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Jason Augustus Maas

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I was a full-time working artist until Hurricane Sandy made devastating landfall. On the evening of October 29th, 2012, the first floor of my Brooklyn studio building on the Red Hook Waterfront was swept with seven feet of water. My space on the second floor was untouched, but all of my friends and neighbors below were completely devastated— their artwork, equipment, and livelihood vanished. I was grateful for having not been directly affected, but also traumatized for witnessing devastation all around me. Instantly I was inspired to help others get their lives back on track. I began volunteering full-time in the recovery effort and was quickly hired by the volunteer organization Respond & Rebuild. We seek out homeowners that cannot afford to have demolition and mold removal work done on their house, and perform a free service to get their homes safe, clean, and ready for the rebuilding phase.

The subject matter of my work was socially & politically conscious before the storm, but witnessing the chaos of the aftermath, and devoting my time to the relief effort has been profoundly inspiring. Hurricane Sandy illuminated how poorly we were prepared for a natural disaster, on the other hand, Sandy also left New York City with something remarkable— People were given an opportunity to stand up and help one another. Day after day, I participated in human chains of volunteers of all ages unloading an endless line of cars coming in to the Rockaways. It was one of the most memorable choreographies of my life, and it happened not with a director but by the collective will of those that were compelled to be there.

These experiences led to the reinterpretation of my drawing practice to involve social practice, and to include multiple media, using Sandy as a focus for making socially conscious work about this ongoing disaster. I often use the drawing surface as a starting point, building and demolishing drawing panels, designing and printing wallpaper, salvaging and installing discarded Rockaway materials, and creating videos on a green screen. I’m interested in expanding the contemporary dialogue of social practice by helping other artists find ways to be inspired through opportunities to volunteer both locally and abroad.

Help is still needed in the Rockaways. Feel free to contact me to find out ways you can get involved.

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