Friday, September 7, 2012

Installation Progress

After almost two weeks of installing Catagenesis, we are mightily prepared for the opening of this complex exhibition (this Sunday, September 9th, 2-5pm at the Globe Dye Works).

I have spent several days on site, assisting the artists in however they needed an extra hand.  This experience varied greatly between the artists but was overall informative, intense and fun!  I spent some time atop a corrugated tin roof, making slight adjustments to carts full of colored thread as Carolyn Healy conducted the arrangement to suit her vision from below.

Elizabeth Mackie is fortunate to have had a dependable duo of her students from the College of New Jersey to help realize her rather daunting concept.  I assisted her crew in hemming a 15 foot wedding dress and most importantly trying to keep it white amidst the dust and dirt covered walls and floor of the  space.

Elizabeth Mackie's assistants from TCNJ, hard at work in her intimate space.

I also enjoyed the challenges inherent in Pam Bowman's intricate installation.  Certainly the hours spent untangling thread and rope will be well worth the effort!

My limited expertise was of little use to some other artists.  However, I enjoyed observing Damian Yanessa seated in his beach chair, contemplating his navigation of a room full of mirrors and his spatial distortion.  And watching Reece Terris, in full climbing gear and scaling the buildings exterior was an exhilarating and nerve wracking site to behold!

Reece Terris and assistants installing atop the Globe Dye Works, despite the rain!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Navigating the History of the Globe Dye Works

In conjunction with the opening of the Catagenesis exhibition, we will be showing a film about the history of Globe Dye Works.  Independent Curator Cheryl Harper, and Philadelphia Sculptors President Leslie Kaufman are responsible for the bulk of the work that has gone into the film, along with a small crew.

Bill Greenwood, Company Treasurer and Plant Superintendent, 1965

Recently, Cheryl and Leslie visited with the oldest surviving manager of the Globe Dye Works, Wilson "Bill" Greenwood, at his home in Moorestown, NJ.  Bill is a spry 89 years of age and he has a glowing energy while talking about his life at Globe, as well as the business' history.

Bill Greenwood, Reminiscing through one of many Globe scrapbooks, 2012

The film will describe the fascinating story of a truly unique and impressive family business.  The company was founded in 1865 by Richard Greenwood (who had emmigrated from Liverpool, England when he was 12), along with his friend William Bault.  It was Richard who had experience with textiles, his father was a loom weaver back in England, and he eventually bought out Mr. Bault (who was an engineer).  

Richard Greenwood, Co-Founder of Globe Dye Works, 1880s

Richard Greenwood knew what he was doing.  He had a reputation as the "indigo doctor" and was consulted on "sick" batches of indigo dye throughout the country.  Not only was he skilled in the art of textile dying, but he also laid the foundation of a stunningly functional family business.  It has been said that 10-15% of family businesses survive three generations, Globe excelled through five (Bill represents the fourth generation).  Richard (pictured above) had a visceral presence in the business throughout its existence; long after his death there was a life-size photo of him on view at Globe, a stern and proper Victorian keeping a watchful eye on his beloved operation.

Come visit the Catagenesis Exhibition (on view at the Globe Dye Works, September 9th - October 21st) to learn more about the Greenwood family and their extraordinary Globe Dye Works!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Featured Artist: Nivi Alroy

Nivi Alroy's work is tumultuous bordering on chaotic.  She describes it as examining the "ever-changing relationship between inner and outer spaces."  For Alroy, these spaces can be generated from the body, the home or even a sculpture – all realms where lines of division between the inner and outer are messy, to say the least. 

Alroy considers these divisions to be messy because of constant intrusion of outer realms into interior space.  It is this intrusion that creates the exposure of intimate details; this idea takes literal form in Alroy's installations, which can be described as highly textured explosions of this exposed interior.  Not only does Alroy challenge these boundaries, she also challenges gravity and scale.  In her creations things fall up and expected proportions are thrown out the window. 

Nivi Alroy, Over Spilled Milk

For the Catagenesis exhibition, she will be working in the boiler room of the Globe Dye Works facility.  This is a huge space with many intrusive and valuable obstacles that she will have to navigate and incorporate.  Alroy is coming all the way from Israel for the show and doing most of her preparation by proxy – studying video of the space, transporting items to the site and selecting objects leftover from Globe Dye's heyday that she will utilize.  Alroy will then arrive a little over two weeks before the opening to begin the exciting and immense job of steering her ideas through the boisterous exhibition territory - an overwhelming task that will no doubt be worth the wait!

