The Soul is the Size of Elsewhere:
Brooklyn and Development
September 9 - October 3, 2009
In the fall of 2007, on a brilliant autumn day when the sky seemed to go on forever, far past the Narrows where container ships from all over the globe enter and exit New York harbor, a group of colleagues and I were seated outside at Tatiana's, a cafe on the Brighton Beach boardwalk. We were talking about many things related to Brooklyn and to our work at Kingsborough Community College, CUNY's only seaside campus. Augmenting our vision with super-charged Russian Baltika beer, we started thinking about the borough as a "virtual space," a zone of ideas or imaginative transformations as much as a material or physical place.
From this initial, happy-hour conversation came the conference Dreamland Pavilion: Brooklyn and Development, which is to run from October 2-3, 2009 at K.C.C. Making the conference a reality challenged our initial conceptions of Brooklyn and our own place (individual and institutional) in it, moving our focus from virtual realities to changing actualities. Our own composition as a planning group also changed, becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and including members of Kingsborough's faculty in English, History, and Political Science. We discovered that development was a more concrete way to address our borough's present challenges, linking that present to multiple pasts and possible futures. While we each had individual ideas of what the conference could be, we also shared a collective vision: to create a temporary space in which academics, artists, designers, activists, and ordinary people could come together and explore the complexities of our borough.
The current exhibition, "The Soul is the Size of Elsewhere": Brooklyn and Development, is a direct outcome of that collective vision. In it we bring together four different cultural producers, as divergent in their methods and goals as they are convergent in their desire to link artistic or design work with the communities in which that work is produced, circulated, experienced. Each of these individuals or groups represents the creative social vision that makes Brooklyn that most stimulating of paradoxes: a global locality. The ship traffic that those of us who work at Kingsborough view every day from our classroom windows-arriving from and departing to the four corners of the world-is as global in its reach as our student body itself, richly diverse in language, background, viewpoints, and ideals. But that traffic is largely invisible to many inhabitants of our city, and if our campus is a microcosm of Brooklyn's population, so is Brooklyn a microcosm of the larger globe in the first decade of a new century.
Engaging these relationships, our participants ask some of the most basic and far-reaching questions that can be posed by creative work: In what ways do art, architecture, and design not simply represent a world that already exists, but actually participate in the creation of that world, acting not simply as a mirror but as a means of transformation? How do these different kinds of work challenge our ideas of representation, allowing viewers to take an active role in the creation of meaning in cities?
Development has become a highly polarizing word for many people, at once authorizing what it is also meant to explain: matter-of-fact changes in the way the borough looks or acts. In very different ways, the artists and designers participating in this exhibition explore the often conflicted meanings of Brooklyn's transformation-particularly its significance at the level of local communities-and the concept of development itself. Our belief is that the resulting collision of different techniques, points of view, and process-oriented projects will allow viewers to reconsider their own relationships to the communities in which they live and work. From Bill Kontzias' photographic portraits of his Ft. Greene neighborhood to Brooklyn Exchange's examination of development in the downtown triangle formed by Fulton Mall, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Atlantic Yards, and from Guy Ambrosino's transformative use of material from the Atlantic Yards to Proteus Gowanus's interdisciplinary exploration of creative processes generated by the Gowanus Canal neighborhood, this exhibition actively engages our contemporary moment by connecting it to Brooklyn's past and future.
In doing so, "The Soul is the Size of Elsewhere" is about the potential of art, architecture, and design to stimulate discussions about the kinds of future cities we want. We wish to make the processes of urbanism visible, or more specifically, to make hidden political and social processes visible, and to give viewers a chance to understand how specific places and their respective histories are often in tension with many current development projects. Finally, we provide a critical examination of development as it is or has been defined in contemporary and historical terms. The exhibition title is taken from the Hindu Upanishads, reflecting the difficulty of translating the meaning of existence or identity into spatial terms (How big, in other words, is "elsewhere"? What is the relationship between "elsewhere" and "here"?), but also the necessity of doing so if we are to connect our ideas to material forms, forms that are simultaneously the impetus to and the possibility of further reflection upon those ideas.
But the basic point, perhaps, is that to view the works in this exhibition in all their diversity of conception and realization, their dialogue of concept and practice, is to experience the very participatory forms of development in which that word continues to have a living heart, critical and transformative.
Searsmont, ME and Brooklyn, NY
Communications and Design students, Pratt Institute
with Professors David Frisco and Meredith TenHoor
Proteus Gowanus Artists In This Exhibit:
Kevin T. Allen
Jeanne Liotta (video of Gowanus Bubble shown above)
This exhibition was presented in conjunction with the Dreamland Pavilion
Conference, which was held at Kingsborough on October 2 and 3, 2009.