Buildings, in New York City especially, are so overwhelmingly big that they can sometimes seem to occupy our space and not the other way around. In “Castelo Plan” (2013), the New York-based artist Liene Bosquê has built a scale model of an island covered with many souvenir models, all cast in white, of One World Trade Center — the tallest building in the city and the Western Hemisphere. Included in Bosquê’s solo show Dismissed Traces at William Holman Gallery, the work replicates the map of New York during Dutch times, the contemporary skyscraper overlaying the history of the city. At the same time, in covering the island with this same skyscraper, the work suggests that each building in the city carries the memories associated with the construction at Ground Zero. One World Trade Center is no longer a single towering structure, but small and multiple. Installed on the gallery floor, we look down at the buildings, not up at them. “Castelo Plan” renders the skyscraper on a more human scale and implies that behind an assertive image of resilience is one of quiet mourning.
Loss, or the threat of loss, is an underlying theme in Dismissed Traces, where Bosquê is also showing her “Lower East Side Impressions” (2015): two cement slabs resembling gravestones marked with impressions from the sidewalks and historical building designs of Manhattan’s Lower East Side — an area undergoing continual redevelopment. Bosquê is interested in studying the social and urban history of the places where she lives and works (in addition to visual art, she has a degree in architecture and urbanism), especially those sites that are or have been under threat of change. In “Lower Manhattan Expressway,” a series of plates, which hang staggered across an entire wall, bears the images of buildings in Manhattan that would’ve been demolished by Robert Moses’s expressway plan. Again, Bosquê transforms a building into an object that can be handled and that is itself charged with memory. Plates depicting those buildings that were not saved have been broken, the shards resting on the gallery windowsill and floor.
Without context, it’s at times unclear whether the structures Bosquê references are still standing, disintegrating, or in use. In “Stockade” (2015), a group of bricks form a wobbly, circular barrier to seemingly no purpose. The shape is meant to imitate the stockades that Native American communities from Onondaga built, whereas the organic details impressed on the bricks were taken from the Erie Canal Museum, which is housed in a building that used to serve as Syracuse’s weigh lock. “Stockade,” then, is a combination of two historical memories and the result — like a number of Bosquê’s pieces — is a white, ghostly structure that appears out of place or detached from its original setting.
“I am in a quest for a sense of belonging,” Bosquê, who grew up in Brazil, told Hyperallergic. “I want to understand better the country and city where I have been living for the past seven years and because the feeling of displacement is always present in an immigrant life.” The buildings she depicts similarly struggle to belong. A video, maintaining a stationary perspective, films the oldest (1835) black church in Syracuse, the Amez Church, its windows sealed with brick. The building is remarkably silent and still — only the tarp draped over it, as if for burial, lifts and waves in the wind. The church is no longer in use and has fallen into disrepair, though there are community efforts afoot to preserve it. Next to the video hang latex molds of the church’s decrepit brick walls. The latex is thin and punctured, rendering the brick malleable like the tarp in the video. Dangling and fragile, the sculptures imbue the church with a sense of life, albeit a vulnerable one.
Though many of the structures and histories Bosquê deals with are far removed from most viewers’ lives — and even further from the artist’s native Brazil — the works can feel at once alien and intimate. The effect is not unlike Rachel Whiteread’s casts, where uncanny structures open up multiple meanings and personal associations by being invoked rather than directly presented. By shaping memories of buildings in everyday materials and sizes that we can hold and keep, Bosquê renders these large structures that we walk around and in as objects we carry with us wherever we go.
Liene Bosquê: Dismissed Traces continues at William Holman Gallery (65 Ludlow Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through November 14. An artist talk and reception will be held on Thursday, November 5 from 6–8pm at the gallery.