Proteoscope » Tammy The Blog of Proteus Gowanus Thu, 12 Nov 2015 16:51:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Commerce Year Sun, 01 Nov 2015 21:56:57 +0000 Coin Press

Coin Press by Hackett and Densmore

From September, 2014 through June, 2015, Proteus Gowanus invited artists and workers in other disciplines to think about COMMERCE using art, artifacts, books, film, workshops and discussion. The year’s four exhibitions focused on money (in the exhibition Currency), work (in the Labor show), the movement of goods through physical and cultural space (in Trade Routes) and the individuals who make commercial goods  in our very own backyard along the Gowanus Canal (Gowanus Marketplace).

The yearlong exploration provided a variety of opportunities to consider the effects of commerce on our own lives and circumstances. Here are some highlights:

At our opening exhibition, Currency, we exhibited art made from money, money made into art, goods for trade, a wall-sized installation and more. (view participants and images of their work) . But the piece that made the biggest bang, at the opening and several more times throughout the three months show, was Chris Hackett and Bronwen Densmore’s Coin Press, which dropped more than 1000 pounds of force onto a hard dollop of copper, producing a coin with an emblem and causing our walls to shiver and shake. Hackett’s guillotine-like structure, made from detritus found on the Gowanus, was the perfect herald for the COMMERCE year to come. It was gerrymandered, not unlike our financial system and it was engaging, in a physical way: you jumped, you backed away, you whooped. It was also provocative, evoking the hazards inherent to our capitalist system. Here’s more on Hackett.

More intuitively engaging was Tatiana Istomina’s participatory installation, the Mercantile Evaluation Statistical System or MESS inviting viewers to ascribe value to diverse objects arrayed on our wall-sized shelves. Visitors were invited to inspect the objects and evaluate them on a scale of zero to fifty. They were then offered instructions on how to determine the “accurate” value of the objects using Tatiana’s MESS tool: a simple questionnaire which systematically evaluates objects based on various parameters selected by the artist. Some objects were valued similarly by viewers, such as the can of Spam, while other values diverged widely, such as the clay animal shaped by a small child. It made the capitalist system of supply and demand (if you ignore how rigged it is) look elegant in comparison! At the end of the show, Tatiana performed a statistical analysis of viewer responses. One finding: participants tend to ascribe greater value to objects with symbolic qualities. More information on Tatiana’s project can be found at her website and on her blog.

Other Labor artists included Blake Fall-Conroy who exhibited his Minimum Wage Machine, a lucite box with a crank balanced on spindled wooden legs. When visitors turned the crank, the machine dispensed pennies at the rate of 800 per hour, adding up to the NYS minimum wage, $8/hour. It was hard work! Here’s Blake’s website. Phillip Chen’s elegant prints of equations using tools instead of numbers suggested the humility as well as the utility of objects in our daily life. Their precision images float in a dim, sepia light like waking dreams: both hyper-real and not real at all, suggesting half-suppressed memory in an atmosphere of loss and expectation. More of Phillip’s work can be found here.

Common Factors by Philip Chen

Common Factors by Philip Chen

Also for the Labor show, Meredith Degyanksy laid out her “life in debt” using objects, documents and mementos to trace the arc of her indebtedness as it bounded chronologically through the phases of her working life. She began in childhood when she received poker chips from her mother for jobs well done, through paper routes and waitressing to the post-college years when she conscientiously and subversively engaged with our economy to beat back the enormous debt she acquired in exchange for educational degrees. Meredith also conducted weekly workshops at Proteus advising others who live in debt or other economic hardship on alternate methods of economic survival (excluding criminal activity which is not her specialty). Meredith’s work on work continues.

