Continuing his on-going investigation into the relationship of subject and city, the works presented in Sugar Hill Suite (2005-07) are part of a year-long project exploring both the history and the physical terrain of upper-Harlem where LaBelle has been living since 2004. Dubbed Sugar Hill in the 1920s because of its location on a geographic bluff over-looking what was known as the Harlem Plain and because of its relative wealth, Sugar Hill today is an area undergoing rapid change and gentrification.
The centerpiece of the project is a series of 788 drawings of individual buildings in the area, from turn-of-the-century brownstones, to historic churches and jazz clubs, to neighborhood bodegas, hair-braiding shops, liquor stores and crumbling tenement buildings. Done in black watercolor pencil on 11×11” sheets of paper, the modest drawings collectively form a comprehensive document of this specific place at this specific moment in history.
In addition, the project involves a series of “blood maps” outlining the paths of LaBelle!s daily walks through the area; a group of small scale sculptures titled Colonies utilizing articles of clothing found on the streets of Harlem; and a pair of men’s two-piece suits made from the upholstery of abandoned sofas. Referencing the body (and the numerous unseen “bodies” inhabiting the buildings in the drawings), LaBelle calls our attention to the way in which space- specifically the built space of the city- plays a powerful role in the construction of both individual and collective identities.
As Gean Moreno has written, “LaBelle’s explorations of the city are never divorced from his continuous inquiry of the body. He roams, collects, swallows, records, drives—and the physical act is always as important as whatever objects results from it.”