Through five panoramic photographs, artist Joergen Geerds explores the interconnections of space and community, humans and habitats, inside and out, self and other.
Start anywhere and you’ll quickly slip into Geerds-vision: Central Park is a space for enjoying grass and trees, inviting the warmth of the wilderness into the heart of the city. But the other side of the Park is its persistent emptiness (it is literally a hole in a field of skyscrapers), signalled here by a field of snow. This Park is not a lonely place, but very much an outside that has been invited in—a vampire of sorts, both awing and terrifying.
Astoria’s other side is its past: Here, a working class neighborhood was transformed into New York’s most diverse, becoming an anchor point in Robert Moses’s plan to transform the city. Geerds has lived in Astoria for many years; it cannot hide from him. In his image of historical Astoria, he catches an older building in the act of growing an enchanted hedge around itself—protection against a change that is inevitable, already creeping into the frame.
The Astoria pool, emptied of humans, also betrays its other side: It is an outdoor space, even when it’s treated as a private room. It is an outdoor space, yet it feels like an aqueous family den walled in by two bridges and the New York skyline. The pool, like the Park, is not lonely, but re-exteriorized… The sushi restaurant at the Esplanade, just south of the World Trade Center site in Battery Park, hints at a warm interior—only to have this warmth dragged out, in neon, into the empty street… The East River Park is caged by the installation above, but brought back outdoors by the fact it’s used only as a dog-run…
Geerds highlights here not a dissociating modern city, but its underlying structures and spaces, which—temporarily scrubbed free of people by the power of the camera—allow for unity, for community. Geerds’s alchemy shows us that the city is not so much a succession of insides and outsides as it is a plastic network of other sides.
In this critique of city spaces, Geerds’s photography recalls the maximal, place-focused interrogation of industry practiced by Allan Sekula and Noël Burch in The Forgotten Space. But—odd for a New York artist—Geerds does not bring a politics of exchange into his work.
If anything, he empties New York of its value as a site of exchange. He flattens the New York of capital (snowy parks, busy restaurants, bright streets) with the New York of snow and streets.
This attention to the elemental is what makes Geerds’s images so arresting: Are these photographs dark comments on a New York underneath, around, and above us all the time, hiding from us, shaping our lives?
Or are they agnostic, or even stoic works—intended to ask us questions about our city, yes, but also intended to question the spaces themselves, to bring them, in answering, into concert with one another, in the not-quite-dark of the long-exposure night?
Regardless of how we interpret or are questioned by Geerds’s many-sided New York, we can’t help but look at it, and look again.Text by Wythe Marschall