Meredith Degyansky Conducts a TimeDebt Session

Meredith Degyansky Conducts a TimeDebt Session


Charged Textile SJOOW.v1 by Schleifer & Gilman

Charged Textile SJOOW.v1 by Schleifer & Gilman

In the Trade Routes exhibition, the sociologist-artist team David Schleifer and Tracy Gilman introduced the show’s focus on the pathways of commerce with the high concept/high craft piece Charged Textile SJOOW.v1. The Trade Routes show examined past and present infrastructures, from the winds and tides that were the first determinants of inter-cultural trade to the technological breakthroughs that drive global trade today. David and Tracy’s piece used weather-resistant electric cable to construct a navajo-style rug, thus weaving together the extensive intercultural trade history of the Navajo rug industry with the global technological breakthrough of  transcontinental electric cables that connect cultures and localities across the globe.

Shari Mendelson and Venetia Dale also addressed the role of technology and product innovation in our daily lives, specifically the invention of plastic, on the movement of merchandise from country of origin to point of consumption. Shari forms replicas of commodities from the classical era, such as figurines and vessels, from the plastic remnants of today’s discarded goods. Venetia collects the woven plastic shopping bags used by street vendors worldwide to transport their wares and used them to create replicas of those wares as art.

Installation view with Shari Mendelsohn's work on shelves.

Installation view with Shari Mendelsohn’s work on shelves.


Venetia Dale, Itinerant Goods from Kingston, Jamaica

Venetia Dale, Itinerant Goods from Kingston, Jamaica

These artists lent a playfulness and tactility to our elongated ponderings about the role commerce plays in our daily lives and in the global trends that affect us all so intimately. There were many others in these first three shows whose work gave food for thought: Holly Pitre’s Labor of Love, exploring her attempts to communicate with her imprisoned brother; Charlotte Lagarde’s slow, spare video of a cargo ship moving slowly across a horizon line; Tony Stanzione’s enigmatic  presentation of knotted segments of fishing boat rope that he found as jetsam on the beaches; Audra Wolowiec’s audio segments of work songs; Makale Faber-Cullen’s handmade boxes containing the rapid fire sound of a professional cattle auctioneer and many more. Please visit the Commerce page on our website for more on the year’s participants.

The Commerce year ended with Gowanus Marketplace, an exhibition of works and products made by artisans and makers on the banks of the Gowanus Canal, filthy artery of industrial commerce from the last two centuries. The show was curated by Courtney Jordan. Please visit our website’s Commerce page for their names so you can visit their shops and websites to purchase their wares.

Commerce Workshops and Events

Opening Reception for Currency, the first exhibition of the COMMERCE year.

Faithful John, a story told by mythologist and storyteller Dr. Martin Shaw exploring the relationship between initiation, commerce and the living world in a traditional tall tale.

Art Market Speculating, a talk by attorney Franklin Boyd exploring the art market as a niche sector of high finance with a uniquely irrational character.

Commerce: The Greens, Water Wheel, and Bosco Mall, a pop-up exhibit and event by RISD artists developed in dialogue with the Currency show.

Reanimation Library: Gowanus Branch, Opening Reception, the 2nd show of the COMMERCE year.

TEDX Gowanus Viewing Party, an opportunity for community members without tickets to the TEDX event to see Proteus Gowanus presentation and installation at the nearby event.

When Labor Was Capital: The Slave-Breeding Industry, a lecture by Ned Sublette from his upcoming book on the domestic slave breeding industry in the US. The book, The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave Breeding Industry was published in October, 2015.

Labor of Love: True Stories by Real People, a story-telling event for the Labor exhibition.

Zapatista Coffee, Portraits and Advice for the Alienated, a gathering of projects creating alternative paths within our current economic system curated by Blade of Grass fellow Fran Ilich.

Opening Reception: Trade Routes exhibition, the third show of the COMMERCE year.

The Past Is The Future: Economic Alternatives from Contemporary Maya, anthropologist Kristina Baines lecture examining lessons learned from a traditional society about the impact of commerce on our communities.

Documentary Film Screening: In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee, a film about the Korean adoption system.

Trace: A Civil Rights Journey, a photography, video, voice, and word program exploring the legacy of writer and activist Tom Dent by retracing parts of his 1990 journey visiting lesser-known sites of the Civil Rights struggle.

Art and Entrepreneurship in Mobile Vending, a discussion led by exhibitor Lauren Cannon of the Institute for Mobile Research.

