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For a total contrast to the sterile feel of many of the swarming art fairs last week in New York, where most art was untouchable in its protective frames, go to Long Island City to experience Headscapes. The group exhibition of over 25 artists doesn’t just encourage you to touch, but to crawl and climb inside installations as a playground of conceptual sculpture in an empty warehouse. The idea of this “brainstorm of installations” is to get inside the artists’ heads and immerse yourself in their mental worlds. It’s also something of a mini-fair of the creative arts constructors, the large part based in Brooklyn, who turn to boat building, DIY underground venues, and installations in abandoned spaces for their art, such as the Boatel, the art collective Rabid Hands, and Empire Drive-In. Corresponding work was shown at the Scope fair last week by See.Me, which is hosting a gallery component of Headscapes in its headquarters space next door to the warehouse.
While the gallery side of Headscapes includes the same artists as the installations next door, it lacks the same grab as those sometimes messy and scrappy sculptures in its traditional white walls, framed work-focused show. However, there was one artist who really caught my eye, which was Sarah Tompkins. Her curious wooden sculptures that look like useless oars, bending like chains, are at the entrance to the See.Me space. While I wasn’t sure what to make of them at first, her photographs on the wall nearby showed them used as otherworldy prosthetics, extending a young woman’s arms in black and white environments that haunt like strange dreams.
But back to the main installation event, which was not at all haunting or quiet during its opening on March 2, although it was rather otherworldly. A wandering crowd was exploring the installations, taking a treacherous-feeling rope ladder up to Alana Fitzgerald’s forested room or swaying back and forth on the towering wooden rocking chair created by Tompkins. Martyna Szczesna’s latticed wooden tower required you to get down on hands and knees on the warehouse floor and creep through to a perspective-challenging room with space for one, and in another corner Jah Jah Brown had built a tumble-down house with Jisho Roche Adachi and Benny Schepis scrawled with murals illuminated by a pulsing light, while alongside Benjamin Nathan Mortimer’s collaboration with Irene Ingrao attracted a group to hang out on its carpet beneath the low tent structure. There was even a whole car (missing a door) parked in the warehouse with an eerie winter scene on the dashboard window by Todd Chandler and Jeff Stark.
The Headscapes project was organized and curated by participating artists Jah Jah Brown, Nicholas Chatfield-Taylor, Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, and Benjamin Nathan Mortimer, working with See.Me, Rockrose, and Build it Green. Chatfield-Taylor’s cave/igloo of speakers was especially cool: all the speakers were facing in to the small room inside and there were microphones through which people could yell out to the space.
Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, another curator, also had an installation that completely pulled you into her world. The wood shack had intricate details of triangular structures of reclaimed wood and there were little details like a desk and glass cabinets, leading you to a tranquil space in the back, lined with layers of wood and patterned in places with pyramid shapes, all accessed by a small door.
Another striking experience was with an installation by Conrad Carlson, Ian Helwig, and Greg Henderson. It looked like a kiln from the outside, and inside a tower of wood with light shining out felt like a static fire. Outside there were a bunch of what looked like sheep descending into the top. I’m not sure what it all meant, but it was pretty impressive.
Up above the room there was a loft room covered in a neon mural by mural artists Maya Hayuk and Morgan Blair that looked like chaos at first, but it really had some fun details. The same was true for Serban Ionescu (a Romania-born artist who favors dark paintings, sometimes of Dracula-influenced subjects), whose tower that you ducked into was covered in a frantic stream of texts. Although while it was also chaos that morphed into something more after looking further, it was more on the unsettling side than fun.
There were plenty of details of the installation that you could discover from drifting around the exhibition, or more like clambering into, as really each of these offered some sort of physical experience that is unfortunately rare around fair seasons. As a gathering of some of the more adventurous creators in the city, Headscapes is a great reminder of how art can be a temporary, fleeting, totally engaged experience without losing any of its value, and how there are artists being creative with interaction in their art.
Headscapes shows through March 24 at 26-19 Jackson Avenue, Long Island City, Queens.