When I first started filming and painting the rebuilding of the World Trade Center seven years ago, standing right in the massive footings that were being carved into the bedrock, I always dreamed of the day that work would start on the massive spire on top of Tower 1 … In what seems like the blink of an eye, years have gone by and that historic day has come!
By a strange quirk of timing the massive sections of the spire that had sailed from Montreal on a seagoing barge, arrived in New York on my birthday. After their long voyage we filmed them sailing under Brooklyn Bridge as they headed for the site around the tip of Lower Manhattan.
During several long nights in mid December the sections of the spire were unloaded from the barge at Pier 54 and amidst flashing lights and an escort of police outriders slowly headed for the site. There was something sacred and ceremonial about the unusual procession of trucks and construction workers moving down Greenwich Street, one of the smartest streets in TriBeCa. People stepped out of restaurants and bars to gaze at the spectacle and to be photographed in front of the giant sections, each of which looked like a radiant intergalactic spacecraft.
The past week has been very exciting and I have been filming the south raising gang on Tower 1 setting the sections into position. Each time it is called a ‘critical pick’ as the sections are extremely heavy and can only be lifted from the street level when there is no wind. Some of the sections require what is called a ‘tandem pick’. This means two cranes had to simultaneously lift the piece. Last week there were a couple of days of thick fog and seeing the huge sections appearing out of nothingness was awe-inspiring!
The ironworkers of DCM work in all conditions with military like precision and discipline to accomplish the delicate and dangerous task of setting each of the 18 sections that will complete the 408 foot spire. Some of them have worked all the way from the ground up to the top and setting the spire is the final crowning of their accomplishment.
For me it is an amazing once in a lifetime experience to be able to work closely with them and to film such a historic time in the transformation of the skyline of New York City.
For all this I have immense and heartfelt gratitude.
BY MARCUS ROBINSON
I realize more and more that for my spirit as a painter, inspiration comes from places that are both unexpected and often so subtle that you could easily miss them.
Often on the site, I find myself standing for hours at a time in one spot, as my time-lapse camera beside me takes one frame every 15 seconds. This gives time to contemplate and really look closely at my immediate surroundings which are often just an apparently random ‘snapshot’ of construction textures and general ‘stuff’.
As I look more intently at the pieces of wood and rusty metal that are lying around and see how the construction process has created beautiful textures and marks, it is as though this is revealing a coherent, visual and tactile language that will inform and inspire my paintings. Some of the wood has pencil marks written by a carpenter, splashes of fluorescent colors from a surveyor, flecks and splatters of concrete from the concrete gang, a few rusty nails, a zig-zag line in a different tone where the wood has been used as a form to make a staircase, a burned in stamp from the original manufacturer of the piece of wood, a ripped off paper tag relating to the function of the wood, a couple of perfect circular holes cut through and some diagonal lines etched into the wood by a circular saw. All very beautiful and inspiring!
By Marcus RobinsonAdversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
– Arthur Golden
Over the past week, I have been filming the ironworkers of DCM at the top of Tower 1 as the raising gangs set the last remaining beams and columns of the structural steel.
Many of these guys have been working on the building all the way up from bedrock level, since they set the first column in December 2006. There have been many challenges they have faced along the way and have worked, often 7 days a week, in a very hostile, noisy environment buffeted by weather conditions of extreme heat and cold.
I am moved by the way they keep their focus and their sense of passion for the work they do. Despite being physically tired by the incessant rough labor and also on occasions jaded and demoralized by issues beyond their control whether it be political decisions that influence the site or perceptions in the media raising controversy about the site, they retain a total passion and commitment to their work and a belief that their work on this building is serving a greater purpose. They also keep a sense of humor and sharp edged tough banter that is perhaps inevitable in a job where one mistake can be fatal!
Their role in healing the wound to the skyline of New York City is something they take very seriously and they have shouldered this responsibility with honor since the rebuilding began. Although six years is not very long time, some of the youngest ironworkers for whom this is their first job have been chiseled and toughened by the demands of this tough environment and judging from how their faces have changed, are now older and wiser.
By Marcus Robinson
It is rare these days for a film to be a life-changing experience. So often the hype and the inflated, bogus five star critiques mean that most films seem to be somehow underwhelming. What an uplifting and unexpected joy it was to see ‘Les Intouchables’, a truly beautiful and exquisitely shot French film starring Omar Sy and Francois Cluzet. It is both heart-warmingly moving and hilariously funny. A very well observed study of the human condition that keeps you gripped and connected through every scene from beginning to end. It is a thoroughly positive affirmation of love and the joy of being alive that is both playful and profound at the same time.
