Proteoscope » Migration The Blog of Proteus Gowanus Thu, 12 Nov 2015 16:51:13 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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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Making Utopia Fri, 06 Jul 2012 20:49:36 +0000 Future Migration’s Frogs-In-Residence have received a lot of press recently.  Please check out this link to an interesting article on Eben’s work and research around frog populations by Nick Normal of MAKE Magazine.  Thank you to Nick for this thoughtful look at the making of the Utopia For the Golden Frog, by Eben Kirksey and Grayson Earle, with Mike Khadavi.

The Golden Frog’s Arduino Utopia



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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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Speculative Migrations: The Future is Garbage Mon, 07 May 2012 20:10:38 +0000

Detail from the installation "We Break Down Ourselves", by Dragomer, Dragomer, Fahandej, and Marovich. On view as part of the Future Migrations exhibition.

One afternoon, while on assignment at the daily newspaper where I used to work, I received an invitation to visit a waste incinerator. The plant sat along a river, in the center of the town that was my “beat” at the paper. The aging facility had been there for decades, dark and solitary, pumping out transfigured refuse through a long, thin, smokestack. Local legend had it that, when the plant was first built (to replace the tax vacuum left by abandoned mill buildings), ashes fell like thick snow onto the windshields of cars. The incinerator was the nexus of a bitter political feud in the city. A group of residents were fighting to push it out of town. I’d been lured into the plant by the manager, who wanted to win me (the dutifully objective reporter) over to his side. He wanted to show me the magic of waste incineration. It was all very secret, the public wasn’t allowed inside.The receiving floor of the waste bunker was thick with a soft residue. My heels sank into it. The ceiling must have been four stories high. It was dark, save the dim lights of trucks that dumped, unceasingly, onto a conveyer belt. The sound of shattering glass rocked the space. The smell was some combination of rot and toxic shock. It’s one of those horrifying experiences that’s remained etched on my mind. What was most terrifying, to me, was the sheer girth. There was just so much trash.

When I think about the future, I think about garbage. We won’t burn all of the trash we’re making. We won’t be able to bury all of it. If we ever start making trash planets that orbit around the Earth like satellites, we can only make so many. Trash changes things. It makes the rats on the subway platform bolder and more enterprising. It brings us all closer together in the grimy cosmic enterprise of the daily commute. It’s already changing the things we bother to feel reverence for, the things we have pious feelings about. This was part of the speculative wager in my collaboration with Krista Dragomer, Kathy Dragomer, and Rashin Fahandej: when we arrive in a futurescape that has snuffed out the radical diversity of creaturely life with layer upon layer of lyrca, aluminum, and circuit boards, who (or what) will we be asking for salvation? Will we be looking back, with the melancholy of nostalgia, to the fragile remains of the creatures we left behind, as we once looked up to the gods?

—Beatrice Marovich

Beatrice Marovich, a Proteus collaborator for the Future Migration exhibition, is a writer and academic who grew up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She’s now working toward her PhD in theology & philosophy and developing a speculative theory of the creaturely. 

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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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Thoughts Prior to the Listening Tour Mon, 30 Apr 2012 17:13:07 +0000 Sunday morning at 6 a.m. at Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, I will be leading a Listening Tour for Proteus Gowanus, as part of Proteus’ year-long series of events, exhibits, and performances centered around the theme of Migration.

The birds do it, some of the butterflies and dragonflies do it, and so do the sea turtles, and the caribou, and other animals, and, of course, we do it, too. Starting out from Africa, humans settled the planet remarkably quickly, and immigration and emigration have been facts of human life ever since.

So migration is a physical process, a translation from one place to another – the word translation originally meant “moving the body” and was originally used ecclesiastically, as in the translation of a bishop, but also in reference to the bodies of saints moved from here to there, like St. Mark’s, smuggled out of Egypt to Venice.

On the Listening Tour, we will be listening to the manifestation of an awe-inspiring migration, that of the birds who have arrived in recent days and weeks from the southeastern U.S., the Caribbean, and Central and South American. They have come north to breed, and many will continue on further into the far reaches of arctic Canada.

Songbirds in particular travel in such enormous numbers along the East Coast, the Atlantic Flyway, that they can be tracked by radar. There’s even a word for the anxious feeling migratory birds get when it comes time to move again: Zugunruhe, German for “migratory restlessness,” or more simply the urge to go. You see it even in captive-raised birds. An island of green, with food, water, and shelter, Prospect Park is an oasis for exhausted birds compelled to race north.

But migration isn’t just a physical thing. It’s also metaphoric.

Listening to the birds sing and call, and listening to whatever else our ears may reverberate with (woodpeckers tapping, squirrels screeching, the wind…), I’d like the participants to think of a migration of the senses. We will walk silently and listen intently. This isn’t about identifying birds, it’s about re-tuning our ears, listening to very old songs, and meditating on a sense too often subsumed by noise.

