Monuments to Hart Island

Nicholas Hubbard, Rebecca Lieberman

Monuments to Hart Island is an explorable virtual environment that houses memorials to the present and history of Hart Island.


Hart Island is a one mile landform off the east coast of the Bronx, directly adjacent to City Island.  Originally used as a Civil War training, POW, and then burial location, it was purchased by the City of New York in 1869 and its primary purpose became serving as the final resting place for the indigent and unclaimed dead of the city.  Now managed by the Department of Corrections, Hart Island still fulfills this role, with as many as 1,500 bodies being buried on the island every year by inmates from Riker’s Island.

Monuments to Hart Island takes into account the island’s present condition, which is to say, nearly inaccessible and hidden in plain sight; you can’t actually go to Hart Island unless you arrange it through the DOC, cameras are not allowed, and unless you are a relative, you can’t visit burial sites (active or inactive).

As a result we have chosen the format of a virtual reality museum & memorial both to what physically exists on Hart Island and to the barriers faced when trying to encounter what’s there, using a 3d reconstruction of the island from aerial maps to allow a user  to navigate multiple layers of consciously obscured content and media. The experience is defined by a series of speculative & abstract memorials (or reimagined markers) that surface physical realities of burial on the island.

Our final installation at the ITP Winter Show will consist of:

An explorable virtual space/environment that tells the story of Hart Island, played in a headset (Oculus or Gear VR)

A small accompanying installation which includes a sign-in book that mimics the ledger visitors must register with through the NYC Department of Corrections

In-progress Unity demos


Cabinets of Wonder, DIY-VR, In Their Shoes