signs of the times
Altamont contributor Andres Serrano has embarked on a new project called "Sign of the Times".
“It started in early October“, Serrano explains, “when I started to see what I perceived as a greater number of homeless people in the city. As a native New Yorker, it surprised me because I had never seen so many people begging and sleeping on the streets. It occurred to me to start buying the signs that the homeless use to ask for money.
I immersed myself in the project, going out almost on a daily basis and walking five, six, seven hours a day. Once, I even walked 12 hours uptown to Harlem, East and West, downtown to Battery Park and back home. I never took transportation anywhere because I felt that since the homeless live on the streets, I had to walk the streets like they do. After a while, a few said to me, “I’ve heard of you. You’re the guy going around buying signs. I was wondering if you were ever going to find me.” I bought about 200 signs and usually offered $20, which they were happy, even ecstatic, to get. (Once, though, I saw a sign that said, “Just need $10″ so I said to the guy, “I’ll give you 10 for it and he said, “You got it. I guess the sign did its job!”)
I had a certain way of approaching people. Whenever I saw anyone sitting on the street with a sign I wanted, I would crouch down, but not sit down. To sit down next to them would be like sitting on their couch without asking permission. But by crouching down, I could look them in the eye and be on the same level. Then I would say, “Can I ask you a question?” I won’t say this is a political piece, because if it is, whose politics? They always said yes and I’d say, “I’m an artist. And artists see things in a different way. And one of the things I see are the signs the homeless have. I’m buying these signs because I see every sign as a story. There are many stories out here that should be heard.“