'I'm like the Rainman of the F train now because I now know every speck of that train,' laughed New York public space guerilla artist & recent subway prankster Ellen Moynihan. "Sixty seats, eight doors, and seven poles. And the overhead ads are exactly seventy inches by ten inches," said the ring leader of the spirited and highly creative four-woman House Of Malcontents crew, made up of Ellen and three other New York artists with a shared desire to reshape public spaces such as a subway car to make it more homey. This they accomplished last month when all four boarded an early morning F train in Brooklyn headed into Manhattan, and briskly and artistically made it over to look and feel more like ... home.
'No Train Like Home,' they dubbed the installation that took the four guerilla artists 40 minutes to carry out during early morning New York City commute hour. Carol Tessitore was one of the collaborators. The other two wish to remain anonymous because of the illegality of the maneuver. The idea for the 'No Train Like Home' came to Moynihan, who is also a writer (currently working on a book about Patti Smith), after checking out Mark Ecko's controversial graffiti on subway event in Chelsea a couple of years ago. Later, as she was riding the bland, drab, New York subway, she fantasized about how great it would be to make over the institutionalized-looking subway car into something warmer, to make it feel and look like your living room -- especially since so many New Yorkers spend so much time commuting by subway daily.
At first she thought, "How cool would it be to get a grant and get a lot of money and a subway car of my own to redecorate?" But soon after she gave up on the difficult task of trying to get a grant, and also on the idea of asking for permission. So she studied the subway to learn "every speck" -- taking photos and measuring in preparation for the perfectly plotted makeover morning (April 6th) when Ellen and her three fellow Malcontents went to work on the train. They put a runner rug down the center of the subway car and taped down 'welcome' mats near the sliding train doors, covered the windows with curtains, tied flowers to the poles, put pillows on the usually uncomfortable hard seats, scattered magazines around to read, and nice art to look at instead of the ads already there. "We made copies of family portraits or paintings you'd see at home," said photoshop expert Carol, who also 'stitched together' on computer photo images of books on a shelf and later printed them out on the long reams of paper they had purchased.
The whole project, which took a couple of months of careful preplanning, cost them about $500 in raw materials. Nothing they put up caused any damage at all to the train and was left up until the afternoon when the MTA took it down. And, most importantly, no one got arrested -- although it came sorta close when the only complaining commuter ("the crabby lady") ratted them out to a Transit Cop who ended up letting them go freely on their way (see the encounter captured on the video posted on their BLOG). The MTA, who run the subway system, apparently were amused by the unique prank, but that same day issued a statement to the effect that while they appreciated the gesture, that individuals just couldn't start taking design of the New York public trains into their own hands.
They don't need to worry about the House of Malcontents' next public space project, scheduled for next month, which will not be in the subway, but outdoors. "It will be a tea party in Central Park," said Carol of the mid July event that will be based on an Alice In Wonderland theme with lots of art displayed in the park in creative ways. Then in September they plan another event (theme TBA) on the Staten Island Ferry. And might they apply for a permit for either of these upcoming events? No way, said Ellen. "We're not getting permits because we're not doing anything wrong."