Vida Sabbaghi brings a major art show and community program at the old Pfizer factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn
So vast that it seems like its own universe, the former Pfizer Plant on Flushing Avenue in South Williamsburg now houses — since Acumen Capital Partners bought the eight story building in 2011 for twenty-six million dollars — tech start-ups, local food entrepreneurs, and, for the past two months, artists in residence. In the afternoon, light streams from two uninterrupted window fronts into the giant third-floor gallery where Trevis True one of twelve Pratt MFA students chosen to work and exhibit at this pristine landmark industrial site, is working. He's exploring the esthetic potential of e-waste — LEDs, cables, circuit boards, and other electronic scraps that have reached the end of their short functional lifespan were donated by Brooklyn Research, a tech-research lab located in the building. With a day job as a technician specialized in putting up museum shows, Travis is familiar with the hidden insides of electronic equipment and feels inspired to put them on display as part of a sprawling, multi-artist installation. He and his fellow students are investing huge amounts of labor into otherwise doomed materials for their exhibit that will open on November 16. Its mastermind, Vida Sabbaghi, whose organization COPE NYC is committed to a consistently sustainable art practice, has only insisted on one condition in her otherwise wide-open program: that all the art for the month-long show be created exclusively from discarded stuff.
The artists of An Inclusive World have been especially encouraged to cannibalize the obsolete contents of the Pfizer plant itself for their site-specific works and objects: pipes, rolling carts, furniture, metal trays and other detritus left behind chain-link-fence cages offer unlimited possibilities. And like Brooklyn Research, the non-profit Materials for the Arts (MFTA) has also generously contributed catalogued refuse from its extensive collection. In addition a tenant in the building, Weaving Hand a frequent partner of Vida Sabbaghi — gave a whole pile of thick ropes in bright colors. Right next to Trevis' inventive recycling site, artist Gordieh Nasseri has set up an improvised loom between two columns where she knots the ropes into loopy mats that will be used for K-12 students participating in a workshop during the exhibition. After the show closes, the mats will be returned to Weaving Hand to be used for the community.
Vida Sabbaghi likes big projects, and the enormous Pfizer site suits her ideas about vertical interaction between various social and generational groups just perfectly. "I take a communitarian approach to all working relationships," says Sabbaghi, an educator, art historian, and multidisciplinary curator who fosters art devoted to her Four Rs maxim: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Re-imagine.
The established artists she selected for a striking post-industrial space on the ground floor of the Pfizer Building all strictly adhere to her no-waste principles. Against the gray cinderblocks and polished concrete floor, Frederico Uribe's tall figures entirely composed of pencils in all hues exude a bristling energy: in their multitude, the common pencil makes a prickly statement of collective power. Jean Chin's disembodied umbrella skins, on the other hand, float poetically under the sixteen-foot ceiling: stripped from their skeletons, the circular fabrics, sewn together into a delicate tapestry, are reminiscent of a field of flowers, a congregation of jellyfish, or a flock of parachutes — an unexpectedly buoyant resurrection of the broken umbrella carcasses plastered on New York streets en masse after every rain storm. Equally surprising is the lyrical, otherworldly beauty that Aurora Robson teases out of the very stuff that threatens life in our oceans: from plastic debris, she makes gorgeous sea creatures who will linger in our memory as harbingers of existential losses to come unless we protect our environment. Mark Khaisman is equally adept at performing magic out of the most ordinary materials — the Ukraine-born artist is known for his portraits of Film Noir stars, composed from layers of translucent packaging tape on backlit Plexiglas panels. In Will Kurtz' hands, newspapers — the disposable material par excellence — transform in a wizardly way into skin, hair, and clothing of his life-sized human figures. Alice Hope creates complex patterns based on the binary code and other numerical systems from common industrial products like steel plates, perforated aluminum, ferrite magnets — and even bullets.
"Grand Mobile," a towering yet tender kinetic object by the Parisian sculptor and designer Jacques Jarrige stands out as a collaborative sculptural effort that began very small: for the past twenty years, the artist has held a workshop for the psychiatric patients at a center outside Paris often building sculptures with sticks found on the hospital grounds. Together, Jarrige and his increasingly skillful disciples have liberated tremulous, gestural lines from rigid plywood sheets and animated this modest material into a soulful, almost anthropomorphic figure: its complex shape and playful aura makes it at once a commanding and a friendly presence in this starkly beautiful space.
On opening night, a fashion show will take place featuring garments made from outcast stuff by High School of Fashion Industries and Juan Morel Campos Secondary School students in partnership with COPE NYC.. Veteran recycling artist Chin Chih Yang, who, over the past two decades, has singlehandedly amassed mountains of aluminum cans from all over New York, will present his signature performance: dressed in one of the fine, feathery shaman garments he cuts from plastic bags, he will endure being buried under an avalanche of 30,000 of his aluminum collectibles.
by Claudia Steinberg
"Grand Mobile" by Jacques Jarrige. Photo: ©Garret Linn
"Repsychling" curated by Vida Sabbaghi at old Pfizer factory - Work by Chin Chih Yang in foreground, Mark Khaisman and Aurora Robson in background. Photo ©Jinwon Jung