But we will be entering a park actually designed to cut down on the noise of the city. In a way, too, we will be migrating into the past, when the sounds of nature dominated the world.

Let’s open our ears wide.

–Matthew Wills
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Battle Pass Liberty Pole Goes Up at Smith and Bergen Wed, 28 Mar 2012 21:11:25 +0000 Proteus Gowanus is pleased to announce a new public art installation located at the corner of Smith Street and Bergen Street in partnership with the NYC Department of Transportion’s Urban Art Program and the Boerum Hill Association.  This is the second in a series of public art installations, performances and workshops called Battle Pass, a Proteus Gowanus initiative that will explore Revolutionary imagery over the next year. The project marks sites of the Battle of Brooklyn, the first and biggest battle of the Revolutionary War, sometimes forgotten in the very neighborhoods in which it occurred.

Battle Pass Revolution II

The installation by Sasha Chavchavadze was inspired by the “Liberty Pole,” a ship’s mast planted in the ground  in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War as a symbol of protest, and by Walt Whitman’s poem about the Battle, “The Centenarian’s Story.” The installation, a 16-foot mahogany pole with directional signs “burned” with text from the Whitman poem, is topped by a weathervane referencing one that was affixed to the historical pole, drawing attention to the circular meaning of the word “revolution” and to the surrounding Battle history.

Chavchavadze is a multi-media artist whose  installations explore the complexity and devastation of historical upheaval and war. Battle Pass: Revolution II draws parallels between past and present as it stimulates Brooklyn’s “memory” of this seminal moment in American history which took place in our midst.


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From the Bureau of Unknown Destinations: How to Unknow Sat, 17 Mar 2012 20:21:01 +0000 It’s ideal to start from a central station or one that has as many lines as possible. Your goal is to assign yourself a destination in a way that keeps it a surprise.  Here are a few ways you might go about doing that. adjust, remix, & invent as you desire.

All of these techniques work best when you take the results seriously. What if your destination is a place you’ve been before? Sometimes the familiar is the most unknown. What if you’re afraid it will be a boring place? Unbore it. Let it unbore you. What if you’d rather go to the next stop on the line, or the last, or someplace you have a yen for? You can go on an ordinary excursion at any time—this is your chance to unknow.

Yes, it’s a kind of game. So play hard.

1) Shuffle up

If your station offers free printed timetables (as those in new york do), gather them all up, shuffle, and pick one randomly.  Decide in advance how to choose among the destinations on the timetable (go all the way to the end of the line, or halfway there, or roll a die for the number of stops you’ll go). With some extra preparation time, you can gather the names of all the destinations that take one to three hours of travel time and write them onto index cards (or the blank cards in this kit).  You and your friends can use these cards for virtually endless adventures.

2) Timing the Timetables

Choose an exact time you want to arrive at your destination. Search all the available timetables for the destination which most precisely matches your arrival time.  Alternately, choose an exact length of travel, and match your destination to that (this requires a bit more figuring).

3) The Right Hand Doesn’t Know what the Left Hand is Doing

Unfold a transportation map, or walk up to one in the station. Avert your eyes and let your left hand sweep across the map until it finds a spot.  Write down the destination nearest to your left index finger.  This, of course, is a classic.

4) The Easy Unknown

If you’re not all that familiar with the city you’re in, almost any destination will be unknown.  Go to the station and choose by whimsical criteria. Choose a place by its evocative name (Valhalla, or Babylon, for instance, if you happen to be starting from New York), or take the first train that’s leaving and decide how long you’ll stay aboard, or follow a passenger with an interesting hat.

5) The Budget Unknown

If train travel is beyond your means at the moment, ordinary bus and subway trips offer plenty of unknown.  Add ferries into the mix if you have them. Simply pick the destination you know least about or adapt one of the other methods above. Or set out on foot using psychogeographical systems: navigate one city using a map from another, draw a diagram or picture on a map and try to walk it, follow a particular color, going from red to red to red all afternoon (see appendix 3).

6) A Little Help from Your Friends

Go to the station with one or more friends, agreeing to travel to separate destinations.  Have each person choose a destination they know nothing about, then trade destinations with each other, creating a double layer of the unknown. Or make a chain with your friends, paying forward: buy a ticket for one friend who will then buy a ticket for another, and so on.

7) Destination Party

Gather a list of all the destinations the right distance away.  Gather timetables for all those destinations (as many copies of the timetables as you have destinations). Gather blank notebooks, or materials to make them from recycled paper. Gather cards for the names of destinations. Gather big envelopes. Get together with friends over pizza or mexican food and fill an envelope for each destination. Include a card with the destination, a timetable, a notebook.  Seal the envelopes and distribute however you like.  Feel free to adapt this according to your own ideas and desires.

–Sal Randolph, Artist-In-Residence

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