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NYC Manholes Just Got Way Cozier

Artist Mark Reigelman moves his sculpture when cops drive by.

If you've spotted a small grey house in the middle of a New York City street, only to have it disappear minutes later, you're not hallucinating. You've likely seen a new project from Brooklyn-based artist Mark Reigelman II, entitled Smökers. Part-sculpture and part-performance art, it's a tiny cabin on wheels that the artist has been rolling over New York City's steaming manholes. This creates the unexpected illusion of a mini hearth sending smoke up the house's little chimney right in the middle of major Manhattan throughways.

"As the installation was not sanctioned or permitted the installation durations vary from 30 seconds to three hours depending on location and time," Reigelman tells The Creators Project. In a video of the work in action, he and assistant Aaron Fleury can be seen quickly moving the 350-lb sculpture off the road as a police car approaches. 

The name Smökers comes from a German toy, also called a räuchermann, that burns incense and jets the smoke from a man's mouth, a house's chimney, etc. Reigelman thought of them when looking at the large orange cones that channel New York City's emerging steam "These tubular chimneys offer some sense of spectacle and mystery, but for the most part are one more obstacle in traversing the city," he says. By placing Smökers in the city, Reigelman theorizes that he "forces spectators to reconsider the framework of a city’s infrastructure, and redress the functionality and activation of public space."

Reigelman spent four weeks building the 6’ wide x 8’ long by 8’ tall mobile installation with carpenter Andrin Widmer, designing a metal chimney inside the house to protect its wood construction from the steam. He has so far installed on Broadway and Grand St. in Soho, 1st Ave. and 12th St. in the East Village, and Park Ave. and 27th St. in Midtown. The fact that it can show up anywhere, anytime, and disappear before the cops come and take it away, creates "a beautiful ephemerality to the work, a sense of the fleeting, echoing the nature of the steam itself," Reigelman says.

See more of Mark Reigelman's work on his website.

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