Mobile Vending in the Underground Economy, a panel discussion led by the Institute for Mobile Research.

A Spice Trade Perfume Mixing Workshop with Julianne Zaleta of Alchemologie, an herbal alchemy apothecary.

Documentary film screening presented by Charlotte Lagarde: The Gleaners and I by Agnes Varda, a film about people who scavenge the leavings of our consumerist society.

Gowanus Marketplace, Opening Reception, final opening of the COMMERCE year.


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Deep Down Fossil Water Thu, 27 Feb 2014 21:11:45 +0000 In our research for the Water year, we came across something called “fossil water”. The phrase suggests a lost past: ancient swamplands with long-necked dinosaurs or water pterodactyl skimming the surface of polished lakes. These lakes and swamps went underground thousands, even millions of years ago. The water moved away from the surface of the earth, became black and silent, encased in rock thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. Also known as “paleo-water”, it is completely locked inside the earth, untouched by precipitation or tributary, making each paleo-aquifer an unreplenishable vessel of pure water.

These repositories were the earth’s own secret until they were discovered by mechanical drills in search of oil. Now, fossil water is a valuable commodity, on a par with fossil fuel. It is being drilled in various places around the world, dry places typically, where, in the past, the deep water and the surface desert shared latitude and longitude but existed in separate geologic time zones. Now parched middle eastern nations are entirely dependent on the ancient water.  They and others are pumping them dry.  Yemen’s fossil water will soon be gone completely. Saudi Arabia’s too, emptied in a single generation. (Meanwhile, charlatans peddle “Paleo Water” as a weight loss aid.)

As with so many water-related issues, we should worry — and we do. The world grows thirstier and our methods of conserving and reusing water are not yet able to keep up. Resources are diminishing. Yet we can’t let people starve or dry up. This is one of the most pressing issues of our time and we must debate and weigh and decide and act.

But let’s leave that aside for a moment. To just contemplate the dark water, still as the deepest sleep, harboring minerals and molecules from pre-Paleolithic times like a distant memory. Behind all the debate, capitalization, research and need, lies this pure substance, resistant, ‘til now, to time and corruption; calm and indifferent, cloistered away for the life of the planet. Let’s allow ourselves a moment of reverence, untouched by clamor and controversy, for these waters and their hidden spaces.- TP




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Beginning with Water Fri, 04 Oct 2013 17:08:37 +0000 This year’s fall-to-summer year-long theme at Proteus Gowanus is Water, a substance which holds us in its grip, dictating where and how we live, exerting its osmotic pull through our bodies and filtering into our thoughts and dreams. As the planet grows hotter, it is the presence and absence of water that best marks the changing atmosphere and, as a result, water — rain, floods, drought, and melting ice — is more than ever on our minds.

Charles Goldman. ‘Vessel’

Containment, the first exhibition of the Water year, represents a variety of ways of containing water: in us, for us and away from us. It is an invitation to join with artists, planners and scientists to use images, books, diagrams and events to explore our complex relationship with water.

Break/Remake is a collaborative installation in Containment  that occupies Proteus’ wall-sized book shelf. Break/Remake alludes to the massive re-engineering of the world’s rivers by large dam construction, changing the patterns of surface water worldwide and disrupting — often catastrophically — entire communities and ecosystems. As curator, I invited artists to break and remake containers, prompting the question: what is gained and what is lost when a container — be it a river or a cup — is broken and re-made? —TP

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Don’t Miss Secret Wars Artist Nene Humphrey’s Haunting Performance Piece Fri, 19 Apr 2013 16:25:24 +0000 Wednesday, May 1, 7:30pm
Location: Dixon Place, 161a Chrystie Street

A video excerpt of Nene Humphrey’s ongoing project, Circling the Center, was on display during Proteus Gowanus’ recent Secret Wars exhibition. The video is a slow audio-visual dive into the center of the brain, the seat of our deepest emotion.

What began as Nene’s private meditation on loss grew into communal art making with surprising connections between the neuroscience of emotions and the lost art of ritualistic Victorian Mourning Braiding.

