorous than normal.
I decided to take photographs of my folding bike in various shots along the path. I had seen and knew about the white bicycles around the city - at least I knew that they marked where someone had died in a bicycling accident. I hadn't noticed this particular white bike before even though I had passed it several times both in October and countless times before. For some reason, perhaps because I was moving slower and had more trouble breathing than normal, I happened to notice this white bike one afternoon.
I decided to stop and take a look at it because I was puzzled as to how someone could have been killed when there was a barrier between the path and the West Side Highway. When I read the plaque/dedication, I was even more confused. Was this Eric Ng an angry person? Why did it say "Love & Rage"? How did a drunk driver cross the barrier and kill this bicyclist? I took several shots of the bike both with and without my own bicycle - I tried to find an interesting angle which showed at least part of my folding bike with the white bike. This white bicycle and "Love & Rage" pushed something in me but I couldn't really register or process what it was.
When the Brazilian artist Angela Ferrara, one of the A Book About Death artists whom I befriended via facebook, put out her call for "Um Livro Sobre A Morte" for an exhibition at MUBE (in Sao Paulo, Brazil) of postcard sized art, I at first couldn't think of anything to send although I wanted to. I'm not much of a 2-D artist - my drawing and various collage skills are lamentably lacking and I wouldn't even attempt to venture into painting or other media which I have possibly no aptitude for. I'm pretty much a hack. For the "A Book About Death" exhibit in NYC, since I actually HAD pneumonia at the time and was feeling pretty much LIKE death... I had an idea and went with that and it was at the time, an embodiment of my mental and physical state.
It was then that I thought of my photographs of the white bicycle and I decided I wanted to use that white bike somehow. I really wanted to also do a little research to try to find out, if I could, something about Eric Ng - was he an angry person? This is something I could relate to. But how strange to find this on his epitaph.
I searched on the internet and discovered that the white bikes are called "Ghost Bikes" and found an online album of the various Ghost Bikes in NYC. What I noticed was that all the other white bikes in NY had "Rest In Peace" as their final closing line on their respective plaques. Eric Ng was apparently a bike advocate and many people in the biking community knew him. One grief stricken friend (I paraphrase) said that although it might seem crass, he felt that Eric would have wanted the community to use his death as a vehicle for advocating for closing off the bike path to cars with barriers down at the Chelsea Piers.
Here was the sad answer to my question about how a drunk driver was able to cross the barrier to kill Eric Ng. Apparently the driver has entered the pathway down near Chelsea Piers thinking he later said that it was the highway. He was driving 60 miles an hour when he struck and killed Eric Ng and when the police tested him, his levels of alcohol were DOUBLE what was considered "intoxicated".
And what did "Love & Rage" signify?
What I concluded was that unlike his fellow "ghosts", Eric Ng's epitaph reflected not what was wished for the dead but what was left to those who survived. In reading the various blogs and comments and horrific arguments (one person actually said that maybe it was the bicyclist's fault that the drunk driver hit him) about not only the death of Eric Ng but the tragic deaths of all the "ghosts". I was reading these comments late at night and a crushing veil of sadness and confusion and perhaps anger fell over me.
I submitted my photograph with Eric Ng's epitaph translated into Portuguese written on the red fence.
I then thought I would do something much "lighter" perhaps even using cartoons sketched on Scratch Art paper - so I trekked out and bought various kinds of scratch art paper to play with. But then I became obsessed with the idea of trying to recreate Eric Ng's plaque using stencils as a kind of reverse image/commentary on the original plaque (black stencilled in letters on white wood). I was unable to take decent photographs of the resulting black plaques.
I decided to scrap the idea of a lighter submission for the moment.
Here are photographs of my submissions to Um Livro Sobre A Morte as well as the original series of white bike photographs:
Love & Rage
Rest In Peace.