This work is part of Public Realm R&D, an umbrella initiative; learn more about it here.
A reconfigurable outdoor theater, Drive-Thru by Soft-Firm features videos and performances by Brooklyn artists, filmmakers, and cultural organizations.
February 17–April 14, 2022
Inspired by the classic drive-in movie experience, Soft-Firm’s installation Drive-Thru reimagines how shared public spaces can be activated during the winter months to connect communities. By incorporating light through rear projection, Drive-Thru serves as a cinema for pedestrians and is visible from the highly utilized intersection of Flatbush and Lafayette Avenues. The design, fabricated by Datum Zed, echoes surrounding urban infrastructure, such as the rotating Brooklyn Academy of Music sign, billboards, and construction scaffolding — incorporating landmarks signature to the Downtown Brooklyn neighborhood.
Drive-Thru will showcase film and video by eight Brooklyn-based artists and filmmakers that highlight Brooklyn communities, explore themes of urban life, and connect to Black History Month and Women’s History Month. Live performances will be held to complement a selection of the featured films, starting with a Black History Month celebration event on February 23.
Drive-Thru is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R&D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space. The installation is co-produced by Van Alen Institute and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co.
Soft-Firm is an interdisciplinary practice and flexible platform off which to expand design hunches into architectural ideas, spaces, and artifacts. Soft-Firm is speculative and concrete: taking a playful and lo-fi approach to visual perception, elemental forms, and material contrast. Using design as a tool of activism, Soft-Firm engages collaborative and progressive programs to promote equity in institutions and the architectural practice as a whole. The practice has designed interactive exhibitions and installations, residential and commercial projects, and published work in design magazines and academic journals. The Soft-Firm project team includes Lexi Tsien and Talitha Liu with fabrication by Jono Isbell from Datum Zed.
Drive-Thru is best viewed starting at dusk.
The Plaza at 300 Ashland is conveniently situated in the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, at the intersection of Lafayette Ave and Flatbush Ave. The plaza is easily accessible – located only a short walk from the B, Q, 2/3 and 4/5 subway lines at Atlantic Barclays, the G train at Fulton St, and the C train at Lafayette Ave, as well as a number of bus stops. There is also paid parking along the surrounding streets.
Wednesday, April 13
Closing Event: Community Iftar (Break Fast) and Q&A
Iftar: the meal traditionally taken by Muslims at sundown to break the daily fast during Ramadan.
A Community Iftar: Breaking the fast and dining with neighbors.
Drive-Thru has showcased film and video by eight Brooklyn-based artists and filmmakers that highlight Brooklyn communities and explore themes of urban life. The final film of the run is Aisha Amin’s Friday (2019), a portrait of a historically Black mosque as it fights gentrification in Bed-Stuy.
In connection with the film, and as the closing of Drive-Thru coincides with Ramadan, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is partnering with the students of neighboring Khalil Gibran International Academy High School for a Community Iftar.
Iftars are gatherings held in homes or mosques during the holy month of Ramadan as people sit down to break the daily fast after the evening prayer. We look forward to hosting this Community Iftar at which we can learn about the traditions of Ramadan, experience art together, and meet neighbors and new friends. Everyone is welcome to play jumbo games on the plaza, while enjoying Aisha Amin’s film, Friday.
- 7 pm: Traditional West African kora, played by Salieu Suso*
- 7:25 pm: Remarks by Downtown Brooklyn, Van Alen Institute, and Khalil Gibran Academy
- 7:31 pm: Sunset. After the Adhan (call to prayer), all are invited to break fast, beginning with water and dates. Followed by Maghrib Prayer, led by Luqman Abdul-Rahman, As-Suq/Masjid At-Taqwa
- 7:35 pm: Dine al fresco with your neighbors on the steps of the plaza. Pre-packaged meals (chicken and vegetarian options) will be available, while supplies last. Please allow priority to go to those who are observing Ramadan.
