Proteoscope » Sasha Chavchavadze The Blog of Proteus Gowanus Thu, 12 Nov 2015 16:51:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Scratching the Surface Wed, 11 Sep 2013 23:07:01 +0000 Katarina Jerinic, Topography of Cobble Hill/Ponkiesberg/Corkscrew Fort, Brooklyn, NY

Katarina Jerinic, Topography of Cobble Hill/Ponkiesberg/Corkscrew Fort, Brooklyn, NY

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.

Christina Kelly, Conditions on the Ground, Detail 1

Christina Kelly, Conditions on the Ground, Detail 1

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.”

Christina Kelly, Conditions on the Ground, Detail 2

Christina Kelly, Conditions on the Ground, Detail 2





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.

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Robert Gould – The Tree Still Stands Thu, 25 Apr 2013 21:02:50 +0000 Maryland Willow R GouldBlog

Robert Gould, Maryland Willow of the Gowanus

Robert Gould finds constants through nature. While reading Georgia Fraser’s 1909 book “The Stone House of the Gowanus,” he encountered a description of an old willow tree that was thought to date back to the time of the Battle of Brooklyn. Though Gould thinks the story is apocryphal, it propelled him to search for a willow branch, trace its leaves, which he applied to an 87″ x 92″ painting. On each leaf he wrote the name of a Maryland soldier, many of whom were slaughtered in the culminating moments of the battle. Sometimes Gould uses dirt or crushed brick from battle sites as a painting medium.

These are not paintings that translate American Revolutionary imagery into kitsch or pop images as Larry Rivers did when he painted “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” Nor are they a jingoistic attempt to glorify, simplify or “re-enact” this dramatic event that took place in 1776. There is a sense of irony and loss in Gould’s paintings, which attempt to inhabit the “skin” of this forgotten moment, reliving its pathos. But the nostalgia here is not a longing to return, rather an attempt to use the past as a “medium” to integrate the present.

Could there be an unhealed “wound” in this forgotten battle, one of only two full-scale military invasions sustained by this country (the other was during the War of 1812)? Interestingly, when asked for his sources of inspiration, Gould cites the German artists Joseph Beuys and Anselm Kiefer. These artists were processing the brutality of World War II. Why, one might ask, didn’t American visual artists of the same generation use their wartime experiences as source material? The simple answer might be that World War II never reached U.S. soil. But American artists of that time seemed rooted in the “new,” wedded to a timeless formalism that considered any kind of nostalgia anathema.


Robert Gould, The Witness Tree

Gould’s pinhole camera images of battle sites, photographed with a refitted toy camera, telescope time and space, peering into the past.  Contemporary urban sites where the battle was fought are photographed simply as they are today. The images, such as “The Witness Tree,” an oak that stands today on a golf course, speak silently and directly about forgotten knowledge.


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Battle Redux Thu, 25 Apr 2013 20:23:35 +0000 170px-TurtleSubmarine

The Turtle, the first submarine used in the Battle of Brooklyn

During the Battle Ground exhibit, we will explore images, ideas and questions that unfold from our interdisciplinary exploration of the Battle of Brooklyn. Why are we looking at this distant battle that took place at the cusp of American history? Does it have any relevance to the present? Can over-used and manipulated Revolutionary imagery be revived in new forms? Why do contemporary artists and other cultural practitioners seem drawn to the past, often looking through the lens of artifacts, books and other vestiges of a disappearing culture? Has nostalgia resurfaced as a new art form? How does history impact on place? And could it be that our country’s obsession with weapons began during the Revolution? We look forward to probing these issues in the weeks ahead.

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