The Nancys

(Work in progress)


New York

Different formats


Nan and Nancy from Cordoba, Argentina, lived for almost five years in Queens, New York without residence or working permission. In May 2006 they moved to Barcelona, Spain. The project is based on a 5-hour-sound recording that we made in September 2012 in Berlin.

From September 2001 until April 2002 the two Nancy’s worked with other Latin American women as housecleaners for the asbestos company „BRANCH“ in the completely sealed zone of the Ground Zero, cleaning luxury flats that had been owned by bankers, lawyers, millionaires, rock musicians and artists. They cleaned the buildings on Wall Street, the Bank of America, the Merrill Lynch building and many more. In recognition of their services they were awarded a medal by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, along with fire workers and military leaders. But none of the women entering and leaving the Ground Zero security zone every day owned a working permit or even a residence permit.

As a time based art project the installation will shift meanings in a non-linear way and reassemble them. We will split up the collective trauma “Ground Zero” and, in a reconstructed space, regarded from different perspectives: feminist, migrant and from within.


Short extract from the audio report
(5 hrs in total, translation from Spanish)

NAN: They divided us in groups of four or five persons. Each group had a supervisor, and each group entered one apartment. The buildings were 30 floors high and consisted of about 200 apartments. Just to give you an idea of the work that had to be done by the workers, that means: us, the immigrants. You didn’t see any US Americans, any gringos doing the cleaning. We were all Latinos. No Europeans, no people from India, Japan or China. At least in the enterprise we were working for. I’m talking of BRANCH services, an enterprise that does asbestos removal. Luckily, there were Nancy, Delta and Delia in my group. At the beginning, there was also Rosa working with us, but she became a supervisor. She got involved with the manager, a guy from Colombia, and was promoted immediately. When we began we entered an incredible building, typical for Manhattan, in Greenwich Street. That was the first one.

NANCY: Outside in a distance of 150 meters you could see those famous metal bars smoldering. We heard the trumpet every time they found a dead body between the ruins.

NAN: When we opened the door of the first apartment, the impression was the same as outside on the streets. Everything was covered with layers of ashes. There were about 15cm on the tables. The bed, the bathroom, everything was covered with white ashes.

NANCY: What impressed me the most was how these people had left the apartment. There was still a piece of donut somebody had had with his coffee, a frying pan someone had left on the stove the night before. A woman’s underpants, pajama bottoms somebody had taken off. They didn’t have much time to dress because they had to get out quickly. You could see that from the way the flats looked like, you know? What was also very impressing was all this luxury, the living standard of these people. Each apartment seemed to be a universe in itself.

NAN: We saw photos of these people, but of course we never met them.

NANCY: Yes, we saw their photos, their faces, their lives.

NAN: We even gave them names. At the Chinese brokers’ place we called people Chon, or Chan Chun. We made jokes. We even laughed because Delta the Mexican woman played their roles like in a soap opera. I think we had to feel some life amid this smell of death. There was this carrion-like odor in the air.

NANCY: Yeah, a pungent smell.

NAN: And we had to accept that they talked of “wiping away people’s ashes”, because it was not only the ashes of the burnt building. We had big vacuum cleaners. It was our job to vacuum up everything. After that we wiped everything with damp cloth: glasses, bottles of wine, cushions, the bathroom…. We passed the vacuum cleaner everywhere. So we saw everything, the things they had left and how they had lived, their stuff, their photos, everything.

NANCY: The whole area was enclosed by a high wall. It was impossible to get through. And there were soldiers standing watch all the time. Nobody could come in. It was hermetically sealed, inaccessible. The security personnel had an official permission, so they had to come and let us in until we had our own permission, a plastic card you had to wear around your neck. They were quite in luck that none of us Latinos was a terrorist, no?
We were simply the ones who did the cleaning job. So their safety was a bit of a farce.


NAN: Once there should be awards. That was on a Sunday. Awards, and to it was a besieged place. There was a built camp, the tent of the Red Cross, and the US Army. There was the other Nancy, a Colombian woman we met towards the end, she was a lady who could not read and write but she was as old as us. She was ruined. Her whole family was in jail. She could neither read nor write but she slapped herself to get a few members of her family out. Money, your husband, son, and brother, do you understand? And she was a personality. When she laughed, the whole world turned around to see who it was.

NANCY: She cooked, she took her food to work and she invited us. She cooked very well and she looked very good.

NAN: There was Rosa de Francia, then followed Delia, my colleague from Mendoza, she always followed me. Delta the Mexican, the group actually stayed to the end. On the day of the awards we said: “Let us dine one of the food.” We went and put us together. They took us and said, “Come, here long.” And we said, “How kindly they invite us to dinner.” And they set us in a line, next to the military and firefighters, before all people. And you had to be strictly military.

NANCY: Delta, smaller than me, then Nan, the other Nancy and then came those two-meter gringos.

NAN: The medal was with the ribbon of the American flag. As they came nearer, we said, “They are coming to us.” And, indeed, they hung us these medals! We were in our workovers and they told us, “It is our honor”!

NANCY: One thing it is to see Gringos on TV and another thing is when they suddenly face you, these firemen and these military, almost 2 meters, such hermits, giants.

NAN: And they said, “For us, it´s a great honor that you, who reconstruct the Ground Zero, will be awarded for the merit of the American people. Throughout the time, we did not even say Muh. They didnt really know who we are. They could believe that we were Americans, a few more, right? I do not know what they thought. And then began the national anthem, and all with the hand on their chest. I clearly remember how I nodded Delia a blow to say, “Put your hand on your chest!” We have imitated everything. So and then so, with the American anthem pretend as if we did know the text, so with the mouth, make the facial expression: bababa … and so we made it. And then everybody shouted, “Bravo, Bravo!” And they held us back, the soldiers standing next to us, and said, “Please let us eat something.” And we sat down with them at the same table. And Nancy the Colombian sat at the head of the table.

NANCY: The highlight was her generous neckline, the unbuttoned overall, including the spaghetti straps and the tits so, she had impressive breasts, she looked good. And also Delia was one of those who unrestrainedly laughed. She was from Mendoza, but from the countryside, a village near Viña. It was the first time she had left Mendoza and she came straight into this movie. She was only twenty-two, and she screamed when she said, “Anto, look …” from the other side of the table.

NAN: It was all very embarrassing. And we spent quite a while there. And as inconspicuous as possible, we got up and left. We disappeared.



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