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Artist Posts 17th Century Word on Billboard

Parbunkells Billboard Lamar Advertising NYC
Artist seeks to connect with passersby via billboard on Forest Hills Corner

A Brooklyn-based artist posted a rare 17th-century English word on a previously empty billboard in Forest Hills — but she wants to be the only one using it.

Julia Weist said she found the word, which means "coming together through the binding of two ropes," at the Rare Book Division of the New York Public Library in a 1627 publication about vocabulary related to sailors and their trade.

She claims to be the only person to use the word online, posting it on her webpage as part of her project "Reach" — and is asking people to help it stay that way.

Last Friday, the word was also displayed on the billboard, which hovers atop a Tudor-style building at the busy intersection of Queens Boulevard and 71st Avenue, as part of a project that turns the city's vacant ad spaces into public art.

Those curious about the word are invited to visit the site, but are asked by Weist not to use it anywhere else online because she wants people to experience "this rare singularity on the Internet."

"It's an experiment," she said, adding that she is not sure "if it's even practically possible" to keep it this way.

"I find it really beautiful," she said. "There is something rare and fragile about it."

She said she will try to contact people who use the word online in the future and ask them to remove it.  

Weist said she was looking for an old word that is no longer used in a modern language but which has a meaning capable of connecting people.

“This is where I come to be alone,” she wrote on the webpage. “We’re here together now.”

The project, she said, actually physically brings her together with those who access her website because each time the page is visited, the site sends a signal to a switchboard connected to a lamp in her apartment, which then turns on for 15 seconds. 

"So they are actually reaching out from wherever they are into my home and making an action happen," Weist said.

Since the project was installed, she said, every day at least a couple of people visited the site.

She hopes dozens more will get to know about it in the coming weeks. 

The installation, which was sponsored by Lamar Advertising Company, which owns the billboard, will remain at the intersection for at least a month, the organizers said. 

More than 123,000 people walk near the billboard every week, according to 14x48, a nonprofit that repurposes empty billboards and uses them as a public art space. 

The project is the eighth produced by 14x48, according to Ben Beinecke, the nonprofit's co-director.  

The goal, he said, is to create more opportunities in public art for emerging artists and to "enliven the urban environment with something that we think is fun and interesting."

Weist said she wanted her project to be installed in Queens because of the borough's diversity.

“It’s just so exciting to me that it can be seen by such a diverse group of people," she said.

The original article appeared on »

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