A Voyeuristic, NSFW Look Into The Inner World Of Bushwick Artists

Brooklyn's Eldert Lofts — located at 345 Eldert Street on the east side of Bushwick — is like a Rent set come to real-world, vivid, living color. Inside, long lacquered hallways lead to cavernous apartments decorated like hippie bazaars. Brimming with exhaustive vinyl collections and flea-market finds, each space is a curated time capsule; as a whole, "Eldert" (as its residents call it) is a bricolage of the world and history of Brooklyn artists.

On the fourth floor, the musician and photographer Christiana Hank Dot Martin shares a unit with four roommates. She has lived in different Eldert apartments since 2005, when she ditched a West Coast life that was too cushy for comfort for a swan dive into New York reality. When a series of tenant evictions in 2011 led the fractured Eldert-mates to a renewed sense of community, Martin got the idea to shoot a calendar featuring their nude portraits. To raise funds for the project and finance additional group ventures at the lofts, she began an Indiegogo campaign. Now, she's shared her shots with us.

The calendar is a natural attention-grabber. But, despite the nudity, the project isn't lewd. The naked monthly starlets represent a complex, covert, and incredibly personal history that began with Eldert's transformation from textile factory to human habitat, then continued through a series of contested tenant evictions, and today lives on in the quirky — if not a bit rogue — residential life that is still thriving.

On Eldert's bespoke roof (the tenants worked together to construct their party space after the 2011 evictions), Martin let us in on everything we've been dying to know since we first set eyes the lofts.

Peek inside, but be careful: Eldert is a bit of a never-neverland, and you may never want to come home.
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Why did you leave San Francisco for New York?
"I came to New York for a new adventure. I loved San Francisco, but I became complacent and I felt like I wasn’t being pushed to become as articulate as I wanted to be in the creative work that I was doing. So, I thought that New York could help facilitate that.

"In order to [realize] your potential, you need some kind of resistance. You need a bit of conflict and struggle. It was harder for me to find that at that point in San Francisco, because everyone is so nurturing and supportive. You’re living literally in paradise. So, that’s the largest gift that New York has given me, and I’ll have that for the rest of my life. I know a lot of my friends feel the same way; however, I wouldn’t have stayed here for this long if I hadn’t found something that was resonant to me, this supportive environment that did feel nurturing. I found that in this building."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Tell us about the first people you met here.
"Funnily enough, the first person I met the day that I arrived at the building — the truck was still outside — was this guy named Rodrigo, who ended up moving out because of the vacates. I met him in the stairwell, and he was so nice and brought me up to his apartment and said, 'Hey, here's the super's number. Don't tell him I gave it to you,' and then showed me his apartment, which, full circle, I’m now living in. His place was a total Peter Pan space. He had so many plants. It was really, really not to code — like a collage, his place was a collage, a wood sculpture.

"I ended up taking Rodrigo's place because I knew him. It had so much love in it, so I was really glad that someone he knew ended up living in it after this traumatic experience. I [kept] some of the structure that he hadn’t [taken] down yet...even though they wanted to take it down.

"Then, there was this guy Forest, who had two apartments on the first floor. He had a music studio in one and lived in the other one. He had friends living in both places. His place was also very much not to code. He ended up leaving after the vacates, because they had to tear down his whole studio and all of the rooms that were in that apartment. One of the guys — Brandon Perry — lived in that apartment. He just opened a record store in Ridgewood. He's the guy who cuts your hair and sells you records at Silent Barn."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
What were the lofts like in 2005?
"At that point, everyone lived out here because it was cheap. It wasn't to be in the thick of it. It has shifted a lot. It's harder to be under the radar now. Back then, management would look the other way. They pretty much let you do what you wanted to do. Each person's house was a playground. Everyone had their own theater set of a dream — a magic play space where people didn’t have to work too much [because rents were so low].

"You could section off the spaces into however many you wanted to in the loft. People ended up paying $300 a month. When you’re paying $300 a month, you don’t have to work that much and you're in a huge space. Because it's not to code, you could have a small room, some weird hobbit-hole-matchbox creation that you’ve made, and work on your art and not work [other jobs] and have a life that’s very spontaneous and wild. It felt like being on a frontier.

"Our entertainment was within these walls — creating and working on projects together here. It is still that way, but now the apartments are double the price. Paying up to a thousand each, it’s a huge difference. It’s not that people here aren’t creative anymore, but when you have to work and you have to exhale after having worked, it’s a different kind of life."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Were there any other women there at the time?
"It was definitely predominantly men, which is one of the reasons it was such a great playground for me. Women didn’t feel safe living out this far. A huge change has happened — now women feel safe here and there are a lot of women who live in this building. There isn’t any specific demographic besides open-minded."

Have people in the building started hooking up?
"The building is very incestuous. People can’t help it; they end up dating people in the building."