Globe Dye Works, Boiler Room

Monday, July 2, 2012

Featured Artist: Reece Terris

The Western Front Front: Another False Front is a fascinating public art project by Canadian multi media artist Reece Terris.  It is exemplative of his ambitious work effort as well as his conceptual ingenuity.  The project also offers excellent insight on how he might approach his work on the upcoming Catagenesis Exhibition.

Terris' project revolves around false fronts, facades which were historically used to create a more impressive and established feeling in what were then (mid 1800s) very freshly constructed boomtowns.  In an interview with Exhibition Coordinator Mandy Ginson, Terris says "the project speaks to the past and present use of architecture as a means to communicate broader cultural values and aspirations."  Reece connects boomtown architecture and the 2010 real estate upturn in his home of Vancouver, B.C. 

Terris'  association with the original false fronts are as corporeal as they are ideological.  He created an enormous facade to lengthen the bravado of the first.  This was no small feat, and surely Terris' mountain climbing skills were suitable.  (Follow this link to watch a video of the false front being installed.)  Poignantly, the facade was installed for the duration of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and then shuffled into the cities architectural memory.

The potential parallels between this body of work, whats happening already at the Globe Dye Works and the Catagenesis Exhibition are strong.  It is quite thrilling to imagine what sort of feats Terris will embark on in his utilization of the heroic facility that is the Globe Dye Works.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Featured Artists: Carolyn Healy & John Phillips

Carolyn Healy and John Phillip's work and methodology could not be better suited for this show and the exhibition space.  As collaborators of site-specific multimedia installations, Carolyn is the sculptor while John considers the environment that she creates and adds the sound and video components.  Their process begins by spending a lot of time in the space; Carolyn has discussed the importance of the smell and the vibe while John described his interest in researching the history of the place - in this case mainly workers and their traditions.  Their work begins with concrete ideas and becomes abstract in form.  

Fig. 1. Carolyn and John in their raw space for the Catagenesis show.

Carolyn has been scavenging the Globe for objects to use in their installation.  Below are carts full of spools of thread that were dyed at the Globe Dye facility which Carolyn has collected for potential use in the show.  Their artist statement expresses a strive to keep the technology that they use invisible and describes what they create as a "nonverbal 'theater' of the mind."  By merging these heady ideas with their visual and audible creations Carolyn and John will no doubt merge a complex, sensual wonderland into the Globe Dye Works.

Fig. 2. Items that Carolyn has set aside to potentially use in their installation.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Featured Artist: Gandalf Gavan

"I am attracted to art that has that sense of humour and tension between seriousness, ambivalence and play." Gandalf Gavan, (Phong Bui, Brooklyn Rail, May 2010)

Gandalf Gavan is trying to keep things simple these days.  He moves quickly, almost joltingly around Globe Dye Works, but it is clear that when it comes to art making, Gavan is able to trust his instincts.  Upon entering the exhibition space he had an immediate attraction to a big tub of zeolite and decided to hone right in.  

Gandalf Gavan, Daedelus's Song, Oaxaca, Mexico, 2003.

Gavan's ability to transform a space without entirely taking it over is due to his utilization of surroundings without nullifying them.  He invites his media to employ light as an additive rather than a costume.  His past work has involved many media, notably here are neon and mirror, and often express his interest in light.  In terms of the zeolite, he is excited about its quality of refracting light as well as its ability to shift our perception of the material.  

Gandalf Gavan, Infinite Infinities, P.S.1., Long Island City, NY, 2007.

Zeolite, a water softener, has been a focus for many visitors into the Globe Dye Works.  I would credit it's luring texture as it's most seductive attribute, but its constant shifting of color and light have been just as powerful in honing us in.  Gavan filled a baggie of zeolite to bring back to his Brooklyn studio; I can't wait to see what he does with the stuff.

Globe Dye Works, Tub of Zeolite.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Featured Artist, Scott Pellnat

This weekend I was fortunate to meet Scott Pellnat, one of our invited artists for Catagenesis, at the Globe Dye Works exhibition space.  Described by local art blogger Don Brewer as an "accomplished woodworker and avid dumpster diver," Scott's quirky constructions are a perfect match for this exhibition.

