Constructed out of cardboard on the gallery floor, Michael Ashkin’s Hiding places are many, excape only one, a section of a sprawling squatter city, is made up of clusters of buildings with no real center or hierarchy of purpose. Foregoing program or central planning associated with towns or cities governed through a set of codes which evolve over time to address health, safety, and business concerns, the apparently random association of these structures seems to have been generated from a combination of accident and necessity. In the absence of a coherent relationship between municipal and commercial structures, Ashkin’s anarchic representation of an “unplanned” community represents a condition which a growing number of the world’s population inhabits, a nebulous territory that might be defined only in contrast to the secured (green) zones around which many of these places develop.
The muted facades of three-family homes shown in Betty Beaumont’s photographs depict the profound after-effects of an unregulated mortgage system on a low income neighborhood in Dorchester, Mass. Providing a source of embarrassment for local officials who failed to anticipate the severity of the crisis, these boarded up homes represent the “ownership society” in reverse, offering tangible evidence of the increasing foreclosures resulting from sub prime lending practices, whose effects are just beginning to be felt by a number of communities across the country. Appearing as though they are “in storage”, the houses have been shut off from any viable connection to the street, and as long as they exist in their current state, will serve as unfortunate reminders of the indifferent relationship the ebbs and flows of capital to any particular locale.
Gretchen Bender’s video Selling Cars combines footage from car ads and the America’s Most Wanted television show. By inserting the brutal manhunts featured on reality crime shows within the context of a pitch for a new car Bender’s short “video blast” parodies the quest for excitement and adventure that is the staple of these advertisements. Removing the “fire wall” between these two forms of television which are normally in very close proximity but never intermingled, Selling Cars exposes the extremely calculated nature of television mayhem which promotes fear and anxiety as a means encouraging consumption.
If Louise Lawler’s photographs of museum and gallery spaces in the process of installing exhibitions could be likened to a “backstage view” of contemporary art, the subjects of her 1997 Metro Pictures show might be seen as a partial cataloguing of the construction of its stage. Photographed a decade ago during the renovation of an industrial space into Metro Pictures new gallery, the images of raw industrial interiors being altered for cultural use featured in Lawler’s Paint, Wall, Pictures: Something Always Follows Something Else describe what would become a ubiquitous sight as the explosive growth of the Chelsea art district paralleled the city’s building boom. Revealing an intricate relationship between the economies of culture and real estate, this soon-to-be white cube exists in a kind of stasis or holding pattern, not yet resolved to its ultimate function, but now obsolete as a space for industrial production.
Altering scale and offering sweeping views across vast distances, Alex Maclean’s aerial photographs of Las Vegas, Nevada and U.S./Mexico border describe the factory like process of housing development, and the almost immutable nature of economic differences represented by a national border. Maclean’s “bird’s eye view” over Las Vegas shows a planned community at every phase of construction which appears, at this distance, almost like a Monopoly board which incorporates built and unbuilt structures. In U.S./ Mexico, the clear delineation of the border betrays enormous socio-economic differences between the miles of densely packed and improvised housing to the south and the open, largely unused space to the north.
Readily visible under the thin veneer of real estate ads pushing Wiliamsburg, Brooklyn’s future as a destination for the moneyed, yet “hip”, classes is an urban renewal project on a scale not seen since Robert Moses’ “slum” clearance of the 1960’s. Documenting the brutal nature of the development spree which occurred as a result of the neighborhood’s re-zoning from light manufacturing/residential to the loosening of codes that allowed for forty story towers on the waterfront, Nerwen’s video offers stark evidence against the cheerful notion that the unrestricted laws of free markets are ”good for everyone”. With images of a neighborhood being literally torn apart by outside developers capitalizing on a frenzied housing market, and locals under pressure to “sell out” while the price is right, this work documents aspects of an incredible drama that has been woefully underreported in the mainstream media.
Zoë Sheehan Saldaña
The intensity of the recent debate on immigration often overlooks the socio-economic complexity of cross border relations, instead focusing solely on what’s “good for America”. Zoë Sheehan Saldaña’s tapestry reveals a more complex and layered relationship to the production of goods in Mexico for the U.S. market. Handmade by craftsmen in Guadalajara, Mexico in a workshop devoted to maintaining traditional weaving techniques, Saldaña’s pixilated tapestry is born out a set of contradictions within the global marketplace, where information flow often displaces the circumstances of locality. Saldaña’s subject, a downloaded image of a seemingly innocuous intersection in Florida which an insurance company determined as the most dangerous in America, provides a haunting counterpoint to the painstakingly fabricated tapestry, underlying the ambiguites inherent in the handmade objects role in a late capitalist economy.
Heidi Schlatter’s lightboxes offer a somewhat twisted reversal of real estate fantasy routinely expressed in advertising for luxury residential properties. Incorporating a ubiquitous vehicle for commercial messages to the public, Schlatter’s lightboxes invoke the means through which the consumer is seduced on a daily basis. But instead of offering an escape from the frustrations of the workaday world into a new car, home, vacation, or bottled water, the images in these displays confront the viewer with the reality of public housing. Born of utopian goals that originated in European modernism, the neglect of many American housing projects is partly a result of the absence of progressive social agendas from the original model, leaving in its place segregated communities based on race and class.
Peter Scott’s photographs address the relationship of advertising and the built environment via a fairly recent trend, which adopts huge banner ads on buildings under construction to illustrate the opulent life soon to be housed within. As full-scale depictions of living rooms and bathrooms are projected onto buildings facades, the collapse of the distinction between conventionally public and private space, and the territorial nature of broadcasting a coveted lifestyle into the public realm, reveal the underlying aggressiveness inherent in the real estate boom. As each new luxury address tries to top its neighbor, the city becomes the site of a large scale advertising war, fought to determine which is the most luxurious of all.
Changing scale and multiplying the subject from her previous Salary Man piece, Momoyo Torimitsu’s video is an expansive map or model of the global struggle for resources, played out by crawling “suits” who have limited mobility and control over their ultimate destination. Partly an epic description of the landscape of power struggles and partly farcical display of the blind urges manifested in ambition devoid of reason, Torimitsu’s piece employs a great deal of humor while addressing the irrational nature of the competitive instinct.
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