When it comes to the Gowanus skyline, George Del Barrio and Ashton Worthington may very well be the urban topographical experts. For years, they’ve had an opportunity to zoom in on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the recycling plant on the Gowanus Canal, and the elevated Smith–9th Street subway station.
The duo of artists invites you to a huge, dark room in order for you to view this world upside down.
Titled “Obscura/Gowanus II,” the optical and sensorial usage of camera obscura techniques are on display through April 8 at the Gowanus Loft (61 9th Street) and produced by the production agency, The Vanderbilt Republic.
Viewers will be able to experience both large, sweeping sections of the urban landscape as well as the incredible minute details as they are projected onto a variety of surfaces within the loft.
“Old as the hills…and deeply modern.”
Although the technique employed by Del Barrio and Worthington is harnessed by gifted contemporary artists, the exhibit calls upon a classic visual — and even scientific — approach to visual art and space.
As the upside-down image is viewed by your retina, the optic part of your brain adjusts the visual, making it right-side-up.
“While the essential technology of the camera obscura is as old as the hills, our application in this place and time is deeply modern,” says Del Barrio. “The physical ephemerality of these portraits is matched by the content of the landscape: a borough in constant transformation. Much has changed outside these windows since we first obscured the Loft in 2016, and our technical skill in immersive obscuration will show an entirely new face to this place.” The effect is so hyper-realistic in its detail that the urban expanse is rendered as sui generis gotham.
New Pulp City had an opportunity to preview the exhibition weeks before its opening.
“It feels like we’re stealing photons and painting with them.”
Del Barrio, Worthington and production assistant Justin Hammel are gathered around a table as they measure and cut the vellum which serves as a projection surface for the exterior world.
The team then carefully suspends the sections of vellum throughout the space. As they adjust and re-adjust each suspension, the artists discuss the tiniest of image shifts which take place depending on the angle. At times, it’s hard to know whether the team is made up of visual artists, photographers, philosophers, mathematicians or scientists. In many ways, the process is a blend of all five. “It feels like we’re stealing photons and painting with them,” explained Worthington.
“The interesting thing about projection is that the thickness of the material is a major factor in the sharpness of your picture,” says Del Barrio.
Del Barrio and Worthington are revisiting a visual experiment which they’ve been exploring for years. In the past, the team has lit the former Kentile Floors sign and projected a “light sculpture” on the Smith-9th Street bridge after dark. Most recently, Vanderbilt Republic created a site-responsive work using a Keith Haring mural at The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in Manhattan.
“An assault on impatience.”
Del Barrio points in the direction of a now-absent smokestack which once rose into the sky. However, that was 2016. In 2018, that Gowanus visual no longer exists. “One of the things that motivated me to want to do this again is that the landscape is actually changing,” says Del Barrio.
Those familiar with the Gowanus landscape may bring in a visual knowledge of the changes which have taken place over the last years since The Vanderbilt Republic’s first obscura.
However, you don’t need to be an expert (or even remotely familiar) in all things Gowanus to experience this visual stunner of an experience. Frankly, all you need to do is look.
“We’re in the camera, but we’re also inside your head,” Worthington told us back in 2016 during our first obscura visit. And that certainly remains the same. While Del Barrio and Worthington are particular about angle, lens and degree, each viewer will experience something different.
“Visitors will witness layers of movement, geometry and scene, each in constant transformation,” says Del Barrio. “Attendees will uniquely be aloft and at eye level with faraway bridges, elevated trains, highways, sidewalks and aqueducts.”
Perhaps the most important piece of advice for the view is to look carefully, look closely and look again. You may just catch the expression on a trucker’s face as an 18-wheeler snakes across the BQE. Or you may catch a seagull quietly landing on top of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Worthington refers to the exhibit as “an assault on impatience.”
“Just relax,” he offers. “One’s primal reaction – the fear of being plunged into darkness – is fascinating, and any experience devoid of digital technology can be unsettling; the reward is powerful.”
“Obscura/Gowanus II”: Portraying a Transforming Gowanus Landscape
Where: Gowanus Loft, 61 9th Street, Gowanus, Brooklyn
When: Weekends through Sunday, April 8, 2018
Tickets: Reservations are required. View ticket information here.
From The Vanderbilt Republic: “To fully acclimate to photographic darkness and observe the many obscurations installed, participants should expect to commit 30 minutes to the immersive experience. An adult must accompany children under 12 at all times.”