The video in Secret Wars was only a sample of the larger art-music-performance piece that will be performed on May 1 only at Dixon Place in Manhattan. Neuroscience meets meditation in this “visceral liturgy of sound, film, and live performance. Nene Humphrey’s work weaves images of animated MRI’s, electronic circuitry, and Victorian mourning braiding with sounds of serenading rats in a lab, metronomes, and chanted pattern instructions. A choir accompanies a cellist, a woman braids shimmering red wire, three performers sing a vocal lament in this expansive infusion of science, art, and spirit.”

Here is a video sample of this moving work.

And here, the full details of the May 1 performance.


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Panopticon poster by Front404 Fri, 08 Mar 2013 16:30:08 +0000 panopticonsposter

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The War Games Room is Open Sat, 01 Dec 2012 01:51:04 +0000 As part of our War of Words exhibition, Proteus Gowanus has opened the War Games Room. Every Saturday or Sunday from 12-6, you can play war games with your friends and enemies in the back room at Proteus. You can play on a handmade Risk game, designed and painted by Ryan Jones with New York City boroughs, not nations, vying for the upper hand. Also featured will be a magnetized Diplomacy board assembled by Tom LaFarge, a beautiful hand-tooled game of Connect Four by Nick DeFriez, Scrabble, Battleship, cards and other games. $5/player.

Can you tell us who this man is?

The War Games Room is presided over by the portrait of an unknown military leader.
He looks quizzical, bemused, perhaps not so easy to outsmart in the game of war.
Can you help us identify this fancy fellow?

Last week, Jon Freeman, founder of the game room, The Brooklyn Strategist, gave a very interesting talk on Game Theory, war and the board games Risk and Diplomacy. This Saturday evening, David Bukszpan, author of Is That a Word?  will talk about Scrabble, presenting scores of surprising words, offer tips and tricks, and share other highlights from his book to help word warriors from all skill levels. And on Sunday afternoon, Tom LaFarge will conduct a class on the World War I board game, Diplomacy, known to promote deception and tear apart families and friends, just like the real thing!

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail]]> 0 Closing Temporarily Due to Sandy Flooding Thu, 01 Nov 2012 01:39:30 +0000 Proteus Gowanus and our Projects-In-Residence ObservatoryMorbid Anatomy LibraryReanimation Library and Hall of Gowanus, prepared for the worst before Hurricane Sandy and we are very happy to announce that our preparations were unnecessary. We feel very grateful that our floors and books and artifacts and shelves were not bathed in toxic sludge. The floodwaters around the Gowanus area barely penetrated our galleries, seeping slightly through our alley door but covering only a bit of the floor. We did, however, lose all power due to extensive flooding in the basement of our building, which is now filled with six feet of standing water and has extinguished the power indefinitely.

As a result, we must close our doors for the next two weeks, hoping to reopen on November 15 in time for that night’s Fixers Collective session at 7pm. This means that our Translation Workshop for the Monolingual this Friday is postponed, as is the opening of our War Games Room and the launching of our Battle Film Series. In addition, all Observatory and Morbid Anatomy events between now and mid-November are also cancelled unless you hear otherwise.

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Are You Experienced? Sat, 09 Jun 2012 17:55:31 +0000

In the Courtyard, Photo by Cristiana Dittmann

Last week Proteus held a celebration and fundraiser called Nomad Mixer, in honor of our yearlong Migration theme. As always, our benefit was designed to deliver – along with delicious food and drink — actual experiences. This as opposed to, say, long speeches and nervous small talk. For example, upon entering our ‘gritty’ alleyway, guests encountered video projections on the old brick walls of people walking, walking, walking. Also a seated man hanging from on high, rigid and colorless…with butterflies migrating from his belly, off to a new life. And a steampunk Seed Machine, about which more in a moment. These installations were created for our party by Holus Bolus, an art collective.

