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Exploring the Southern Edge of Bushwick Open Studios

Bushwick Open Studios (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)
Bushwick Open Studios (all photographs by the author for Hyperallergic)

There aren’t as many outskirts to Bushwick Open Studios as there once were. The 2013 edition was brimming even at the very edges of designated “Bushwick,” which really oozes over into the adjacent East Williamsburg and Ridgewood, though it seems steadfast in not stepping over the Broadway line to Bed-Stuy. It was in this area just north of the Broadway border that I set out to explore this past weekend, and where even if it’s only getting more developed, it’s still anchored by some more offbeat places to see and create art. A 48-foot tractor trailer, for one.

The Deconsumptionists trailers
The Deconsumptionists trailer

Over in a truck yard, EIDIA House has their mobile outpost, which recently got hooked up with solar power. Called “The Deconsumptionists,” the project of Paul Lamarre and Melissa Wolf started as a way to archive and store art which could no longer fit in their studio space at the base of the Williamsburg Bridge. Now the work is lined up and catalogued in half the trailer, leaving the other half for exhibitions.

Art by Andrea Monti in the Deconsumptionists trailer
Art by Andrea Monti in the Deconsumptionists trailer

For Bushwick Open Studios, that was a sparse, but interesting, installation by Andrea Monti of Microscope Gallery called Loose Ends brooding on the fizzled out ends of pop culture, from Justin Bieber to Star Wars to the stark finality of building a piece of IKEA furniture.

Stairwell at Silent Barn
Stairwell at Silent Barn

The fantastic DIY space Silent Barn returned earlier this year, and while it’s better known for music, it’s just as much a place for experimenting with visual art. The stairwells certainly had their fair share of it.

Video installation by SPCL NTRST in Silent Barn
Video installation by SPCL NTRST in Silent Barn

And the actual studio spaces were even more packed with art. I was particularly drawn to, and then unsettled by, these experiments by the collaborative duo SPCL NTRST of self-help and instructional videos. For example, this video seemed to be for resuscitation training, and the video convulsed nightmarishly.

Installation by Raul de Nieves
Installation by Raul de Nieves

Along with its barber shop, dinner club, and museum for video game artists Babycastles, there’s a gallery within Silent Barn called Big Lawn Country Club. There, Raul de Nieves had installed a whole room covered in a manic collage of paper with a childlike figure hanging from the ceiling, like the kid had come through in a creative frenzy and unleashed itself on the walls.

Art by Mata Ruda
Art by Mata Ruda
Art by Mata Ruda
Art by Mata Ruda

Bushwick is rich with great live-work artist spaces, and the Schoolhouse, which is actually in an old refurbished schoolhouse, is one that consistently has engaging art. For Bushwick Open Studios, it hosted an exhibition called Incurable Otherness with Mata Ruda. The sweet mural-based work had mash-ups like Olmec’s head on the body of Augustus of Prima Porta, colliding the heritage of Mesoamerica with old Europe.

Photographs by Victoria Manning in Silver Projects
Photographs by Victoria Manning in Silver Projects

HOTEL over on Broadway has been an artist live and work space for over a decade, but Bushwick Open Studios was the launch of their next exhibition space, Silver Projects. The first show is focused on photography, and I especially liked Victoria Manning’s series of photographs that interpret early mental health documentation on mania, bringing its initial source as a type of induced performance into being an actual art performance.

Studio of Cat Glennon
Studio of Cat Glennon

The diverse group of artists with studios in HOTEL all had a really direct, meticulous aesthetic. I stopped in the studio of Cat Glennon, whose drawings, collages, and zines (and sometimes cat skulls) are all about the idea of self and how it’s visualized.

Studio of Ken Madore
Studio of Ken Madore

Also working with concentrated detail was Ken Madore, whose incredibly complex drawings have surreal scenes of people exploding into plants and mystical symbolism.

Art by Rahul Alexander
Art by Rahul Alexander

Rahul Alexander at HOTEL has a really dynamic approach to language, materials, and creating sorts of visual puzzles. For example, here’s a piece where you first see “whiskey,” and then the words behind it continue to spell out each letter with another word (“hotel,” “india,” etc.).

Studio of James Reeder
Studio of James Reeder

James Reeder, who also organized the Silver Projects exhibition, had an amazing collection of vintage postcards, which he uses for source material for drawings. These are then turned into a new landscape which he photographs again to make his own images of the idea of a place he imagines traveling to, just the kind of feeling a postcard received in the mail is meant to evoke. Here on the left he’s assembling Mount Fiji for a future piece.

Studio of Tone Connors
Studio of Tone Connors

While far from a DIY or unusual space, CastleBraid is still an unexpected place, having started a few years ago as a massive artist-centric apartment space with a condo vibe. I was surprised there weren’t more studios open (just four), but I was glad I got in to see Tone Connors‘ antler art. Sure, there might be a little too much antler art these days, but I thought the skulls swirling with multiple antlers and detached horns clustered on wood platforms were really elegantly done.

Studio of Heather Merckle
Studio of Heather Merckle

Also in CastleBraid was another artist fixated on a singular object, this being Heather Merckle and balloons. Her latest work is exploring the surfaces of balloons and the strange textures they take on in their stages of inflation, and their similarities in those stages to humans.

Art by Romy Scheroder
Art by Romy Scheroder

Of course, while it’s essential to Bushwick Open Studios to have some sort of agenda if you’re going to make it through with your sanity, especially in this blazing early summer heat, it’s also important to be open to wandering into anywhere with a little BOS sign. That’s how I ended up seeing the work of Romy Sheroder, who manipulates the familiar form of a chair into chaotic distortions, a playful and intriguing challenge of our assumptions of what a chair should be.

Mural painting outside Little Skips
Mural painting outside Little Skips

It’s impossible to get a whole view of what’s happening in Bushwick from an afternoon, but from visiting some of these unexpected art places and artist live/work residences I was impressed with the focus of vision that each artist had. Sure, this edge of Bushwick might still not be on the beaten Open Studios path, but there have long been interesting things happening here, and it’s only getting more active. However, it can feel a bit detached from the story of Bushwick, of the place it’s been and what it’s increasingly becoming.

There was a moment when I was standing at the friendly little coffee bastion Little Skips around Myrtle and Bushwick. I could look over to the former mansion of Frederick Cook, one-time claimer of the “first at the North Pole” title (he controversially lost the battle for that to Robert Peary), which was run down and now converted into apartments. Before it stands the broad wings of an angel at a war memorial, and above the street is the rumble of the train. Pockets of recent commercialization are all around, and some old brewer mansions stand down the street, left over from the 19th and early 20th centuries, one turned into a Nuwaubian bookstore. Artists were covering a nearby wall with a vibrant, frenzied mural. A group of motorcycles gathered at the other end of the street. What is this place? With all this happening at one corner, it’s hard to tell just what the identity of Bushwick is, but that’s also what makes it so fascinating to explore. And even if none of the art I saw was directly responding to that dynamic sense of place, there’s likely some inspiration in its constantly building and changing energy.

Walking in Bushwick
Walking in Bushwick

Bushwick Open Studios 2013 was May 31 to June 2.

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