Maybe you saw a mid-century living room this past summer, positioned en plein air just off the Morgan L-train stop? Or perhaps you stumbled upon a bathroom, unplumbed but complete with claw-foot tub, out in the open in Chelsea? If not, keep looking.
#setinthestreet, an ongoing—and intentionally ephemeral—photography project, began as a cheap solution to an artist’s problem and quickly turned into a prankish gift to the city’s pedestrians. This past spring, Justin Bettman, a 23-year-old California native with a nose ring, was introduced to Gözde Eker, who is Turkish, also pierced, and 33. Bettman, a photographer, and Eker, a prop stylist, share a similar Wes Anderson–inspired kitsch aesthetic, and they came upon the idea of composing photographs produced inexpensively and outside: All they needed was a 90-degree angle, the place where the sidewalk meets a wall.
Sometimes the pair scout in tandem via Google Street View; other times Bettman uses his morning jogs to find both locations and props: lamps left on stoops, fans sitting amid recycling bins, a taxidermied deer head abandoned on Bedford Avenue. All are sprayed three times for bedbugs, stored in a carless, padlocked parking space belonging to a friend, and U-Hauled to the chosen location in the wee hours of the morning.
“We pay so much money for rent, but there’s so much available to us for free,” says Bettman. He and Eker insist they’re not littering but rather “curating furniture that has been disposed of and putting it all in one area for the community to see.” Fans even augment the scenes with items of their own. It’s urban entropy that is ultimately responsible for the sets’ disappearance—upholstery gets soggy, desirable accents get taken. A living room set up in Bushwick remained for eight days, while a bedroom on the Lower East Side lasted only three hours. Regardless, the lessons are the same: Furniture is freer than we think, and public space has a lot fewer rules.