Smack Mellon is pleased to present SITE 92: Work Permit Approved, the third exhibition in a series that features site specific installations. Smack Mellon’s expansive gallery space lends itself well to site specific projects. Not only does the building’s uncommon architecture provide interesting points of departure for artists, but the unique history of the building does as well.
Originally built in the late 1800’s, the building powered Robert Gair’s manufacturing empire. Coal fired boilers, housed inside, created steam heat and energy for Gair’s nearby warehouses that manufactured corrugated cardboard boxes. The most unusual remnant from the building’s past is the 75-foot long coal trough that is braced to the ceiling by seventeen 18-foot high concrete and metal pillars running through the center of the gallery. The ceiling soars to 35 feet in the 5,000 square foot gallery. Twenty-five windows on two levels provide the exhibition with a picturesque backdrop of Manhattan and the East River.
The gallery also has many areas inaccessible to the public. Rob Swainston and Jo Q. Nelson explore these hidden areas. Swainston investigates the unseen space behind the gallery drywall with his print installation, In Front of Behind the Wall. Three long paper scrolls reveal part of the obscured brick wall and then cascade into a chaotic unraveling of abstract socio-architectural machination. Meanwhile, Nelson’s interactive installation provides viewers with access to aerial vantage points of the gallery. Viewers manually raise a pulley-mounted camera to the 35’ high ceiling while watching a live feed of the camera’s ascent.
Jin Lee’s cut paper installation responds to the industrial past of the building and its changing identity; the space once providing steam power is now a center of culture generating creative energy. As Lee intricately renders the boiler machines of the past and the cityscapes of the vibrant and newly gentrified neighborhood, her primary material, paper, gives a nod to the Gair empire.
The once industrial building now also houses Smack Mellon’s Artist Studio Program. As a past artist in residence, Janelle Iglesias’ relationship to the space is familiar and intimate. During her residency, the producer of steam heat for her was a teapot. As a result, her installation, A watched pot never boils, features a whistling tea pot hanging from a bridge-like structure made of scavenged ladders, pallets and driftwood collected along the East River. The sound signifies both personal and historical use of the building while the structure is inspired by the neighboring bridges.
Viviane Rombaldi Seppey and Clare Churchouse examine the location of the building and its proximity to the East River. Rombaldi’s window installation, composed of everyday plastic bags, accentuates the relationship between the man-made and the natural environment as the imagery mimics the rippling waves of the East River which can also be seen from the gallery. Churchouse also incorporates information about the nearby river. Creating a mixed media installation that combines three-dimensional thread drawing within a narrative structure, Churchouse overlaps relational systems (timelines, language, scalar measurements) that are juxtaposed with the underground and aboveground industrial infrastructure, and land use around Smack Mellon.
Cailtin Masley and Hong Seon Jang address the viewer’s perception of the gallery space. Masley records the forms found in the gallery’s architecture and “rebuilds” the space into a series of suspended minimalist sculptures hung at eye level. Meanwhile, Jang cuts and shapes fifty years worth of National Geographic magazines mimicking the natural accretion of stalactites, emphasizing the cavernous feeling of the gallery.
Less specifically referential to the building, Timothy Nolan and Yumi Janairo Roth incorporate physical elements of the gallery in their installations. Roth creates a chain link fence made of sterling silver that encircles one of the gallery’s metal pillars. Chain link fence is routinely associated with cordoning off construction sites, demarcating private and/or abandoned property, and more recently establishing uninviting borders between the US and Mexico. Conversely the elevated value of Roth’s silver fence evokes desire for the object itself rather than the area to which it is restricting access. Meanwhile, using white and mirror laminated shapes arranged on the concrete floor, Nolan creates a pattern that suggests fleeting allusions to three-dimensional forms. The mirrored surfaces reflect the ceiling and catch ambient light and colors. From one viewpoint they read as silver, like light reflecting off the water, from another they read as bright white, like pockets of rising steam.