Reconstruct: Artists React to the Changing Fabric of the City

Highest and Best Use (111 Lawrence Street), Lawrence Mesich, archival inkjet print on polypropylene film

The Salena Gallery at Long Island University (LIU)   in Downtown Brooklyn is hosting an exhibit that speaks to the rapid changes to the urban fabric, with its location at the epicenter of  urban transformation making it particularly pertinent. I live close by, and I am constantly astounded at the rapidity with which new buildings, both commercial and residential, are puncturing the skyline.   These are not your row houses or low rise buildings of yore, but rather glass and steel behemoths designed to house hundreds of residents and workers.  Needless to say, these developments have not been without controversy, especially as regards the lack of concomitant development of the area’s infrastructure. The exhibit, curated by Michal Gavish and Etty Yaniv, showcases the work of nine artists.  Here are my highlights.

Lawrence Mesich’s work is perhaps the most direct response to the changes in Downtown Brooklyn, as it expressly examines the 2004 rezoning of downtown Brooklyn.  In this exhibit are his 12-foot long digitally manipulated photographs of facades of some of the newest and tallest residential towers that have been erected in the borough. Their size, and the way they overflow onto the floor conveys the dislocation and disorientation that accompanies these new buildings. It’s title, Highest and Best Use calls into question the validity of that term as justification for much of the new residential development that is going on.  “Highest and best use” is a real estate valuation term to designate the use of a property that is physically, legally and financially feasible, and will also produce the highest profit.  Very often residential wins out over commercial, even though commercial use, such as office space, might make more sense in a given location.

Pennsylvania Avenue, Michal Gavish, archival ink and paint on layered paper and fabric

Michal Gavish has taken three panels of synthetic silk onto which she’s printed photographs of Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., where she lived for several years. The middle panel depicts buildings on the south east side of the avenue; on the other panels you’ll find the government buildings that populate the north west side, such as the FBI, the Department of Justice, the White House, etc. There’s also the occasional building that the artist has hand-painted. 

Buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue (SE), Michal Gavish, photos and watercolor on synthetic silk

The arrangement of her  photos, some of which are washed over in watercolor, reflect the crystalline geometries she studied in her previous career as a scientist – Michal has a PhD in Physical Polymer Chemistry – from our own CUNY!

from the Supernova Series, Simona Prives, screenprint, monotype and archival inkjet collage with ink, graphite and xerox transfer

Simona PrivesSupernova series of fantastical landscapes are full of ambiguity – it’s not clear where the boundary is between what’s natural and what’s imaginary. The finely-rendered intricate images in her densely layered prints – which combine drawing, etching, monotype, photo transfer, digital and physical collage – have a strong sense of movement underneath them, and you’ll find something new every time you look. 

Simona Previs, still from Death of a Sun, digital video

I enjoyed her short video, Death of a Sun, that brings together all her techniques, as well as sound by Ross Williams, to create what seems to be a narrative on the continuum of destruction and rebirth. 

Brett Wallace explores the intersection of art, technology and commerce.  Last September, he started Amazing, a start-up in the form of art, that’s now a production company.  He explores the questions of how an artist reconciles labor, surveillance and technology, and the role of labor in the digital age. 

BS-i2-1.0_2016, Brett Wallace, Mixed media (hat, t-shirt, acrylic, steel hardware, wood, inkjet prints)

The background of this assemblage mimics the step and repeat logos that corporations often use.  In the plastic boxes are a real hat and tee-shirt worn by workers in a fulfillment center.

Drone Delivery 3, Brett Wallace, inkjet archival print on dibond

This photo is taken in front of a gallery to which he was shipping art in laser cut boxes with different phrases – the first time a drone was used to deliver art!

Elizabeth Riley with City Remix installation. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Elizabeth Riley‘s City Remix is the result of a multi-step video-digital process.  She used her video “Dragons of Iceland,” to create a new video of a growing city.  She then selected stills from that second video, manipulating and ink-jet printing them onto fabric, plastic and paper which she’s draped over installation racks, so that by moving the racks, you can change what the “city” looks like.   

detail from City Remix, Elizabeth Riley, digital film images on paper, cloth and clear plastic

It’s fun to get up close to the racks, to see how the colors and patterns look close up, and how the background material affects the way they look. I really like her use of color.

There’s more to see in this show, which is up only until April 26th.  So find your way over to the Salena Gallery at Long Island University in downtown Brooklyn, and see this show before it closes. 

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