Jana Leo, My Neighbor, 2002 – 2011

Artist’s statement:

She used to live across the hallway and was the first person I related to when I moved to Chinatown in 2002. She came into my apartment when assembling furniture She pushed the door, smile and look around talking in Chinese and sit in a chair while I was cleaning; for years she knock at my door and gave me “food stamps canned food”: salmon, green beans, carrots and evaporated milk. I used to storage the goods in a closet, took pictures of the labels, and open a can once in while,  when I was too busy to get any other food. She lived by herself and spend most her day in and out from the apartment to the park in front of the building. Years passed like that; she smiled when sees me happy and recognized it was because of the person I have around, who took this picture.In 2008, I expend the whole winter in Spain and when I come back I realized she wasn’t going to the park anymore and that she have caretakers all day long. I asked what happened, (she spoke to me in Chinese and I in Spanish) I realized by the amount of pills and diapers that something serious have happened. She walked along the hallways during the day but never go anymore to the park. I start walking holding her in the hallway. I looked at her feet wearing just sleepers. She looked so frail to me. I imagine carrying her in my back but then asked myself what if she falls. I called social services to find out about the care takers and if they can take her down through complains so I wouldn’t have to do it. A few times, I tried to make her going down the stairs; but she would stop right before the first step. We spent the summer walking in the hallway.I have a ticket to go back to Spain with no return for a long while. I signed myself a date for crossing the limit; the limit between the hallway and the staircase; the limit between her apartment and the door; the limits between the building door and the park with a street in the middle. I practiced the walk mentally. A Saturday in late August 2009, I knocked at her door and take it to the hallway walk, one step down, she hesitated, I hold her tight, letting her know we were going to make it. She stopped. I indicated that we were going to make it, I don’t know how but was clear to her. I hold her very tied, and her weigh went to the first step and then the other and the other, her fragile body, the feet on sleepers… I put one of her hand on the stair rail and hold her body, one and two and three and four and five and six, and seven…. And one and two and three and four and five and six, and seven and one and two and three and four and five and six, and seven eight we were by the door. She stopped again as if she didn’t want to open the door to life anymore. I opened the door and blocked the way back with my body. She stepped out. She laughed at the sun. Her face illuminated and she talked to me. We crossed the street and find a bench in the park and sit. She was in her park. She was alive. I tried to create a pattern for her so she has to ask the caretaker to do when I am not there.The amount of times I pictured in my mind the trip from her apartment into the park sound silly to say because were so many and we only did it once. We were not just going downstairs, I was crossing my own limits with her and she was defeating death.

I didn’t know her name. We never have any reason to like each other but we did.

This picture in the fire stair in between mine and her apartment to honor her and to recognize that I missed her. Also this picture in the fire stair, that has became my gallery is a piece of art. It recognizes that affinities to people are made beyond age, positions, education, language, or origin.

This picture was taken by Simon Lund a Saturday afternoon, sometime in August 2009.Jana Leo
August 5 2011
New York

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