Having lived in Paris for sixteen years and photographed the Paris suburbs for books and magazines, I was very moved by the portrayal of the main character, Driss (Omar Sy) whose rough life in the projects is transformed when he gets a break to become the carer of multimillionaire quadriplegic Philippe (Francois Cluzet). The beauty of the film is in the way this relationship grows and how each learns from the other, even though their lives are at diametrically opposed extremes of the social spectrum.
The music is masterful and very moving, heightening and complementing at every step the intensity of the action.
I would happily see ‘Les Intouchables’ again and again.
It is hardly surprising that on 20 March 2012 The Intouchables became the highest-grossing movie in a language other than English with $281 million.
By Marcus Robinson
‘Big Man in the Sky’ is about to fly to Paris. This huge 16 x 8 foot painting was the first work of this dimension to be painted up on the 48th floor of 7 World Trade Center and it is very exciting that having been acquired by a collector it is about to head off across the Atlantic!
It has been an exciting week of last minute preparations with the whole team at my amazing framer on Lafayette Street. We went through a complete rehearsal of how we would have to assemble the panels and the frame and then hang the painting in the lobby in Paris where it will be on show.
The painting represents the ironworkers of DCM as the raising gang on Tower 1 connects the steel beams and columns of the 38th floor. The main characters in the painting are Tommy Hickey and Mike O’Reilly. The work is on 4 wood panels each 8 x 4 foot and is painted in oil pigment and charcoal. It is inspired by drawings of the raising gang and memories of the many hours spent filming up there with them.
‘Big Man in the Sky’ is the first of a series of large works that will tell the story of the ‘Rebuilding’ in a connected series of oil paintings based on drawings from life on the site.
I am really thrilled that the paintings and drawings are now really getting out into the world!
By Marcus Robinson
One of the legendary characters who figured in my childhood was my great grandfather William Henry Robinson. Although he died long before I was born I felt as though I knew him. My father often spoke about him in an affectionate and loving way, regaling us with tales of William Henry’s voyages as a seagoing shipwright and how, despite having had no formal education, he taught himself the basics of several foreign languages and used these skills to speak with foreign ship captains when he was chief sanitary inspector of the Port of Belfast. What made the deepest impression on me was the fact that he had learnt to speak Esperanto. As a child I always loved this word. Its musical and mysterious resonance awakened in me a sense of great curiosity and conjured up a radiant Utopia where people of different cultures and backgrounds lived happily together and where barriers of language didn’t matter.
Esperanto was originally created in the late 1870s by the wonderfully named Dr. Ludwik Lazarus Zamenhof, also know by the pseudonym Doktoro Esperanto. His motivation for creating the language, as a way to heal and diminish the sense of division created by different languages, is as urgent now as it was then. He wrote in a letter in 1895:
The place where I was born and spent my childhood gave direction to all my future struggles. In Bialystok the inhabitants were divided into four distinct elements: Russians, Poles, Germans and Jews; each of these spoke their own language and looked on all the others as enemies. In such a town a sensitive nature feels more acutely than elsewhere the misery caused by language division and sees at every step that the diversity of languages is the first, or at least the most influential, basis for the separation of the human family into groups of enemies. I was brought up as an idealist; I was taught that all people were brothers, while outside in the street at every step I felt that there were no people, only Russians, Poles, Germans, Jews and so on. This was always a great torment to my infant mind, although many people may smile at such an ‘anguish for the world’ in a child.
—L. L. Zamenhof, in a letter to N. Borovko
It turns out that the radiant Utopia I dreamt of in my childhood imagination, is in fact New York City. Paradoxically, there are 800 languages spoken in this city, making it the most linguistically diverse in the world! And yet despite this diversity a more connected and unspoken language of community and humanity is the modern day ‘Esperanto’ or language of hope, that makes New York the unique and radiant place it is.
For me, the many years of work to rebuild the World Trade Center are a profound expression of the spirit of this city. My vision for the film ‘Rebuilding’, about the transformation of the site, is to create a timeless cinematic tale that draws from the spirit of Esperanto – with the intention of making an amazing and uplifting story told in a way that transcends all barriers of language, culture or ethnicity and reaches emotionally and spiritually beyond the new buildings themselves.