Reactor

Online Archive Brings ’90s Williamsburg Warehouse Culture to Life

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 18, 2013

Poster by Velveeta Heartbreak for the first Cat's Head event, July 14, 1990 (click to enlarge) (all images via Immersionism archive on Facebook)

Poster by Velveeta Heartbreak for the first Cat’s Head event, July 14, 1990 (click to enlarge) (all images via immersionism archive on Facebook)

Grungy Williamsburg is a thing of the past. Warehouses can still be found around the neighborhood, but for the most part, they’ve slowly turning into more than just artist lofts, and the penniless bohemia of yesteryears has largely ceded their territory to bars, music venues, clubs, restaurants, coffee shops, and condos. These days, if you want a warehouse party, a chaotic, multisensory, immersive experience filled with art projects, performers, and booze, you can look at Kent Avenue, which still has a cluster of experimental spaces, but you might also look east towards East Williamsburg or Bushwick, or south to someplace like Gowanus or Sunset Park.

But Williamsburg was the original spot, the place where the 1990s warehouse scene and its attendant culture began. Three artists heavily involved in that beginning, Ethan Pettit, Ebon Fisher, and Susie Kahlich, are apparently at work on a book about Immersionism, as they call it, and in the process, they’ve put a really great archive of Immersionist culture online.

The material ranges from flyers for events to press clippings and photographs. They’ve also got an explanation of Immersionism and separate pages and albums devoted to nearly a dozen spaces and events. Because immersionism was pretty recent (the archive covers 1989–98), and because it was fairly underground, it’s a subculture that hasn’t, as far as I know, been widely documented or studied. Here’s an insightful passage from Pettit, Fisher, and Kahlich:

Immersionism was the largest and most identifiable cultural innovation to have emerged in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in recent history. It was largely on account of this development that Williamsburg in the early 90s made a transition from an outer-borough artists’ colony to a major international subculture in its own right. The Immersionists sparked a Brooklyn Renaissance. They helped to shift cultural protocols away from cold, postmodern cynicism, towards something a whole lot warmer: immersive, mutual world construction and the “blood of interconnection” as Ebon Fisher puts it in his manifesto, The Infinite Immersion.

Even if that’s overstating the case a little bit, it’s indisputable that immersionism had a big impact on the culture of Brooklyn as we know it today. It’s great to see members of the movement taking steps to document that and giving us a place to immerse ourselves in immersionism’s history.

Myk Henry, a principal architect of Immersionsim, and a dancer from Marisa's Peaches, circa 1990 (photo by Jessica Nissen)

Myk Henry, a key figure in Immersionsim, and a dancer from Marisa’s Peaches, circa 1990 (photo by Jessica Nissen)

Diagram by Ebon Fisher of the warehouse at N. 10th and Kent Avenue, showing the layout for Flytrap, June 15, 1991

Diagram by Ebon Fisher of the warehouse at N. 10th and Kent Avenue, showing the layout for Flytrap, June 15, 1991

A picture from Flytrap, with Ebon Fisher's "Human Suction/Reflection System (Endless Tissue)" circular diagram on the floor

A picture from Flytrap, with Ebon Fisher’s “Human Suction/Reflection System (Endless Tissue)” circular diagram on the floor

h/t @bkspaces

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