Proteoscope 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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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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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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A Roomful of Secrets Fri, 12 Apr 2013 15:27:09 +0000 photo-5 copy


The future history of secret wars has yet to be written:

Atomic priests and millenial vestments…


Bryan M. Wilson

Bryan M. Wilson detail


the cryptomusicology of shortwave espionage… floating signals in unbreakable codes…


Console copy 3


David Goren


the lost lost things…


Anna Livia Löwendahl-Atomic

Anna Livia Löwendahl-Atomic


the shadow world of black ops…


Joy Garnett


[this information has been redacted]


Renée Ridgway


—Tom Miller


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

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The Eye in the Sky Mon, 04 Mar 2013 17:39:59 +0000 A stealth addition to Secret Wars has just landed at Proteus Gowanus. panoptICONS, birds of surveillance with cameras for heads, are now observing visitors from a perch over the gallery.


This identity scavenger previously appeared over the streets of Amsterdam.

This identity scavenger previously appeared over the streets of Amsterdam.


FRONT404 (also known as the Dutch artists Thomas voor ‘t Hekke and Bas van Oerle) invented the avian robots to draw people’s visual attention up above their heads, where an ever-growing forest of surveillance cameras silently observes the humans gliding through the urban environment. Although they are hardly noticed, security cameras continually record faces in the crowd and can link with facial recognition software to track the identities of strangers. The artists observe that the ubiquitous optical surveillance devices occupy the same ecological niche as scavenging city birds. Perched high in the sky, each consumes the traces we leave behind when we pass by. Hidden cameras harvest our identities as crows swoop down to capture our dropped crumbs and discarded food wrappers. Voor ’t Hekke and van Oerle write that they see panoptICONS as “the logical evolution of these two species,” feeding on privacy and biometric data. The project website includes live video footage of a mother panoptICON feeding the facial profiles of passersby to her hungry chicks.



A lone sentry scanning the crowd at the Dutch Big Brother Awards.
Photo: FRONT404


The winner of a Dutch Big Brother Award, the observing birds were first seen in FRONT404’s home city of Utrecht. Random sightings are now being reported in cities around the world — including Brooklyn. So as you walk around the city, don’t forget to look up at the sky.

You never know who’s watching.


You are being watched.
Photo: Tammy Pittman


The state security apparatus of the Netherlands casts a looming shadow over Secret Wars at Proteus Gowanus. In another installment of Proteoscope we’ll enter the opaque miasma of Holland’s national police files in Renée Ridgway’s Revelation of the Concealed: Politics (in)form, composed of heavily redacted documents acquired through the Dutch Freedom of Information Act known as the WOB.











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