- 7:45 pm: Q&A with Friday filmmaker, Aisha Amin and Lexi Tsien of Soft-Firm, designers of Drive-Thru, moderated by producer Aidah Z. Muhammad
*Salieu Suso was born into a family of traditional Mandinka musicians/historians from The Gambia, West Africa, that extends back nearly one thousand years. He was trained to play the 21-stringed kora (West African harp) at the age of eight, by his father, the renowned kora player of that region, Alhaji Musa Makang Suso. He is recognized to be a descendant of JaliMady Wulayn Suso, the originator of the kora, and performed extensively throughout Africa and Europe before settling in the U.S. in 1989, where he continues to be a leader in the rapidly growing African music scene.
Tuesday, March 29
In honor of Women’s History Month, performing in tandem with Tanika I. Williams’ video, (construct)Cleaning and Sanctuary, is Bessie Award winning Skeleton Architecture, a vessel of Black womyn and gender nonconforming improvisational movement artists. Skeleton Architecture creates, organizes, advocates, gathers, curates, performs, plays, challenges and teaches through the depths of ancestral knowledge toward the liberated future of our worlds. Performers for this event are: Davalois Fearon, Jasmine Hearn, nia love, Charmaine Warren, and Marýa Wethers.
Wednesday, February 23
Launch of Drive-Thru honoring Black History Month
Senegalese Taneber Sunu Birr (Drum and Dance Circle)
Mirroring the electrifying Senegalese drum and dance in the opening film, artist Babacar Top led a Sabar dance instruction followed by a Taneber, an open drum and dance circle “sunu birr” (Wolof for “between us”) that celebrated the power and culture of Senegalese tradition and honored African descendants who fought for freedom and liberation, and community.
Ali Santana, Community: Rhythm / Movement / Joy (2022)
Filmed on Lafayette Ave in 2012, this scene captures the rhythm, movement, joy and community tradition of BAM’s Dance Africa Street Bazaar.
February 24–March 2
Nicholas Fraser, Follow/Unfollow (2016)
Nicholas Fraser’s Follow/Unfollow captures New Yorkers as they travel the city’s ever-changing streetscape. As their paths cross in frame, a single person grows to two, two form a trio, the trio morphs into a crowd, stopping, shifting, and changing direction to a hypnotic effect.
Simon Benjamin, Errantry (2021)
Named after Édouard Glissant’s theory, Simon Benjamin’s Errantry is centered on the polyphonic rhythms of coastal space, the Caribbean sea, and the life sustained by it in a non-linear narrative that raises questions about time, labor, environmental degradation and the ongoingness of colonialism.
Luna X Moya, What the Pier Gave Us (2021)
In Luna X Moya’s What the Pier Gave Us, a fisherman’s ordinary day at an undisclosed New York City pier becomes a visual metaphor for the immigrant experience in the United States. This short film is part of an upcoming feature-length documentary.
Olalekan Jeyifous, The Frozen Neighborhoods (Fly-through) (2021)
Olalekan Jeyifous’s The Frozen Neighborhoods (Fly-through) depicts a speculative future where poor and marginalized communities are cut off from travel, forcing them to develop advanced ecological technologies This deceptively dystopian vision imagines the potential of community-focused innovation, creating a sustainable and self-contained world in Brooklyn.
Tanika I. Williams, (construct)Clearing (2021) and Sanctuary (2021)
As a meditation on quiet care, intention, intergenerational movement, and labor, (construct)Clearing seeks to understand how we wear and repeat family patterns of silence and separation. Sanctuary illustrates the aftermath of African-Caribbean mothers leaving their daughters to immigrate to the United States, combining academic research, autobiographical expression, and archival interviews.
March 31–April 5
Series of shorts by Ezra Wube: Flatbushtopia (2017), Bridge Street (2015), At the Same Moment (2013), Words of Wisdom (2016)
This series of shorts by Ezra Wube offer snapshots of life across New York. These stop-motion animations, often developed with community input and participation, depict scenes in Flatbush, DUMBO, Jamaica, and on the subway.
Aisha Amin, Choir (2020) and Friday (2019)
Aisha Amin’s film Choir explores the world within one of New York’s most competitive youth choirs, while Friday is a portrait of the community within a historically black Brooklyn mosque as it fights gentrification.