Does the surface remember? If we run our hands across the ground, does it speak to us? Does history reverberate through the asphalt, telling us of forgotten things? If we walk a mile do we better understand how long it is? If we plant and harvest corn, do we find a lost connection to the land, to ourselves?
Katarina Jerinec and Christina Kelly, both artists who contributed to the Battle Ground exhibit, examine surfaces, touching the ground, feeling their way to a connection between past and present. Jerinic got down on her hands and knees and photographed cracks in the pavement in front of Trader Joe’s at the corner of Atlantic and Court Streets in Brooklyn. Why? Because this was the purported site where George Washington stood, observing the massacre of several hundred Maryland farm boys as they held off the British.
Jerinic laced these delicate photographic cracks into a spiraling “map,” suggesting the path that wound to the top of Fort Ponkiesburg where Washington stood. The Revolutionary fort, now ignominiously replaced by Trader Joes, was leveled by the British soon after the Revolution. The “map” is included in Jerinic’s accordion book. On the book’s reverse side Jerinic added a photograph of the flagpole that tops Trader Joe’s today, a marker that illustrates how high the fort once stood.
Christina Kelly, in her 2010 public art installation at the corner of Smith and Bergen Streets, planted corn grown once grown by the Lenape Indians in this part of Brooklyn. Kelly’s installation, “Conditions on the Ground,” currently on view in our Hall of the Gowanus, is housed in an old filing cabinet given to Proteus Gowanus by the Brooklyn Museum Library.
Gleaned from her readings about the Battle, Kelly divided the historical narrative into descriptive categories, labeling the drawers with the headings: Fog, Tides, Forest, Wilderness, Cultivation, Weather, Peace. In each drawer Kelly placed a small installation. An opened drawer marked “Forest” reveals tiny, plastic wild boars and pinecones, and a description of how the Hessian troops, mercenaries hired by the British, enjoyed hunting wild boar native to the region. A drawer containing a watermelon, watermelon seeds (free for the taking), and a map points to the scene in which the opening shots of the Battle were fought over a watermelon patch.
Kelly has carefully recreated “library cards” including excerpts from a certain Colonel Tallmadge’s memoir of the Battle. She has inserted several of the Brooklyn Museum’s now defunct library cards into a drawer, all conveniently referring to books starting with the word “American.”
Katarina Jerinic’s artist book “Topography of Cobble Hill/Ponkiesberg/Corkscrew Fort, Brooklyn, NY” is currently available for sale ($10) in the Proteus Gowanus Gift Shop.
Christina Kelly’s “Conditions on the Ground” is currently on view in the Hall of the Gowanus at Proteus Gowanus.