In the courtyard, the Union Street Preservation Society played a mix of bluegrass and old-timey jazz, Katya Redpath sang gypsy folk songs, with a cameo appearance by Proteus

Bill and Matt from Fletchers Brooklyn Barbecue, photo by Cristiana Dittmann

founder Sasha Chavchavadze. The centerpiece of our culinary offerings was the pulled-pork sandwiches with purple coleslaw served up by Fletcher’s Brooklyn Barbecue. Never heard of it? Bill Fletcher, also known as Barbecue Billy, is opening Fletcher’s on Third Ave in Gowanus this summer. We’ll let you know when that happens. We thank Bill from the bottom of our hearts and also Damascus Bakery, Sahadi’s, the wonderful Brooklyn Brewery, Heights Chateau and Scotto’s Wine Cellar for their generous donations to our benefit party.

Kris Waldherr reads Jesse Schiewe's cards

Indoors, you could Map Your Life by drawing your lifetime migrations on a world map. This was a remarkably engrossing experience. If your thing is intimate encounters, you would have been drawn to the Gypsies from the Poetry Brothel who led guests into a darkened room for private encounters with poetry. And, because our current exhibition at Proteus Gowanus is Future Migration, we set up a nomad tent and offered Tarot card readings to guide guests forward into the unknown. As always, guests also writhed with The Writhing Society. We thank all of the artists, performers, readers and writhers who made these experiences possible.

The evening culminated in a live auction of extra-ordinary experiences including 900 years of Russian Art History in One Hour; Talking Trash: a tour of Gowanus recycling centers; a guided coyote walk, an encounter with a genuine man o’ God and more. We also, by the way, sold raffle tickets during the evening and guess what the winner got to do? At the end of the evening, he (our Hall of Gowanus curator Eymund Diegel as it happened), followed by all the guests, walked back down the alley to the dark and rusty Seed Machine (made by Jesse Farrenkopf) and, after some verbal drum-rolling, switched on the machine. We all watched as the wheels creaked and turned and – whoosh! – the machine blew dandelion seeds, straight from the gray heads of dandelions, down the alley and into the night air. One guest admitted it brought tears to her eyes.

Jesse Farrenkopf's Seed Machine

More photos can be found on our Nomad Mixer 2012 Benefit page.

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Multispecies Salon Talks Seek Hope in Blasted Landscapes Mon, 07 May 2012 16:49:40 +0000 Sunday, May 6 was the second in a three part conversation led by Proteus Anthropologist-In-Residence Eben Kirksey, examining what happens when natural and cultural worlds intermingle and collide. Eben is hosting the Multispecies Salon at Proteus Gowanus this spring, a “paraethnographic field site” where anthropologists, biologists, ecoartists and bioartists come together. The Multispecies Salon is a particularly concentrated instance of what Proteus Gowanus offers by serving as a site where the common interests of multiple disciplines can be explored through exhibitions and events that focus on a single theme over the course of a year.

As Eben says of the Multispecies Salon, “Art serve(s) as a companion and catalyst practice for thinking through and against nature-culture dichotomies.”  His first conversation, April 29th, was a presentation and discussion of the Multispecies Salon, entitled ‘Gleanings from a Para-Site’. Yesterday’s conversation turned on the question of finding ‘Hope In Blasted Landscapes’. Next Sunday, May 13 5pm, Eben will lead a conversation on ‘Life in the Age of Biotechnology’.

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Report on the Listening Tour Mon, 30 Apr 2012 17:15:29 +0000 Luckily not as cold as yesterday morning, although still on the brisk side. Some excellent sounds in the Vale and Midwood. Good woodpecker vocalizations and tapping, both atypical bird noise.  Highlight two Canada geese flying overhead and, as is their wont, honking, very loud compared to the often subtle sounds of song birds.  A rooster in the Zoo greeted the morning in its traditional farmyard or Lower East Side style. The whistles and three internal combustion vehicles evidently necessary for a bicycle race on the negative side, although the liquid rush of the actual cycles going by in a pod was strangely satisfying.  No May Day pagans celebrating their ancient sexual practices with haunting song as there were on last year’s Listening Tour.

–Matthew Wills

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