Volume 23, Number 8 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | July 2 - 8, 2010
Downtown Express photo by John Bayles
Rachel Bacon in her studio at Governor’s Island. Bacon said the space in Building 110 is unlike any she has ever occupied.
Artists, an island and the process
BY John Bayles
The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has created a new paradigm for interaction between artist and viewer — a group studio that allows the viewer a unique insight not only into the art, but into the process as well.
When artist Rachel Bacon received word that she had been accepted into the L.M.C.C.’s newest program on Governor’s Island, she already had an idea in mind for her project. That idea, however, was scrapped once she began spending time in her new studio.
Bacon originally wanted to create an “artists’ network,” but quickly realized the idea would not maximize the potential her new space offered.
“It was interview based, so I would have been off the island a lot,” said Bacon. “So this is more in tune with the island.”
Bacon decided instead to create a nostalgic piece that focuses both on the historical and the individual process. She has created a model of a Grumman Canoe, an aluminum canoe produced by the military aircraft manufacturer. She has also created a model of a birch tree that the Native American’s often used to build their canoes. In her piece, the birch tree has fallen onto the canoe. Both the tree and the canoe have direct ties to Governor Island’s history.
“It’s about the loss of not just the pristine past,” said Bacon, “but it’s about the whole process of getting old.”
Bacon is one of 24 visual artists and four groups that have been occupying Building 110 on the island since May. The program was created by the L.M.C.C., a non-profit that has been working with artists in shared or donated spaces since 9/11 to promote the Downtown art scene.
Building 110 was built in the 1870s as a storage space for munitions and served as offices for the Coast Guard and the Army. The L.M.C.C. gutted the top floor of the building and created a shared studio that offers each artist a dedicated space. But the organization purposefully did not partition off each space entirely; the result is a communal studio with ample natural light and a very open feel.
Diego Segalini, acting president of the council, said the space was created with the artists’ process in mind and that it is ultimately “project based.” Roughly half of the artists have chosen to incorporate either the island’s history or the island itself into their works.
Matt Jensen has created a multi-media piece that includes artifacts and found objects, like golf balls and toy cars, from his walks around the island. Larry Shea has created a replica of a wall from Fort Jay.
One group is the three artist team known as the Works Progress Collective. They have a sign in their space that reads: “Our process is our project.” The phrase could easily describe the entire project and it’s purpose as well. The Works Progress Collective has been interviewing passengers on the ferry and are juxtaposing their words with images of the Great Depression and the current recession.
The ferry ride that artists have to take every morning to get to the island, has served as inspiration for more than just the Works Progress Collective. Jongil Ma’s opening exhibit used his trademark bamboo painted in shades of blue inspired by the water to create a giant piece resembling waves and currents. And Sungmi Lee has been taking photographs on the ferry ride to the island and on the ride back and is creating “double images” splashed with a blue hue.
The ferry ride also adds structure to the artists’ works, something that can seem foreign to the creative world. The first ferry leaves at 6:45 a.m. in the morning and the last returning ferry is at 5 p.m. The structure forces the artists to focus their work in almost a 9 to 5 fashion.
But the experience for visitors is what the project is really all about. So often a gallery will have an exhibit and the artist may or not be there. For three weekends this summer, the next on July 23, visitors are allowed to walk through the space and see the artists working. And because it’s not your typical art gallery, the crowd is sometimes not your typical art crowd.
Ben Kerrick, associate director of artist residences for the L.M.C.C. noted that on the first open studio weekend in June, when over 1,000 people strolled through he space, the questions that were asked were far from typical.
“People were asking a lot of questions, like why the artists chose a particular color,” said Kerrick. “They weren’t afraid to ask anything.”
That sentiment stands in contrast to the stuffy art crowds that all too often pretend not to care about an artist’s process and to the typical exhibit where if the artists are not present, the question might go unanswered.
Another component of the project that the artists are keen on is the interaction between them. There is plenty of “art cross talk,” and according to Bacon one of the joys has been “seeing each other’s work grow.”
But again, it all comes back to the space, the island and even the ferry ride. Bacon has had numerous studios, but said without a doubt that her current space in Building 110 is unparalleled.
“I have a lot of residences,” said Bacon. “Once, even beside a river. But being on an island, riding the ferry – it’s almost cleansing.”