In a reflection of the current cultural preference for a “mashup” aesthetic, where decades, styles, processes, and technologies now often sit side-by-side, collage was one of the processes of choice this past weekend at the 2018 Gowanus Open Studios. With an average of 74 gigs of data being pushed at us by marketers on a daily basis, it is no wonder that a kind of all-at-onceness permeates everything from art to fashion to the constant cycle of nostalgic remakes.
In the paintings at the studio of Margaret Noel, tidy pen and ink canvases evolved into colorful encaustic collages depicting shelters partially destroyed by the onslaught of recent natural disasters. Playing with the history of pastoral painting, Noel reinterprets her landscapes to reflect the changes inflicted by earthquakes and demolition.
Other favorites included the slightly crude and indulgently retro collages of author Oliver Trager, full of 1960s icons and hippie symbolism, while the wall pieces of yogi Karen Gibbons took on the look of Readymade altarpieces, both irreverent and spiritual.
Building on this often messy and sometimes disjointed aesthetic were the crisp, almost painterly abstractions of Tegan Brozyna Roberts. Created with thread and paper cutouts and layered together like makeshift weavings, Roberts’s “Traverse Series” references futuristic and re-imagined world maps, optimistic in their color and clusters. At a time when lines seem to be constantly shifting — from rights to borders — these quiet pieces share a timely sensibility.
Delving deeper into the emotional was an installation housed inside the interdisciplinary Theater Mitu, where transitory feelings of loss and personal struggle were expressed in quiet videos with titles like, “The Im/possibility of Understanding Time.” During an intriguing collaboration between two cross-disciplinary artists, Whitney Ramage and Karen Y. Chan, viewers sat like audience members inside the darkened theater as Ramage performed bouldering-like acts of almost purposeless physical struggle in small, lo-fi projections. Carefully folded paper boats, placed like static fleets, lined the theater floor, giving the installation the feel of a wake.
In keeping with sentiments of constant change, shifting from the personal to the political, a small exhibition a St. Lydia’s dinner church, arranged by the Gowanus Houses Art Collective, showcased the photographs of teens living in local pubic housing. Tracey Pinkard, cofounder of the collective, discussed the growing disconnect and alienation her kids feel toward the continued gentrification of their neighborhood.
Turning their everyday into stills, the Gowanus Art Collective captured small, often unobserved moments in their community. About a compelling portrait titled “The Boxer,” 13-year-old photographers Joshua and Tyler stated, “We started to see these everyday things differently based on our angle and distance from them. It was exciting to use the camera to capture our point-of-view of the neighborhood.” With economists suggesting that Americans are feeling “empathy overload,” these works feel like they could save us from the vicious spiral of self-justification and dismissal.
Unsurprisingly, much of the artwork reflected an escapist mood, most interestingly in the studios of Patrick Jacobs and Jaz Harold, where the artificial and the virtual was explored in 3-D detail. Both artists appeared to be deeply influenced by digital culture, and walking into their studios was like opening an AR app, where nothing was quite what it appeared to be. Patrick Jacobs’s studio consisted of a massive space where the tools, molds, and distorting glass lenses were as demanding of the viewer as the artwork itself.
Dioramas, ranging from miniature to life-size, were the perfect backdrops to countless selfies, at once seductive and critical, making viewers painfully aware of how easy it can be to get lost in Instagramable spaces. Working in a candy-colored palette, the studio of Jaz Harold was full of silicone body parts — tongues, hands, breasts, faces — stitched together into dimensional and dismembered sculptures, so saccharin they took on an almost gruesome feel. Both artists suggested that questioning fantasies of escapism are as important as creating them.
Internalizing the issues we see circulating daily throughout the media and filtering them through their own lenses and experiences, the artists at Gowanus Open Studios gave us works that push and pull, suggest and contradict. With culture desperately in need of a respite from itself, overarching themes of nostalgia, equity, and fantasy come at the perfect time.
Gowanus Open Studios 2018 took place throughout Gowanus, Brooklyn October 20–21.