Excerpt from "Medea's Weekend"
Tony Millionaire, Waterfront Week, vol.2, #19, 1992


Out of Town: The Williamsburg Paradigm

by Gisele Atterberry
Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette, 1993

With motors whirring, bells sounding, an interactive video display, and electrical cords and mechanical equipment sprawling throughout the galleries, "Out of Town: The Williamsburg Paradigm" is the liveliest show in memory at the Krannert Art Museum [University of Illinois].

Twenty-six artists are represented, each of whom is active within the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, a burgeoning art scene. The exhibition, brainchild of University of Illinois art history professor Jonathan Fineberg, proposes that Williamsburg is a new model of artistic activity.

Unlike many exhibitions which are defined by the geographic boundaries within which artists reside or keep studios, this show makes no claims to a collective look or shared visual bias for the group as a whole. Rather, the emphasis rests on the fact that in Willliamsburg artists tend to take a role in the political and social health of their neighborhood and city - acting locally, thinking globally, as the saying goes. Also to individual degrees of interest, they are attentive to popular culture (particularly to new music), new technologies and information systems, and the vast range of international and national developments which make an impact on quality of life issues.

The lifestyle generated by these artists is not a sheltered bohemian existence. Instead, there is a collective awareness that art cannot shut itself off from the world. The artists' attitudes are extroverted and anti-elitist.

Considering the conviction with which these artists share these concerns, it may come as something of a surprise that there is such a tremendous amount of visual diversity here. Yet, a push for non-conformity should not be unexpected for this group of young artists, most in their 20s or 30s, university-trained and accustomed to making a living in ways other than by selling their art through the traditional gallery systems.

A parallel between this show and the installations and shows of Colab (short for Collaborative Projects), a New York artists' group of the early 1980s, immediately comes to mind. For the most part eschewing traditional art media and relying instead on scrap materials and otherwise ignoble objects and means, artists of Colab made images and installations on street fronts and in abandoned buildings in order to take their message from the privacy of their studios to the public realities of the urban environment.

The Williamsburg artists share this insistence on making art out of materials known from daily experience, but for many of these artists, interests extend from pedestrian materials to the mechanical devices and applications of the computer, the video camera and other technologies.

Among the artists using humble and commonplace materials, Luisa Caldwell describes her point of view as "definitely political and feminist."

Her "House and Bullets" is composed of a small (about 18 inches tall) house form made of wood and coffee grounds surrounded by nearly 50 concrete bullet forms, each of a height nearly equal to the house. The scale juxtaposition (the greatly reduced house and much enlarged bullets) offer what the artist describes as a deliberately unclear message about whether the ammunition is protecting or protruding upon the home environment.

Yvette Helin, a noted theater costume designer, merges the visual arts and theatre by presenting bizarrely outfitted performers who interact, sometimes in an improvisational manner, within public urban spaces. A video documentation of her "The Pedestrian Project" indicates how, in her own words, the marionette-like actors "create pictures which illustrate the effect that city systems have on individuality."

Ebon Fisher combines his studies of the natural sciences with an attraction to high-tech media. His "System for Equalizing Heterosexuals" is an installation piece which is composed of small dark rooms connected by a narrow corridor. The innermost chamber is dominated by a 6-foot-tall painting of a heart, a realistically rendered image which seems to hover and glow within its nearly blackened chamber. A crisp computer-generated image of a cell-like unit is projected through a slide onto the floor and the room pulses with the echoes of mysterious sounds. The feeling engendered by the room is strangely quiet and meditative. The space is fully capable of rendering for its entrants the emotion which Fisher considers to be the most precious of all -awe.

As he was in Champaign for the opening of the exhibition, Fisher noted that he wanted the Williamsburg artists to be understood in context. He brought along a variety of posters and pamphlets of the type which one normally could find posted on walls throughout the Williamsburg neighborhood. This printed matter announces art performances, discusses recycling, addresses political and health issues: the presence of this material successfully underscores a major message of the show - that art is issued from a culture as well as an artist.