When I started photographing these abandoned places I was most interested in the dark side: the ugly underbelly of society turned beautiful by the camera’s eye. I photographed Pennhurst – an abandoned children’s asylum – with great excitement. The idea of exploring a place where so much life had gone wrong filled me with a strange power, perhaps akin to that idea of wrestling with our own demons. But afterwards I was reluctant to share the photographs. The empty, sheeted bed with the peeling walls behind it was so incredibly sad – and the bed itself a kind of relief map of those who had used it. I was almost embarrassed by bearing witness to the stark devastation of this place; not just the walls but the human spirits that seemed to haunt Pennhurst.
Photographing this theater is at the opposite side of that experience spectrum. The paint is faded, yes – the artifacts sit in silent storage. But they remind us of an era of opulence. The portrait of the projectionist hangs on the wall above his private sink in the projector room, celebrating and honoring his life. The machinery of the then state-of-the-art projectors is cheery with its red and yellow lettering, the bakelite knobs. And the theater is owned by a non profit organization that is actively restoring it as a music venue – hope abounds.
I don’t know if the experiences of photographing these two places and my responses to them are a map of my own psyche or not, but I’ve learned a lot about what moves me as an artist, and I’m looking forward to exploring that more.
Artist Statement • Broken Threads
A sewing station in a textile mill sits abandoned but intact, as if the worker walked out mid-shift and never returned. You can picture her sitting there; you can see the color choices she made in gathering her work materials. Christmas decorations sit idly on a desk as though waiting to be hung for the season. A calendar lies on the floor open to the last day. At an abandoned resort in the Catskills lounge chairs sit poolside next to the encroaching fern forest, a nova ecology that patiently reclaims the site, the broken threads of thousands of stories clanging against the walls.
We continue to build, celebrate, then to abandon our commercial icons. Nothing is permanent, though when we built these factories and trains and swimming pools they were constructed of stone and steel – evidence of our hope and commitment. But we turn our backs on these places when they no longer serve our desires, and they are left behind to decompose slowly back into the earth. We want to preserve our past, but broken threads tell only part of the story. These places sit in waiting and keep our secrets.
The photographs are means of preservation. Finding small moments, splashed color within these spaces, like sparks of memory just outside our reach, remind us that they once harbored dreams and lives and the objects of our desires – some forgotten. The Map Weaves reflect the changing landscape, boundaries broken by political change and environmental dissolution. The Music Weaves touch on the broken threads of communication; a breakdown of the universal language. The pieces are deconstructed and reformed, then the weaves are sealed in wax, obfuscating meaning while preserving history.
I returned to the SLC one sunny, hot Saturday because it was so huge I was convinced I hadn’t seen the whole thing the first time I visited. I was right. I crunched through vast rooms of interior landscapes, fascinated by reflecting pools, greenery, tiny waterfalls and a strange moss that covered some of the damper regions of the factory. There had been changes since my visit last fall. The bowling alley was in greater disrepair. The groovy yellow couch had been moved, so had the jaunty chair near the kitchen. I concentrated on the cavernous wide-open rooms, recording the various characters of each one. I found the “crate room” – missed on the previous visit, and the office with its wall of glass block and red mantle. I found the clock tower, previously missed. But I couldn’t bring myself to climb the final flight up inside to get the shot I wanted. The stairs were too steep and I am to afraid of heights. I never made it to the giant loom room, and I missed some interesting spaces in that wing.
But I’m going back. The complex is scheduled to be torn down in October. September 5th may be the last date that the factory will be opened up to urban exploration. So I’m taking it, and I’m determined to climb those steep steps up into the tower next time.
I’ve been working on this book, a reflection of my other blog NYC Outside the Lines. Go to the site, take a look, and feel free to purchase!
Picking up on my series of visits to abandoned places, this is a theater in New England. The venue presented some unique problems; unlike the factories, resorts and schools I’ve visited, the theater had no windows. I learned a bit about painting with light and filled in some of the dark corners. It was a pleasure to crunch around on uneven floors, work in silence and smell those familiar odors of abandonment once more. Looking forward to tripping up to the Catskills to explore another resort in a couple of weeks.
