From its founding in 2009 by Maddy Rosenberg, CENTRAL BOOKING has focused on the exploration between art and science with emphasis on aspects of the environment and social justice issues. In many collaborative projects with organizations such as the New York Academy of Medicine and the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, artists researched their work in the collections, libraries and grounds of these institutions and exhibited the resulting work in several venues. Rosenberg says that after years of living along the Brooklyn waterfront of Buttermilk Channel and incorporating the imagery into her own work, she sensed it was time to take a deeper dive into the ecosystems of the Brooklyn waterfront and the last surviving section of functioning port within New York City’s boundaries. The life along the harbor integrates the wildlife, land and neighborhoods of human-made architectural elements seemed to her like “a perfect barometer for exploring climate change”. A collaboration with the New-York Historical Society was a natural step, as their collections preserve many of the earlier roots along the way to the transformations we live with today. Rosenberg says that in addition, by forging partnerships with other area organizations such as Kentler International Drawing Space, Pioneer Works and the RETI Center, the project became truly emblematic of the Brooklyn Waterfront.
Please tell us about the genesis of this show at BWAC and how it relates to climate change.
To begin the project, I selected fourteen artists who would both benefit from months, turning into years due to Covid, of research to inform a body of work created specifically for this project, and whose various interests and approaches would weave points in such a narrative. The resulting installations by these artists communicate not only an imaginative insight into the historical collection, but also a focus on the significance of the New York Harbor’s waterfront ecosystems and natural resources in alignment with the New-York Historical Society’s recently launched Climate Lab studying the relationship between environmental issues and history.
The next phase was to find an appropriate venue that could house 14 installations, and one specific to the location. I spoke with a number of spaces and the 8000 square feet of the first floor of BWAC seemed both perfect and a wonderful challenge, with the architecture and natural aging of the ex-warehouse space resonating with the content of the exhibition, a reminder itself of the 19th century port development. I managed to convince them this would be a perfect project for the space during their off season, and they very generously allowed us a month to build the exhibition, with almost two months of public exhibition and programming.
Can you elaborate on the work that deals with the environmental history and future of the area?
The artists all approached their research and making through a variety of lenses. Ellen K. Levy was intrigued by Thomas Cole’s allegorical work, The Course of Empire, and its moralistic take on history. Combining traditional techniques such as painting and collage with AR components that trigger animations, she explores the use (and misuse) of the waterfront through poisoning by toxic elements (cobalt and cadmium) and the rise and fall of the brick building industry (due to soil erosion resulting in mudslides). Levy charts a course from the local water to colonization and into outer space. Sabra Booth’s own investigation of ecosystems laid waste by industrial misuse in the Gowanus Bay end of the waterfront and ensuing canal, manages to find the beauty even while highlighting the toxicity, in her delicate sketches and more caustic artist’s book. Paul Tecklenberg’s Chopping and Changing utilizes points on a 1798 navigation chart with double exposed images of the area mounted on chopping boards from the Red Hook Ikea. Enlarging the negatives through plastic food packaging, he creates a ghost like image of single use packaging that haunts the waters.
Margaret Craig repurposes plastic into her own printmaking technique that become both sculptures that light the way and wall books stuffed with alternative evolved oysters, confronting the fact that these plastics have unalterably changed the biosphere. A plastic eating creature is a costume worn by the artist in a performance that delights, but also on a more serious note examines the contamination of plastics in the diets of all of us. Desirée Alvarez explores the history of oyster beds that once proliferated the harbor through the delicacy of a translucent fabric layered installation combining both word with image. She also celebrates a future where oysters inhabit the waters once more, as she combines her own poem with quotes from the high school students at the nearby New York Harbor School who are participating in the Billion Oyster Project.
My series of puzzle prints highlight the interwoven past and present of the communities along this sliver of waterfront. Susan Rostow covers her sculptures of maps and other pieces of landscape in shades of red oxide, harking back again to the red clay soil of the area. We partnered to animate our work with a tour of time through the landscape and its transformations, as my structures come alive and Rostow’s creatures emerge from pieces of the past, combining the seriousness of the situations with a hint of whimsy.
Questions of future climate change weather patterns, previewed by the devastation of Superstorm Sandy along this very same Red Hook coastline, are addressed in Patricia Olynyk’s AR project that reaches back to the Victorian age in the form of a board game -and forward to consider the questions of climate change, storm surges and rising tides.
Diane Lavoie collages together contemporary manufactured plastic and packaging material to mold an imagined space for the early ecosystems that thrived in a pre-industrial Buttermilk Channel. Helena Kauppila paints the waterfront history before city, before seaports, before farming, in a search for our genetic beginning, in a quest for a better understanding of how we may find a common path forward.
The 44-page On the Waterfront: A View from the Coast (Line) catalog, including a Curator Statement by Maddy Rosenberg and a Preface by Margi Hofer, Museum Director of the New-York Historical Society, can be viewed online.
Participating Artists: Desirée Alvarez, C Bangs, Elena Berriolo, Sabra Booth, Graciela Cassel, Margaret Craig, Judith Eloise Hooper, Helena Kauppila, Diane Lavoie, Ellen K. Levy, Patricia Olynyk, Maddy Rosenberg, Susan Rostow, Paul Tecklenberg
About the Curator: Maddy Rosenberg is a Brooklyn born and based artist/curator, with an active international exhibition and curatorial career. Her studio work extends over a number of media, including oil painting, artist’s books, printmaking, toy theater, animation and installation. Rosenberg’s work has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Europe. She approaches curating as an extension of her creative practice. In 2009, she founded CENTRAL BOOKING, an interdisciplinary gallery focusing on her curatorial interests in artist’s books and art & science. Rosenberg received a National Endowment for the Arts grant for Dialogue, a six-venue project in New York and Paris. Public collections include MoMA, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Fogg Museum, Yale University, Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery, Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, and Salzburg Museum. She received a BFA from Cornell University and an MFA from Bard College.