Make the Walls Invisible, For Just One Night

Two weeks ago I came across Sarah Nelson Wright’s compelling statement about Brooklyn Makes published here on Urban Omnibus. A thoughtful text for a contemplative project. I stopped by when she presented the project recently on the streets of North Brooklyn. Wright made three short videos of three different manufacturers in the Williamsburg-Greenpoint Industrial Zone, and then projected them onto the outside walls for two nights. Magical! It was like you could see right through the walls of these mysterious buildings to all the life and energy inside. Brooklyn does still make things.

If, like me, you work elsewhere during weekdays, these factories can seem subdued or even dead. It’s hard to tell which ones have been converted into condos and which still house makers. When I have time, maybe I’ll go back and take pictures during the day of these great old buildings.

The site-specific aspect of the installation was great—it brought both arts-followers and passers-by together on street corners with the artist to watch what had been previously hidden.

One stop was ACME Smoked Fish. Their trucks and logo are familiar, but I had never really paid the factory much attention. Piles of coral-colored salmon made the video compelling and I could have watched all night.

Next was Royal Engraving, and its 250-year-old engraving machines. That’s history for you. That video was a little less striking at first—so much paper—but the subtle, rhythmic moves of the press and the workers responding to them became hypnotic. The satisfying thud of a stack of thick paper being tapped into alignment and the frighteningly efficient swish of a guillotine chopping the stack made for a great sound track. This video, like the ACME video, had only the sounds of work being done, no interviews or voiceovers, just feeling like a spy with x-ray vision.

The last stop was Dobbin Mill, where Robbin Silverberg makes fine art papers. Although this was also a view of fabrication, it didn’t fit in with the other two. Not only was the process less mechanical (though there was a brief view of an awesome paper press), Robbin Silverberg explained what she was doing as she worked, which made the video feel more like a PBS video and less like the vouyeristic view through the wall the other videos achieved. I understand that Sarah Nelson Wright was looking to connect craft and factory fabrication, but I think the three together would have been stronger if they had been more of a type.

That’s just quibbling, though—this was an amazing installation that changed forever the way I see those particular street corners. I can’t wait to see what project Sarah Nelson Wright dreams up next.

As with all review and opinion pieces posted on Urban Omnibus, the views expressed are those of the author only and do not reflect the position of Urban Omnibus editorial staff or the Architectural League of New York.

All images by Kirsten Hively. Text adapted from an article originally published on Hively’s blog Catasterist.

Kirsten Hively received her MArch in 2007 from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Together with journalist Paul Lukas, she recently co-produced a show at the City Reliquary on the ersatz Candela Structures in Queens, and when not architecting she can often be found photographing or writing about New York City, where she lives and works.

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