Greenpoint Column, Doors to the Bronx
If you ever do leave Greenpoint, check out Greenpoint artist Gabriela Salazar’s public project For Closure (Outdoors, the Bronx), freshly installed at the Bronx’s West Farms Sq train station on East Tremont ave. A towering stack of cards made from locally found doors, For Closure illustrates current and ongoing fragility in security and housing while fitting in surprisingly well with its local surroundings. The sheer prefab modularity of the work might have most passerby thinking it a relic of local sixties or seventies urban landscape design.
Monumental and ambitious, Salazar’s new construction furthers a body of work that questions the faith and assumption of architectural structure and support. The Greenpointer was able to talk with Salazar about her last project for The Build Up at Greenpoint’s own Fowler Art’s Collective.
The Specifics of Gabriela Salazar
With the infamous white cube dissolving into the narrative of the real world, artists and exhibitors are exploiting the dialogue found between lively work and worldly surroundings. It was modernism that insisted on hermetic environments. Art today is less autonomous than it has been in over a hundred years and the fresh air continues to invigorate post-profane practices.
Greenpoint’s Fowler Art Collective recently hosted The Build Up, a four person show using a not-quite-white, not-quite-cube to demonstrate this more-than-current development. Fowler has a clearing within art studios that is used for shows, and the energy of these studios, as well as the industrial atmosphere, bleeds in to the exhibition space. With a view of ongoing riverside construction, the main Fowler space doesn’t hide it’s warehouse character and The Build Up was a show that didn’t mind brushing a little dirt off its shoulder. The four artists (Heather Ramsdale, Gabriela Salazar, Sara Scheckloth, and Leigh Van Dozer) made work that was particularly aware of its housing.
Gabriela Salazar’s work in particular was an exemplary test of space/content dynamics and the Greenpointer had a chance to ask the artist about how such ideas come about.
(Greenpointer) For The Build Up you built a kind of support beam [beams run horizontal, columns vertical…maybe is there another way to put this?] out of words. Is this usually the kind of thing you do, or did the space and show – being a show about spatial interaction, in a rough-hewn room – tell you what to do?
(Salazar) The piece you’re referring to, Column, came directly out of the specific conditions of Fowler’s gallery and the construction of the building. In much of my work, I am responding to the circumstances of where it is installed—the work becomes a collaboration between me and the site. For this show, I was interested in finding ways to let the architecture itself—the window, the columns, the door, floor, and walls—become an agent through which an idea or act could be pushed and made into a visual thing. The column made visible by Column is the only column in the space that is completely obscured by sheetrock, and across from the only freestanding column. This relationship between exposed and hidden structure, and mirroring of the use-value of the building (from factory to warehouse to artist space) felt important to the way I was approaching my participation in the show.
Column was actually a collaboration not only with the building, but—and perhaps unwittingly on her part—with Lia Post, Fowler’s director. The text that creates Column is a transcription of a conversation that Lia and I had earlier in the Fall as we were talking about the upcoming show. It’s a little hokey, but I came to understand our conversation as a sort of seance with the column hidden in the wall. Quite a bit gets lost in translation, but the column is trying to make itself known again through this conversation we had about it. A friend mentioned to me that the piece acts as a kind of conceptual caryatid, a personified column, and I like that idea.
Although it’s not the first time I’ve used text to “build” a piece, earlier attempts were almost all on paper. The words in that body of work would fill the page, and were constrained by the edges of the page. In this piece, the text makes the edges. In other words, the text is the piece and can become a thing apart from the support of the page (or here, the wall). The letters contrive to make their own shape for the knowledge they contain, for some kind of rough, imperfect, conveyor of knowledge about the building. Form and materiality both literally and metaphorically create the support. This is, to me, as close to a sculpture as I could get using text.
By focusing on inconspicuous architecture, the words come to represent unseen support. Column might infer gossip in a credit based society (that is, a place where a promise stands in for gold) but you use the word seance, as if the column were conjured by the conversation. Were you literally standing in front of the column when it came up? Did you really need it to be there at all? “Caryatid” again suggests that support, and people (in the case of a female supporter), can be vouched for by language.
Lia and I were between that column and the free-standing column, sort of going back and forth between the hidden one and the visible. The conversation was actually about both, at once, and we made a little game between them, volleying our conjectures and commentary to each other. With all the pieces in this show, I was really invested in finding ways to make the work through the existing site, using the building almost as a tool or intervening eye with which to force an idea, or experience, into the visible.
The flatness of the text sounds like a factor here. The words being symbols (rather than icon or index) act as both form and content. Is the physicality of the text important to your work?
It could be seen that way. The vinyl sits on the structure’s surface much the same way meaning does. It’s not intrinsic, it can change, it has its own physicality. And the text itself, the conversation that is transcribed to make the piece, is also sort of flat-footed, if that’s what you mean.
You also mention Column in regards to the other work in The Build Up. Does the collection in essence become a kind of architectural structure? Being that this was made specifically for a group show, how much did the other work inform yours, and viceversa?
I see the pieces as creating a set of actions, maybe, or, to continue on the path we’ve been taking, conversations with the site. My interest in this group of work was not to create a new architecture but to really do site-specific work; work that used the specifics of the site as a tool in its making. For me, it becomes about developing a grammar of seeing that leaves behind traces. For example, windows let in light; Daylight Savings uses this simple fact and takes it one step further—the shape of the light that is let in from the gallery window is sanded from the surfaces of the wall and floor, to mark a specific point, or time, on the path allowed it by the structure. The other piece besides Column and Daylight Savings, Volta do mar, is a little more complicated, as it makes use of both the physical surfaces of the floors of 67 West, and also the relationship between the studio and gallery. “Volta do mar” means “return to sea”, and refers to a navigational technique developed by the Portuguese in the late fifteenth century. Instead of waiting for the Mediterranean winds to turn so they could go back across the way they’d come, the Portuguese would point their ships tin the opposite direction, to follow the winds and circumnavigate the coast. They found that taking the longer way around was actually a faster way to get to their destination. So the idea for the piece came from this phrase and from literally traipsing back and forth between my studio down the hall to the gallery, trying to figure out what to do, what the swiftest means to my destination could be. And through this movement, the gallery door became a sort of hinge, or axis. The graphite rubbing of the floor in front of my studio door was transposed to the facing wall in the gallery. This is clearest if you imagine the doorway of the gallery space as the aperture of an optical device that fixes the relationship between the two positions. And like it would with a lens, the image is rotated and inverted. In a directly related maneuver, the floor of the entrance to Fowler was flipped up vertically onto the abutting wall as well.
To develop the show, the four of us (Leigh Van Durzer, Sara Shneckloth, and Heather Ramsdale) met back in March 2011 with a rough idea based on our shared interests and previous work. Then we basically took the long way around and came to dock in November with whatever was most present in our practices, our booty from the summer months. Because of the labor-intensive nature of the work I chose to make, I installed before everyone else brought their work in, and we didn’t get a real sense of what the show would look like until the day before. It was really gratifying to see it come together.