In chatting with Scott, his ability to reconfigure and transform space immediately surfaced.  Scott is currently living and working in Somerset, NJ (though he has previously hailed from NY and Philadelphia).  He described his current surroundings as decidedly suburban, and it seems that he has peeked the interest of both his neighbors and local police with the decidedly un-conventional studio he has built on his property.  Local interest was peeked several years ago with the studio/home he created (tower and all!) in south Philly.

Scott talked about his process as starting out abstract and becoming concrete in form.  His connection to the space at Globe Dye Works was both definitive and amorphous.  His current work is with boats, and he immediately observed a direct parallel between the roof of the building and the hull of a ship.  However, he also discussed his response to the space as being layered - another layer involving the historical narratives surrounding the space (not necessarily historical facts).  

It's doubtful that even Scott has a palpable idea of how all these layers will emerge in his final installation.  I am particularly excited to see how his work will manifest in the exhibition space; without a doubt, these boats will have depth.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Globe Dye Works with the Greenwood Family

A couple of Saturdays ago I had the tickling experience of walking through the exhibition space at the Globe Dye Works with a handful of energetic, proud and knowledgeable men.  

Three of these men were Bill, Craig and Tim Greenwood.  The Greenwood family (Bill is Craig's father, and Tim is his cousin) have owned and operated the Globe Dye Works since it was opened by Richard Greenwood in 1865.  That the Greenwoods managed to run the textile dying operation for 140 years without selling the business or encountering any major familial feuds seems absolutely remarkable, until you meet these men.  The enthusiasm that the Greenwood's have for their family's business flows out of their easy smiles and eager storytelling.  But that enthusiasm is most evident in Bill, who is 89 years old and "going through adolescence."  His stories are filled with pride and humor, particularly in talking about the companies employees.  

George Ditzel (our other tour guide - shown below at left with Bill and Craig) was one of those employees.  He began working for Globe Dye at 18, along with all of his brothers (he says he doesn't know how many he has, and Bill guesses 46) as well as their wives.  George is a "neighborhood boy," as were essentially all Globe Dye employees.  The Greenwoods say they never remember looking for employees - most of the neighborhood families just worked for them.  Or really I should say with them, as it seems evident that at least these two generations of Greenwoods did plenty of work.  Below Craig reminisces how George taught him that you should always walk around carrying a tool so people will assume you are either headed to fix something or have just fixed something.

Craig was the last owner/operator of the Globe Dye Works, along with Billy Greenwood (the family kept only two members in charge of the business at a time).  They closed the facility in 2005, after the market had been slumping for years due to foreign competition.  They waited to close until three 40+ year employees reached retirement.  

There were a few sad years after the business closed and the neighborhood began to head downhill, but the Greenwoods could not be happier about the direction this historic warehouse is headed.  The building is now being slowly renovated and transformed into artist's studios, amongst other things.  Tim told me about one of the organizations now operating at the Globe, the Philadelphia Wooden Boat Factory, an experimental group attempting to engage city kids with maritime related activities.  Hearing Tim's excitement about the exhibition as well really brought home just how perfect this space is for Catagenesis.

top - Bill points to where the giant dye vats would have been, while Tim and Craig look on.
bottom - Left to right, George Ditzel, Bill and Craig Greenwood. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

Blue Red Yellow Natural Dye Workshop

In hopes of gaining a better understanding of what took place at Globe Dye Works (primarily indigo dyeing), I recently attended a workshop at the Temple Art Gallery about natural dye processes.  Elissa Gwen Meyers and Mira Sophia Adornetto (of BlueRedYellow) were wonderful teachers, very energetic and open about their processes.

BlueRedYellow is the name of their design/dye house (based in South Philadelphia), but these are also the only colors with which they dye.  As Elissa explained, secondary colors are created only through an overdye process (you would dye something first blue and then yellow to create green, and so on..).  Apparently this is for chemical reasons, the dye adheres to the fibers on a specific basis and mixing colors in the dye vats would mess up the fundamentals.  In this way, they described creating color in textiles to be very different than mixing paint.