I was fortunate to be a member of a team of weavers invited to Catslair, an artist residency at the foot of the Catskills in Upstate New York earlier this month. I spent three weeks creating site-specific works of my own design, continuing my series, Mapweaves, and assisting with a group installation on the beautiful grounds of the estate where we stayed. It is such a gift to be able to spend three solid weeks doing nothing but creating art. The wifi was weak, there was no TV, and even the cell phone signal was sporadic. So it really was a focused period with few distractions but for the daily walk to the river.
These are a few of the pieces I created for the Mapweaves series while at the residency. I’m interested in the play of deconstructing place and then re-assembling the pieces to create merged worlds and lands. The music pieces follow a similar process but take on a different meaning: re-inventing language and information in the highly structured form of the grid, which simultaneously blurs the original meaning of the chosen script.
Some of the things I think about while engaged in the process: places I’ve visited, places in history and how the engage in new geographies when woven together; the sounds of the notes, music past and present, yet to be imagined; the discovery of how small the world is: how closely culturally diverse cities reside; how large the world is, that the earth holds so many places that no one person will hope to visit all of them, ever.
All of these works are woven paper with beeswax. They all live in my studio, which is open by appointment or chance.
Back to the Lower East Side, this time to tour a very few of the scores of community gardens in the neighborhood. The flourish of greenspace cultivation started in 1973 with the Green Guerillas, a movement that began with a single seed bomb tossed into a vacant lot. A reaction to the territorial divides brought about by the financial turmoil of the decade between the foreclosed, the city and urban pioneer developers, the movement quickly gained momentum. Gardeners educated themselves and began to organize; these urban oases sprang up all over the city, but are most concentrated in the East Village and the Lower East Side. This map lists 85 current and former gardens below 14th Street:
Noted on the map are several endangered gardens, and some that have been demolished, so the fate of this movement is still in question.
This is a series of weavings I have been working on in the studio for the last six months or so. I cut maps from old atlases and then weave them together to create new, mystical countries. After weaving the maps together I treat them with wax and then sometimes add other materials: string, photographs…
I’ve always had a fascination with “place”. And I enjoy working with encaustic to create weird collages. The process represented here combines these interests.
These are all from a trip to New Orleans a friend and I took this past week. The vibrant color is real and aptly represents the positive energy of the neighborhoods we visited. Most of these were taken in the Bywater, some in the Warehouse District.
Last week I wrapped up another road trip. We drove form NYC to Florida to visit friends and relatives, and to get some relief from the cold. On the way we stopped for lunch at South of the Border. It wasn’t how I remembered it – but my first visit was on one of those a dark, rainy nights where the world is all but invisible..
I was here only once before, years ago. My parents were stationed in Orlando, Florida and I was going to school in upstate New York. After freshman year I accepted a ride from an acquaintance who lived in Miami. He had a van, long hair, and he drank a lot of coffee and smoked a lot of cigarettes between Annandale and Orlando. I was feeling crummy the whole trip – the last night at school had been celebratory and I probably smoked two packs of cigarettes along with whatever we all drank at the final party of the year. So I quit. I’d been smoking since I was eleven, I was addicted, but that was it – I just didn’t want to ever smoke another cigarette – so I didn’t. Still haven’t.
My driver wanted to go straight, without stopping, all the way to Florida. He mentioned dinner at South of the Border – something to look forward to. Other than that he didn’t say one word to me the whole ride, and, since he was a graduating senior on his way to law school that fall I was too intimidated to start up a conversation. I remember it was raining – dreary. Finally we pulled into the small metropolis that was SOTB and walked into a shabby little building where you had to order at the counter then take your food to a table nearby or out to the car. It was crowded.
After several minutes on line my companion stepped up to the counter and ordered for both of us. A woman at his elbow received her order but told the counter attendant to take it back. “He breathed over my food” she said. Loudly and glaring in our direction. I steeled a sideways glance at my companion. He was looking down at the counter, his cheeks reddened. After some back and forth the lady was brought a new dinner – the styrofoam container sealed shut. We stepped aside to let her pass.
We took our food to the car. We ate in silence. My friend drove. I slept a bit after that, and when we arrived in Orlando he helped me to the door with my bags, said hello to my parents and went on his way.