By Debbi Kenote
Article originally appeared on Two Coats of Paint.
Contributed by Debbi Kenote / A recent decision to focus on the power of narrative has led me to the work of Sonya Blesofsky. Through conversation with the artist and observation of her practice, I’ve discovered a body of work that is both personal and engaged with contemporary issues. Evoking architectural forms through minimal gesture and altering the physical attributes of a space, Blesofsky makes decisions that have the stopping effect only a whisper can evoke. Currently her installations are on view in “Ambient Occlusion,” a group exhibition at Present Co. in Bushwick that includes Clive Murphy and Zachary Norman.
Blesofsky’s contribution to the show utilizes the pre-existing space to communicate an ambitious message. Within the work we find the means to discuss the role that our built environment plays, both in the creation of history and the birth and loss of memories that surface in response to physical change. A predisposition for sentimentality battles against a layered discussion of historical story telling.
Spending time with Blesofsky’s project precipitates questions of my own ties to Brooklyn–and New York City as a whole. Believing that gentrification and community erosion are the most pressing issues the city faces, Blesofsky focuses on the site of the Rheingold Brewing Company, a manufacturing plant in Bushwick that was demolished in 1982. Through research and studying the neighborhood since moving there ten years ago, she traces a complex narrative that is rich with architectural beauty and human destruction. A hidden story emerges that includes looting and burning during the 1977 blackout. Haunting archival images of the brewery are the basis for the architectural forms found in her work at Present Co.
The structure’s absence becomes even more relevant with the release in June of a proposal to build a major apartment complex on the site where the brewery once stood. The plans for the sprawling one-million square-foot structure also tell a story, and include a brewery-inspired beer garden roof hangout named “Bushwick II.” The proposal, modeled on a European village, arrives in Brooklyn as the William Vale Hotel, another recent multi-million dollar “upgrade” opens to the public in Williamsburg.
Blesofsky internalizes the shifting space, and touches ground with the works at Present Co. Drawing inspiration from disappeared architecture, she cuts into the gallery wall, exposing studs and windows in the brick wall outside of the space. On the left of Study For Bushwick Renewal: Voids, a piece of the cut window remains attached and forms what feels to be a ramp or window ledge leading into the newly accessible space. In the image that results, we find a new installation of 3-dimensional and 2-dimensional interest, conjuring Gordon Matta-Clark’s architectural interventions and Agnes Martin’s spare geometry. Positive and negative space play an important role in the work. The shifting of urban renewal, the acts of disappearing and appearing, repeat as she moves the pieces around the space, creating new stories and new lineages. In a similar process to the subtle shifting of neighborhoods over time, the work chips away and adds to the space until something new has been established. On another wall, faint scrapings have created an inverted fresco – a silhouetted arc.
Blesofsky’s practice focuses on the importance of speaking up, sharing stories, and remembering history. Believing that making art is inherently political, she chooses to investigate and respond to issues of gentrification, behind which lurk larger questions about the role of power, civic responsibility and cultural priority.
NOTE: Blesofsky’s next project will take place in DUMBO at Smack Mellon, where she will be creating a site-specific work for their anniversary show in November.
“Sonya Blesofsky, in Ambient Occlusion,” with Clive Murphy and Zachary Norman. Present Co., Bushwick, Brooklyn, NY. Through October 323, 2016.
About the author: Debbi Kenote is an artist, writer and West Coast transplant. She received her MFA from Brooklyn College in 2016 and is the co-founder of the art blog Open House.