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The American Manifest: Moving Chains

The Hills - The Hills - Outlook Hill

Pre­sent­ed by Cre­ative Time, Gov­er­nors Island Arts, and Times Square Arts

Click here to RSVP for the Mov­ing Chains clos­ing cel­e­bra­tion, includ­ing a Black Gotham Expe­ri­ence Walk­ing Tour with Kamau Ware and an artist talk with Charles Gaines, on Octo­ber 292023.

Open Hours

Thurs­day & Fri­day: 12 – 5PM
Sat­ur­day & Sun­day: 10AM-5PM

Mov­ing Chains is open as sched­uled with­out acti­va­tion of the chains. Dur­ing open hours Thurs­day-Sun­day, vis­i­tors may con­tin­ue to walk through the piece and view the sculp­ture from the top of Out­look Hill. 

Mov­ing Chains is a mon­u­men­tal 110-foot long kinet­ic sculp­ture built from steel and sus­tain­ably har­vest­ed Sapele, com­mon­ly referred to as African Mahogany, a tree native to West Africa. Cre­at­ed by Charles Gaines with col­lab­o­rat­ing archi­tects TOLO Archi­tec­ture, the sculp­ture, which peo­ple may enter and walk through, con­tains nine cus­tom made chains weigh­ing over 1,600 pounds each run­ning its length over­head. Eight of the chains are rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the pace of the cur­rents in New York Har­bor, while a ninth cen­tral chain moves more quick­ly, recall­ing the pace of ship and barge traf­fic that has trav­eled the city’s water­ways for cen­turies. The over­all effect of the weight and motion of the chains pro­duces a rhyth­mic, undu­lat­ing loop, evoca­tive of the sounds of New York Har­bor at the entrance to the Hud­son Riv­er, known to the area’s Indige­nous res­i­dents the Lenape as Mahi­can­tuck, the riv­er that runs two ways. Start­ing dur­ing the Dutch and British occu­pa­tions, this water­way near present-day low­er Man­hat­tan would become an eco­nom­ic pil­lar of the transat­lantic slave trade and seed the sys­tem of racial cap­i­tal­ism foun­da­tion­al to the Unit­ed States. Fac­ing the Stat­ue of Lib­er­ty — an inter­na­tion­al sym­bol of benev­o­lence and human rights, dis­tin­guished by the abo­li­tion­ist iconog­ra­phy of a bro­ken shack­le and chain at her right foot—Mov­ing Chains calls atten­tion to the nation’s eco­nom­ic, judi­cial, and polit­i­cal frame­works that con­tin­ue the lega­cy of slav­ery today.

To accom­pa­ny Mov­ing Chains, Cre­ative Time and Gov­er­nors Island Arts pre­sent­ed Toward Abo­li­tion, a con­fer­ence on abo­li­tion and the lim­its of the law on the Island this Spring 2023, recon­sid­er­ing legal and cul­tur­al def­i­n­i­tions of free­dom and the unfin­ished project of abo­li­tion. Bring­ing togeth­er an inter­dis­ci­pli­nary group of thinkers, the accom­pa­ny­ing pro­grams will ask, how can lib­er­a­tion be defined out­side of the con­fines of slav­ery and racial cap­i­tal­ism? What does free­dom look like? What tac­tics are nec­es­sary to get there? Who is lead­ing us in this work?

River Years: A Black Gotham Experience

River Years is a Black Gotham Expe­ri­ence audio tour written by Kamau Ware, commissioned by Creative Time and Governors Island Arts on the occasion of Moving Chains. River Years explores the colonial patterns that have informed a cen­turies-long rela­tion­ship with what are known today as the East River, the Hud­son River, and New York Har­bor. Starting from the ferry terminal at Soissons Landing and ending at the base of Outlook Hill, River Years pulls out key moments in New York history that ask, what is the transatlantic slave trade to a river?

Click here to access the tour

About The Amer­i­can Manifest

Trac­ing the flow of these north­east­ern water­ways — the his­tor­i­cal­ly charged rivers and ports of New York City and Cincinnati’s Ohio Riv­er, which are not often con­sid­ered in rela­tion to each oth­er — artist Charles Gaines, in his first-ever pub­lic art instal­la­tion, offers a mul­ti­fac­eted inter­ro­ga­tion of the dual role of the north­ern states in both main­tain­ing and abol­ish­ing slav­ery, and the endur­ing impli­ca­tions of the racial­ized sys­tems, myths, and log­ics that under­pin the nation’s eco­nom­ic and legal foun­da­tions that per­sist today. Through large-scale son­ic and sculp­tur­al works, the project grap­ples with the entan­gled sys­tems of prop­er­ty, cit­i­zen­ship, dis­place­ment, and free­dom that enables and fur­thers racial cap­i­tal­ism, a mech­a­nism for enforc­ing white suprema­cy in the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca. Gaines’s work for The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest orig­i­nates with the 1857 Dred and Har­ri­et Scott his­toric Supreme Court deci­sion, which decreed that peo­ple of African ances­try were not U.S. cit­i­zens and there­fore could not sue for their right to free­dom, and demands the view­er con­tend with the lega­cies and after­lives of chat­tel slav­ery, Man­i­fest Des­tiny, and colonialism.