What was that like as a 25-year-old?
"Fun, for sure. Being able to meet people you’re attracted to where you live — that’s exciting. Of course, that can cause drama, but people have been pretty mature about everything. Community is more important. People decide to get over whatever issues they may have."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
When did the evictions start?
"2011. It was one day. I was in the studio [that I had built], and I remember opening the door — I was in my robe; they had come in the loft — and this guy from the fire department was laughing and taking a picture. I don’t want to make them look bad, but that was literally what the experience was. They deemed our place 'uninhabitable.' I forget what the exact term was, but it was something extreme. They put stickers on half of the lofts in the building. We were supposed to be out by 6 p.m.

"Some people freaked out and grabbed all of their stuff. People who had lived there for six years suddenly moved out that day. Just imagine: living your life next to these people who have become your family, and then suddenly, they’re gone. It’s really, really intense and really sad. It brought the people who stayed a lot closer, because we fought to keep what we had, to keep as much as we could of each apartment."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Why were some people in such a rush to leave?
"It was so scary — like, how can somebody tell us that we can’t come back in our house? It just felt so unjust that, in that moment, those people felt there was no way they'd be able to find justice, because if something like this could happen, then we don’t even have a voice, we don’t even exist. I’m sure that’s how it felt, that it wasn’t even worth fighting for if you feel like your voice can’t be heard."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Did you have any inkling that evictions might happen?
"It was a phenomenon that was happening in other lofts, too. It wasn’t just here. The fire department ended up coming in because somebody had died in one of the crazier spaces. It was like a matchbox."

Was it a natural death?
"It was drug-related."

How long after the death did the fire department return?
"Within the next couple of weeks. When we found out that somebody had died down the hall, we were preparing for a dance that we were doing for Bushwick Open Studios, and the fire department buzzed the apartment that we were in. Two weeks later, [the evictions] happened."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
What gave you the confidence to stay?
"First of all, I’m really stubborn. Second of all, I put so much energy and love and time into my apartment (not that other people hadn’t). And money. I built it with an ex-boyfriend. Every single part of this place I put my love into. I wanted to feel what it felt like to demo it, too — to cry while I’m using a sledgehammer."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
When did you get the idea to make a calendar?
"After the trauma, it was even more of a community. Nine of us were sleeping in my friend's apartment. There were huge dinners all the time. It just felt like a natural unfolding, wanting to be creative. Being creative is a good way of healing. Working with people that you know and care about and love; it wasn’t a specific, contrived thing."

Why a calendar?
"I’ve always liked taking atmospheric portraits. I want to capture a person in their space and show what their environment is like: how they are articulate themselves, where they live, what inspires them, who they are. It’s not just what they look like. I like capturing their surroundings. We have a beautiful existence here. Let’s share it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
How did people react when you asked them to pose nude?
"At first, they weren't sure what perspective I was going to take, what angle."

Physically or philosophically?
"Both. Probably more philosophically. I’m sure a thought that crossed their minds was, Is this some objectification? I had to make it clear to them that it wasn’t as much about being a sexy thing; it wasn’t because sexy sells. It's more about it being playful. Inherently, there’s a sensuality and sexiness to seeing the human body, but that’s just a companion in the conversation. Once people understood that, they felt more comfortable."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
What's challenging about living in this environment?
"I have very specific dreams, but then, I’m also in this life that, in the moment, feels very fulfilling and saturated. It’s this continuous question that you ask yourself when you ask what is life about. Is it continuing with these goals and ambitions? Is it being able to have all these moments with these people that I feel close to and I connect with? A difficult challenge has been being able to find the difference between the two. I think a lot of people have moved out because they get so immersed in one thing versus the other. I want to be able to feel the warmth and stability and nurturing environment of being here, while also working on my dreams and goals and trying to find the balance between the two."

What advice would you give to people who are just moving to New York?
"The only answer that I really came to myself was figuring out a way to pay less rent. It involved compromise, the compromise of location, of shared space, of some weird scenario. It depends what your priorities are. There’s always a way to figure it out. But, you need to think separately from how everyone else is doing it. You have to be willing to live in different comfort zones. You are in New York, and space is expensive. Find people you connect with and make it something you enjoy. When you’re living by yourself, there are things that you miss. Maybe you have to share rooms, and then, you get a huge studio. Or, [maybe] it’s living way out, which is legit. Brooklyn is awesome."
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Photo: Courtesy of Christiana Hank Dot Martin.
Did you have a community like this when you were growing up?
"Since I can remember, I dreamed of living in a ‘happening.' I wanted to live in an environment where people have the freedom to be creative and spontaneous and collaborate and explore — working together, struggling together, deciding to live life together. I was fortunate enough to find a holding tank for this dream of mine in New York."
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