Spanish-born, Rotterdam-based artist Lara Almarcegui’s Guide to the Wastelands of Flushing River — at Ludlow38 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — carves an interdisciplinary niche at the intersection of photography, urban studies, and performance — a terrain every bit as ambiguous and enticing as the urban spaces documented in her work.
For her first solo exhibition in the U.S., Almarcegui turns her attention to the Flushing River in Queens. The river bears the scars of last century’s discarded urban agendas: partially buried under Flushing Meadows Corona Park, sliced up by multi-lane freeways, fragmented and mostly abandoned following the decline of industry along its banks. Almarcegui has exhaustively researched and photographed its litter-strewn remains, and her photos are displayed in a hypnotic slideshow projected on the gallery wall. They are also printed, with explanatory text, in a pamphlet which gallery visitors are “invited to pick up [to] explore these sites at their own leisure”.
Guide to the Wastelands is the main attraction here, but taken in context with the other works on display (particularly Construction Materials Sao Paulo City, in which she catalogs the relative volume of building materials used to construct the city), the selection reveals a broader interest in the physical stuff that composes the built environment, and the voids that remain when it is removed. Mostly, this interest is communicated through photographic documentation. But the inclusion of a portable brochure reveals a hint of the political in Almarcegui’s didactic intent, as if to say “take a guide, get out of your apartment and go see the site for yourself — before developers drop cheap condos on it.”
This gesture places the work in a lineage of conceptual artists who engage audiences by prompting behavior; Almarcegui’s approach is simply re-tooled for the soft-power, facebook era. The more we know about the Flushing River (or the Gowanus Canal or Pennsylvania Avenue Landfill), the more likely we are to advocate for its sensitive reweaving into the urban fabric of New York. Compared to the work of other international artists, Almarcegui’s work is not glamorous. But by exposing the forgotten spaces in our midst, it just might be more important.
on view April 17 – May 16, 2010
Opening Hours: Friday – Sunday, 1–6pm and by appointment
All images: Lara Almarcegui,
from Guide to the Wastelands of Flushing River, Queens, New York City, 2010
courtesy the artist and Ludlow 38, New York
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.
Travis Eby is a recent graduate of the Yale School of Architecture. He loves his stoop in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.