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Artspace Opening Tonight: Ecologies of Decay

By Joanna Gillespie

Three
Buffalo-based artists address the theme of urban decay at
Artspace
Buffalo Gallery

tonight (Friday, September 18th
, with an opening reception from 6-10PM).  Ecologies of Decay is an
exhibition examining urban decay that arises through the social, political, and
economic processes of urban contraction featuring the work of Dennis Maher,
Julian Montague, and Jean-Michel Reed.  The resource for the exhibition is
Buffalo, NY, yet the ecologies surrounding the process of decay describe the
changing nature of the 19th century American city.

The
artists’ installations include floor plans, photographs, fabric banners, and
large-scale sculptural installations.  The works, each an investigation of
the housing stock of Western New York, range from re-imagined debris from an
actual home demolition site, to studies of the minute biological systems at
play in aging architectural structures and to the desensitizing spectacle of
arson and abandonment in the face of urban blight.

The
exhibition reveals the ecological systems of fifty years of urban
out-migration, issues shared by many of America’s oldest cities now confronting
formidable surpluses of vacant and derelict properties.  Exacerbated by
absentee landlords, prohibitive costs of renovation, and high demand for
shovel-ready sites, the exodus of these largely post-industrial territories has
brought issues of vacancy, arson, and demolition to the forefront of our social,
political, and environmental consciousness. Typically, the language employed to
describe the phenomenon of urban contraction is definitively pejorative,
characterized by notions of “decay,” “demise,” and “decline.”  This
project resists such negative associations, and instead recognizes “decay” as
an integral, intermediary phase in the life cycles of cities.  It is the
artists’ intention not to provide architectural or political solutions or
answers, but to look at the worlds–the ecologies–that arise from the process of
decay.

maher pic.png

Dennis Maher is a native of Maryland. He worked in the
construction and demolition industry before studying architecture at Cornell
University, and has taught in the Department of Architecture and Urban Planning at
the University of Buffalo since 2004.  Over the past five years, Maher’s
practice has investigated the post-industrial landscape of Buffalo.  Maher’s
work engages us on two levels; his use of discarded building materials
illustrate the flood of waste and abandonment in Rust Belt America, while his
painterly and sculptural treatment of these materials suggest the potential for
renewal–and environments yet to be envisioned emerge.  Maher’s hybrid
constructions ask us to consider the notion of decay as an intermediate phase
before new growth.  Mined from the residue of vanished places, and from
discarded materials and objects, Maher’s installation discloses a wasteland of
salvaged territories within collected everyday ruins.

montague pic.png

Julian Montague was born in Wisconsin and raised in Buffalo. In the course of
his career as an artist and graphic designer he has exhibited his work
nationally and published The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A
Guide to Field Identification (Abrams, 2006). In a previous project Montague
explored the spiders living at the edges of our domestic space (To Know the
Spiders, 2008).  In this installation he catalogues the animals that come
to occupy an abandoned house. The centerpiece of the installation is a table
with the floor plan of a typical early 20th century house. Graphics on the plan
locate the areas where the various animals have been observed or collected.
This occupation is further elaborated by vertical threads, which lead to
hanging banners that depict the life form’s faces. Montague explains, “For a
house, decay is a process where interior spaces are physically and conceptually
turned into exterior spaces. In an inhabited house the presence of insects,
birds, small mammals, etc. are a threat to the social and psychological
framework that allow us to be ‘inside.’ In an abandoned home the threat is
carried out, and the domestic space is dismantled entirely.”

reed pic.png

Jean-Michel Reed was born in Seattle, Washington, and
received a Masters of Architecture from the University at Buffalo where his
thesis project Imagineering: The Image as Space (2002) investigated the
collapse of the World Trade Center as an image.  Reed has held a lifelong
fascination with fires and disasters as both a natural system and a cultural
sensation, and has been photographing fires in Buffalo for the past fifteen
years.  Reed’s recent projects include Housing Bubble (photographs of
homes fallen victim to the current economic and foreclosure crisis) and
American Homes (images of homes from pornographic films).  Reed’s
large-scale color photographs of fires and abandoned homes echo the overarching
theme of Ecologies of Decay.  For Reed, destruction, demise, and decay are
aspects of our life cycle that are immutable.  Yet this decay, while often
cruel and irrevocably devastating, is an inevitable cycle of nature where
beauty can be found.

When
the artists approached me with the idea of this show, I was excited about the contrasting
topographies inherent in the exhibition’s site and premise.  The Artspace
building sits on a virtual fault line between two worlds–the manicured homes of
the Delaware District and the estimated 18,000 derelict structures slated for
demolition in the City of Buffalo–revealing the changing social and political
landscape of almost two hundred years of Buffalo’s history.  Situating an
exhibition about urban contraction and decay inside a 1912 building that was
recently reclaimed from abandonment and meticulously renovated and re-purposed,
presents an interesting juxtaposition.  The exhibition suggests that decay
fertilizes and incubates.  My hope is that visitors will see the
possibilities for this city’s stellar architectural inventory, while at the
same time considering the natural processes of growth and decline that are
critical to acknowledge if we are to create new resources in the future.

Ecologies
of Decay is accompanied by a limited edition, 13 x 20-inch screen printed
poster and a full-color, illustrated publication with essays by Elizabeth Otto,
Ph.D. (Assistant Professor of Visual Studies, University at Buffalo), Allen C.
Shelton, PhD (Associate Professor of Sociology, Buffalo State College), and
Hadas Steiner, Ph.D. (Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Planning,
University at Buffalo). The poster and book, designed by Julian Montague, will
be available at the opening reception or by contacting
julian@montagueprojects.com.

Ecologies
of Decay runs from September 18 through October 19, 2009.  Also opening
this evening is a solo exhibition, running concurrent with Ecologies of Decay,
entitled
, Rumors and Folktales: Collages by Brian A. Kavanaugh.

 

 

Written by Buffalo Rising

Buffalo Rising

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