Letters to Bank of America | History Design Studio

Letters to Bank of America

John Husley May 25, 2015
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Letters to Bank of America created by John Hulsey aligns itself with various versions of a people’s history or a history from below—literally by transforming key sites of economic power in the city of Boston into surfaces upon which records of individuals’ daily lives might be temporarily inscribed. Using a high-powered projector mounted on top of a van, the hand-written words of homeowners facing imminent eviction through foreclosure in the Greater Boston Area were projected onto the front facades of those financial institutions threatening them with displacement.

Transforming these high-rise office buildings into writing pads or ledgers (each floor becoming a line-ruled segment of a sheet of notebook paper) a history of the present is articulated momentarily from the level of the street. These texts, written in the first-person by members of community-based organization City Life/Vida Urbana, reveal that the complexities of the contemporary neoliberal agenda may be most accurately rendered by those who have experienced its effects most directly: these words narrate the stories of members of neighborhoods and communities—Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, Hyde Park, and Brockton—that have been historically marginalized by an economic and political system that disproportionately targets working class people of color.


While speaking about the historical period following the Great Recession, these words also reach back through American history, touching on a national story that has been, from its inception, inextricably bound up in the appropriation and expropriation of land—from the decades of redlining and reverse redlining, block busting and urban renewal, all the way back to the founding notions of property and land rights on the North American continent.


The sites that were chosen as surfaces for projection, for their part, tell a story about the history of banking and the development of speculative economies. One of these, the Bank of America offices, housed in the Old John Hancock Building, was the site of the First National Bank of Boston, successor to one of the earliest colonial banking bodies, The Massachusetts Bank, founded in 1784. By superimposing fragments of writing back onto key sites of economic power, the project attempts to pry open up a counter-narrative and a counter-history of the present.

Letters to Bank of America was done in partnership with City Life/Vida Urbana, a community organization made up of residents, homeowners, and tenants in the Greater Boston area struggling against the forces of displacement, foreclosure, and gentrification. Versions of the project have featured the letters of Paul Adamson, Marshall Cooper, Jr., Raimundo Fernandes, Drusilla Francis, Heather Gordon, and Presley Obasohan.

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About the Authors

John Husley

Through cross-disciplinary analysis, John's work tracks the migration of cultural forms from political organizing to artistic practice and back again, building a theoretical scaffold for understanding the ways in which artists have participated within, reflected upon, and refracted the aims of social movements.