It rained all week in Northern New Jersey. The entire Passaic watershed is saturated and as it drains the Great Falls roars with the swelling volume of racing water as the river makes its way to its ultimate release into the Atlantic. Its a good metaphor for the surging rebirth of Paterson as a revitalized center of commerce and culture.
Long a typical neglected northeastern industrial city in decline, Paterson is experiencing a vibrant transitioning and repurposing of it’s heritage as a manufacturing center thanks in part to The Art Factory.
The Art Factory is an incubator encouraging the formation and growth of the creative arts industry. Tourism and cultural enterprises that attract tourists are critical economic drivers necessary for the rebirth of Paterson. The Art Factory’s offering of working space for artists and commercial enterprises is a critical initiative seeking to build on The Great Falls Historic District’s recent National Park designation that anchors the city’s hopes for a long awaited revitalization.
The Art Factory is busy renovating the once dilapidated Dolphin Jute factory space and filling it with the creative energies of up and coming professional artists looking for commercial acceptance of their art.
Memorial Day weekend, The Art Factory’s Art Walk showcased a torrent of local artistic talent. The volume of exhibits compliments the range and scope of quality art that met and exceeded the expectations of the many patrons and enthusiasts eagerly exploring a labyrinth of cavernous exhibition rooms located throughout the century old industrial complex.
Indeed half the fun of The Art Walk is making your way through the multiple floors of exhibition space. The thrill of walking stairwells and darkened brick laden passageways opening into old shop floors flooded with art, bathed in the light of industrial windows framing cityscapes of surrounding street life, wooded hills of Garret Mountain and historic skyline of Paterson. Or descend into the bowels of the old factory’s basement storage areas carved out of granite bedrock bleeding water, showcasing multimedia sculptures divined from the subterranean strata of broken bricks, steel scrap, rubbish bins, wooden pallets, cardboard packaging, dexterous hands and fluid imagination.
One of the great pleasures of The Art Walk is experiencing how the art interacts with industrial space. A virtue of The Art Factory is its mission to repurpose dormant manufacturing space and refill it with the creative energy of artists. A great portion of the art on exhibit in The Art Walk addressed the idea of repurposing, industrial stasis and the human and ecological cost of industrialization.
The idea of repurposing industrial artifacts and disposable waste to portray the human cost of rampant consumerism was intelligently portrayed by conceptual artist Aleksandr Razin and his bold installation Jurassic Park.
Comprised of 4 extensive installations filling a large basement space; The Mosquito, (68’x 20’ x 12’); The Paterson Butterfly (51’x54’x12’), The Grasshopper (35’x45’x13’) and The Fly (54’x55’x20’); Jurassic Park was fully constructed from materials culled from the excessive waste of our throw away consumer society. Each installation appears as though its belongs in the dank basement of an industrial complex.
One piece, The Caterpillar, is a boxed construction of corrugated cardboard enclosing an inner lighted workplace of benches, machines, tools and cabinets. One can look inside the caterpillar through windows or enter the piece from an hidden doorway. From the outside the cardboard construction looks like its about to collapse from flimsy construction materials. A caterpillar suggests transition but once inside the caterpillar I imagine a shift of workers trapped in a dangerous workplace at risk of imminent collapse. Certainly a timely observation given the recent catastrophic collapse of a Bangladesh textile factory killing over 1,000 workers manufacturing high end clothing for some of the leading western fashion brands.
The Mosquito installation was equally unsettling. Inside The Mosquito we find outdated school rooms. We can only surmise how school systems are challenged by obsolete teaching methods and institutional distress. Are schools like a mosquito, sucking the life blood out of society’s young minds? To paraphrase the artist statement, Mr. Razin asserts, the size of the installation suggest extinct dinosaurs and that out of control consumerism and toxic waste is threatening life on earth.”
Another large subterranean installation offers a complex tube structure of air blown inflated denim. A haunting soundtrack of industrial sounds echoes through the room; as sparse lighting casts long shadows of the piece and patrons onto walls of bedrock and weathered brick. The patron assumes the role of a consumer who becomes complicit enablers trapped in the denim web of global trade built on the exploitation of third world textile workers.
Jonah The Prophet and The Gates of Hell completed a trinity of subterranean social commentary installations. Jonah, a suspended wire piece portrays a figure devoured by a fish. The room’s floor was covered in broken brick. Scattered cubicle panels lined the walls. Here in the lowest level of The Art Factory we have been consumed, entrapped in the prison of industrial monotony.
The upper floors of the show mostly featured portraiture, photography and small sculptures. An installation on Industrialism portrayed the hard edges of industrial capitalism. An oil painting, Made In China sympathetically portrays a child attached to a sewing machine. Its a striking depiction of western consumerism complicity in enabling child labor.
With the exception of the basement installations, for the most part politics and social commentary was absent from the Art Walk. The pieces were clearly positioned for sale; and as I said earlier the quality and subject matter of paintings make this art highly marketable. Refreshments, bands and a wedding added an air of festive lightness to the day and set a consumer friendly atmosphere to The Art Walk.
And that’s how it should be. Though I couldn’t discern any major artistic breakthroughs, commercial development and the art of capitalism is the star of this show. Bravo The Art Factory and The Paterson Art Walk. The journey back from economic doldrums has begun in Paterson and The Art Factory and The Art Walk is a big first step in that journey.
Music Selection: Fats Domino, I’m Walkin
risk: urban renewal, small business, tourism, culture