Sit­ed with­in two key cities whose his­to­ries have shaped the iden­ti­ty of Amer­i­ca, this project invites the pub­lic to con­sid­er New York and Cincinnati’s water­ways’ in both uphold­ing slav­ery and secur­ing lib­er­a­tion, a dual­i­ty that chal­lenges reduc­tive nar­ra­tives of the his­to­ry and lega­cy of slav­ery in Amer­i­ca. Times Square, often called the cross­roads of the world,” exists as a glob­al emblem of cap­i­tal­ism, com­merce, and media, with over 300,000 dai­ly pedes­tri­ans. Five miles away, in the mid­dle of the New York Har­bor, Gov­er­nors Island feels com­par­a­tive­ly serene. The Island played an inte­gral role in the city’s eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal his­to­ry; it served as a Lenape fish­ing and hunt­ing camp, an ear­ly colo­nial Dutch set­tle­ment, a home for the British rul­ing Gov­er­nors and, lat­er, a U.S. Mil­i­tary and Coast Guard base from the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary War until the late 1990s, before becom­ing pub­licly acces­si­ble in the mid-2000s. Halfway across the coun­try, Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyl­lis W. Smale River­front Park con­nects down­town Cincin­nati to the Ohio Riv­er, which his­tor­i­cal­ly served as a demar­ca­tion point and trans­porta­tion route between south­ern slave states and the free states in the north.

Pre­vi­ous­ly — CHAP­TER ONE: Man­i­festos 4 & Roots

The project orig­i­nat­ed in Times Square with a per­for­mance-based instal­la­tion, Man­i­festos 4: The Dred and Har­ri­et Scott Deci­sion, and sculp­tur­al instal­la­tion, Roots. Con­tin­u­ing Gaines’s Man­i­festos series, and specif­i­cal­ly build­ing upon his Man­i­festos 4 com­po­si­tion with the cre­ation of a new vocal arrange­ment, this per­for­mance trans­forms the orig­i­nal text of the Supreme Court’s 1857 Dred and Har­ri­et Scott his­toric deci­sion, which decreed that peo­ple of African ances­try were not U.S. cit­i­zens and there­fore could not sue for their right to free­dom. Fea­tur­ing a wood­wind quin­tet, piano and tenor, the 5‑part per­for­mance was staged on July 13 and July 14 in Times Square. Roots, on view from July 13 through Sep­tem­ber 23, 2022, con­sist­ed of a series of sev­en Amer­i­can Sweet­gum trees, pre­sent­ed with the root sys­tems upside down and paint­ed to a sur­re­al and dystopic effect. The trees, which were indige­nous to the east­ern Unit­ed States and grew in Times Square, a forest­ed area and beaver pond pri­or to col­o­niza­tion, are known for their impres­sive root sys­tems that require vast open spaces to grow.

Com­ing Up — CHAP­TER THREE: Cincin­nati, Ohio, in 2024

Open­ing in mul­ti­ple loca­tions through­out Cincin­nati in 2024, The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest will trav­el to the banks of the Ohio Riv­er in Cincinnati’s John G. and Phyl­lis W. Smale River­front Park, accom­pa­nied by an addi­tion­al site-spe­cif­ic com­mis­sioned work to deep­en the geo­graph­ic nuances of colo­nial expan­sion. The Ohio Riv­er has his­tor­i­cal­ly rep­re­sent­ed both a route to lib­er­a­tion, as the one-time gate­way between slave and free soil” states, as well as a his­toric route used to trans­port enslaved per­sons to the infa­mous port of New Orleans. The project’s jour­ney to this loca­tion from New York makes a final con­nec­tion between the plan­ta­tion log­ic of peo­ple as prop­er­ty, fed­er­al­ly rec­og­nized in the case of Dred and Har­ri­et Scott, and the era of Man­i­fest Des­tiny and west­ward expan­sion, which estab­lished the Amer­i­can West land­scape as the right­ful prop­er­ty of the Unit­ed States government.

Project Sup­port

Charles Gaines: The Amer­i­can Man­i­fest is made pos­si­ble in New York and Cincin­nati by the vision­ary sup­port of the Ford Foun­da­tion, Lam­bent Foun­da­tion Fund, a fund of Tides Foun­da­tion, the Mel­lon Foun­da­tion, VIA Art Fund, Foto­Fo­cus, The Stavros Niar­chos Foun­da­tion, Cha­ri­na Endow­ment Fund, Don­ald A. Pels Char­i­ta­ble Trust, the Jacques and Natasha Gel­man Foun­da­tion, Mor­gan Stan­ley, Wave Pool, and mediaThe Foun­da­tion, inc.

Major sup­port is pro­vid­ed by Hauser & Wirth, Suzanne and Bob Cochran, Marie Dou­glas, Karl Iag­nem­ma and Ann-Kris­ten Lund, Jacob and Deb­o­rah Kotzubei, Jon Nei­dich, Bob and Renee Par­sons, San­jeev Rathi, Eric Richter, Wad­dell Fam­i­ly Foun­da­tion, Jed Walen­tas, Christo­pher Walk­er, Mar­garet Wang, Debi and Steven Wisch, and addi­tion­al anony­mous donors.

We are also grate­ful for the sup­port of the Nation­al Endow­ment for the Arts (NEA); pub­lic funds from the New York City Depart­ment of Cul­tur­al Affairs (DCA) in part­ner­ship with the City Coun­cil and May­or Eric Adams; and the New York State Coun­cil on the Arts (NYSCA) with the sup­port of Gov­er­nor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.

The Hills - The Hills - Outlook Hill