Bay Ridge Through an Ecological Lens: Peter Edlund

Peter Edlund. Photo courtesy of the artist

Bay Ridge through an Ecological Lens is a multi-faceted public art exhibition hosted by Stand4 Gallery and presented in collaboration with ecoartspace

This interactive, public, community arts exhibition is curated by Jennifer McGregor, featuring artists  Rebecca AllanAaron AsisChris CostanKate Dodd,  Peter EdlundKristin Reiber-HarrisEllen Coleman-IzzoSergey Jivetin,  Nathan KensingerRita LeducChristopher LinNikki LindtE.J. McAdamsJimbo Blachly Nancy Nowacek in collaboration with Carla Kihlstedt and Carlos Alomar,  Benjamin Swett and filmmakers:  Aaron Assis, Nate DorrSean Hanley, Nathan Kensinger, Nikki Lindt, Emily Packer and Lesley Steele, and Kristin Reiber-Harris

It consists of nature walks and community interventions in the gallery and various locations throughout the Bay Ridge community from April 15 through June 17, 2023. Art Spiel will feature a series of interviews related to this project throughout its duration, here with artist Peter Edlund.

Tell us about your work in the show.

Since 2009, I have been creating landscape paintings that imagine urban spaces before people settled them. Based on historical maps and drawings, I bring to life the salt marshes of Gowanus, the cliff-bound waters of Manhattan’s Turtle Bay and the serpentine meandering of Paris’s lost Rivière de Bièvre. I paint them in Prussian blue and white to evoke an other-worldly locale and care is taken to depict the plant life that would have naturally grown in these locations.

For my painting, Whoever Transplants, Will Sustain: Brooklyn’s Botanical Newcomers, I based the background image on an 1872 photograph of Bay Ridge’s original shoreline at Colonial Harbor. This cove existed between present-day 72nd and 79th Streets and in 1918 was filled in. Over time, a Navy installation was built and razed, and then finally a park and a highway were constructed on this landfill area. The blue flora in the foreground are the indigenous plants still growing in the area: Sumac, Milkweed, Cattails, Sassafras, and Black-Eye Susans.

The brown plants represent introduced flora which in certain cases have become invasive and have dramatically altered ecosystems: Japanese Knotweed, London Plane Trees, Phragmites Reeds, and Ailanthus Trees. London Plane Trees, though not “invasive,” represent one of the most introduced plants to our North American ecosystem. Highly resistant to pollution, they were planted everywhere.

And to honor the indigenous people who lived in the area at the time of European colonization, I painted in a Sassafras sapling in the center of the scene. The mitten-shaped leaf of the Sassafras tree is the contemporary symbol for the Lenapé tribal homeland, Lenapéhoking. Brooklyn was settled on their homeland.

Whoever Transplants, Will Sustain: Brooklyn’s Botanical Newcomers, 2023 Oil on canvas. Photo courtesy of the artist

About the artist: Peter Edlund’s paintings reinterpret the landscape with a political and ecological overlay. He has used nature and the landscape as a metaphor for such topics as the human struggle in the face of AIDS; our psychological conditioning; and, the revision of history, focusing on American romanticism. Often his work comments on racism and issues of invisibility. Since 2005 he has been researching indigenous American languages to better understand the origin of many US place-names — words that have become an underlying part of our geography, but whose original meanings and sources are mostly lost. From his research, he has created landscape and botanical paintings which translate these names. Presently he is creating paintings that envision the urban landscape before human habitation based on historical maps and drawings – imagine Times Square as a cedar swamp.

Bay Ridge Through an Ecological Lens April 15 – June 17, 2023 A Public Art Exhibition Curated by: Jennifer McGregor