“In early 2009, a project began four stories underneath the skin of New York. For nearly 100 years, a massive subway station sat unfinished, unused, and undiscovered. Over the course the last year, artists have been secretly escorted into this station to leave their creative mark. Unobstructed by the pressures of commercial sales, phone calls, or daily routines, each artist painted for one full night. The Underbelly Project is the result of the past year. At the close of the project, the entrance was removed and darkness reclaimed the space once again.”
Stepping into the station was like stepping into a space outside of time. Utterly devoid of light, there was no way to mark the passage of time except for the occasional dull roar of a train in the distance. I had only a flashlight to light my way, yet it only barely cut into the inky blackness of the station. The air was cool and damp. My every step kicked up swirls of the rail dust that blanketed every surface. If it hadn’t been for the reassuring presence of familiar art adorning the walls, I might have quickly succumb to the illusion that I’d arrived amidst the remnants of a forgotten city.
After my initial adrenalin rush subsided, I quickly got to work. I’ve never been happier about having invested in a solid tripod and it proved to be indispensable. I’d open the shutter and count out loud to myself – six, seven, eight seconds and longer – all the while painting the walls before me with the flashlight. Figures and faces emerged out of the darkness, briefly illuminated by a passing beam, before fading back into the shadows. Somewhere nearby, pipes clanked, the earth groaned and my heart beat a tick faster.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy every minute in the station. With each new discovery, I felt an enormous sense of joy, admiration, gratitude and pride. Even the most jaded followers of the street art scene cannot deny the singularity of this project. For once, finally, an effort to counteract the sanctioned, sanitized, sponsored and safe. For once, a project in which street art and graffiti are side by side, on equal terms, with none of the posturing and animosity of the streets.
Emerging from the darkness, a warm breeze caressed my face and in an instance, normal life resumed. Although only a few hours had passed, it felt like an eternity. For more information, keep your eyes on The Underbelly Project.