In this workshop, our red dye was made of boiled madder (a plant root).  We had two shades of yellow - boiled marigolds made a bright yellow and boiled onion leaves created a deeper golden hue.  Creating indigo, on the other hand, is much more complex.  Indigo pigment, madder root powder, wheat bran and soda ash are all added to a big bucket of warm water; it is stirred (daily), covered and left to ferment.  The indigo we were using had been prepared at the previous workshop and had been fermenting for two weeks.  It had a pungent fishy smell.  Actually, the whole gallery had a deliciously strong odor with the boiling onion leaves, the sweetness of the marigold heads and the rich earthy smell of the madder root all mingling with that fishy indigo.  At some point during the workshop a hungry boy came in to see if we were making soup.

With the red and yellow dyes, the chemical process that causes adherence happens to the fabric before it is dyed.  The fabric is scoured (cleaned) and then mordanted (there are hundreds of mordant processes, but basically this is where the soda ash comes in).  So the dye vats consist of only the plant and a lot of hot water.  With indigo, the soda ash is in the dye and the fabric does not need mordanting.

And we were ready to dye.  We began by arranging our fabric in different ways to cause resist (areas where the fabric would not pick up dye); there was a lot of good old fashioned tie-dying (by twisting and tying the fabric so the folds resist the dye), stiching (so that the sewn thread would be the resister), as well as screen printing gum tragacanth (Mira and Elissa get this from a local bakery).  With the red and yellow we put the fabric in the vats, agitated it some, removed it and rinsed it vinegar.  And again, the indigo process was more complicated/interesting.  The dye itself is a muddy greenish color (except at the top, where air has interacted with the dye), and it is only when it mingles with oxygen that it becomes indigo in hue.  The oxidation process of indigo is absolutely beautiful to watch; we would pull out the greenish fabric and watch as it would slowly transform into a rich blue color.

There was also some expression of the heartiness of indigo dye - it was the only color that we didn't have to measure our fabric usage of (it seemed impossible to dilute), and everyone was most interested in dying with it.  Mira and Elissa were giddy about the strength of one particular batch - apparently the fermentation process was rapid and very successful.

We were working on a plastic tarp that was partially covering the gallery floor.  The area was quickly covered with drying fabric swatches, and we had to carefully navigate the space by hopping over dye vats and fabric.  I had a great deal of sympathy for the nervous gallery guide who was constantly wiping indigo splashes and footprints off of the gallery floor with a sponge.

Indigo is one complex color, and I can only imagine the kind of beautiful messes that must have been made at Globe Dye Works.

Recommended Reading:
Harvesting Color: How to Find Plants and Make Natural Dyes, Rebecca Burgess

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

First Visit to Globe Dye Works

Yesterday was my first visit to the exhibition space at Globe Dye Works. Wow.  This place is huge, raw, and jam packed with possibility.  My walk through was with Leslie Kaufman (Director of Philadelphia Sculptors) and about ten artists who are planning to submit proposals for jury selection (five artists have been chosen to participate and another ten will be selected by our jury).

We walked through with slack jaws and cameras flashing.  Many of the artists were giddy - inspiration visible in their excited eyes and the air thick with ideas.

The space has intricate wooden rafters and the ground is strewn with abandoned equipment (this building was actively dying fabric until 2005).  Beams of light stream in through the roof; it feels like both an industrial wasteland and an enchanted playground.

I was struck by the contrast between vast open space and intimate niches - surely this show will invite artists to work both large and small.  The sheer largeness of the space is coupled by boundless details.  We all took a few minutes to run our hands through a vat of what looked like rusty sand - Leslie explained it was Zeolite, a water softener.  It felt like velvet.

I could go on to attempt to describe this place, but it really must be seen to be believed.  Leslie put it well when she said, "If you're into texture, than this is the place to be."

This is going to be a great show.

Welcome to the Blog!

This is a blog about the process of putting together Catagenesis, an exhibition of site specific installations in the Frankford area of Philadelphia.  The exhibition is sponsored by Philadelphia Sculptors (namely Director Leslie Kaufman, Independent Curator Cheryl Harper, a few interns and an array of devoted volunteers) and it will take place at the Globe Dye Works.

Five artists have been invited to participate and ten more will be chosen through a juried process.  The exhibition will open on September 9, 2012, and there is much work to be done to get us there.  I hope you will enjoy hearing about the process.