Margaret Cogswell’s Moving the Water(s) by Amanda Parmer

Margaret Cogswell’s two installations—Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues (2014) and Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues(2012)—play sound and image off one another to show the social and physical effects of water’s commodification on the land and citizens of the United States. Drawing on documents, interviews and historical records from the past hundred years in New York and Wyoming, these works present an immersive visual and aural score regulated by a metronomic beat. The content of Cogswell’s projected videos are a mash-up of her video documentation, holding together otherwise disparate themes, sounds and locations. Her politicized narratives are punctuated and tied together by the character of a magician who appears in each.  

Presented in a darkened room, the projected footage in Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues is deliberately rough and unpolished.  The space is animated by oscillating video projections atop sculptural iterations of surveyor transits—the instruments used to survey and portion off land—as a cipher of the ways in which access to real estate is bound up with access to water. The projector heads pan the walls of the gallery in horizontal bands, occasionally abutting one another and then moving apart again. The video turns left to right while the projected image shifts as well, zooming unpredictably in and out, and side to side in an allusion to the alienating effects of speed and the systematic way capitalism mines the natural environment. 

Three circular projections crisscross the gallery walls, employing alternating camera angles, tracking shoots, zooming focus and landscape pans to display footage of dirty, ragged orange tarps; dry, barren land; trucks sunk in a riverbed; decomposing wildlife; and industrial rotary sprinklers. The video begins in the darkened gallery with an audio recording of Mark Soldier Wolf, an Elder in the Arapho Tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He makes his tribe’s analogy between veins in the human body and rivers. In some shots, boots swish through tall grass, river water runs and birds call out to one another. These formal and contextual juxtapositions render tangible the effects of the industrialization that is increasingly controlling access to water in the country today, and reveal what is at risk if it continues unchecked.           

Contrary to 18th and 19th century practices that advocated for the preservation of the environment by aestheticizing landscapes that artists celebrated as nature unhindered by humans, Cogswell plays up the gritty details of industrialization and its effects on the environment. Through an imbricated structure of spoken word, ambient sound and visual cues, Cogswell chronicles the transformation of water over the past century from a free and available resource into an element subject to financial, social and political maneuvering. As curators Saskia Bos and Steven Lam explained in the introductory text for their 2009 exhibition Free as Air and Water at Cooper Union, “global power has systematically distributed the world’s resources in unequal ways, concerns such as human rights have become increasingly tied to issues involving air, water and land.”   

During the period from 1906 to 1913 the City of New York decided to claim 10,000 acres of land by eminent domain, giving 2,000 people 30 days notice before forcing them from their homes: 500 houses were destroyed, 35 stores leveled, ten churches dismantled, eleven schools eradicated and five railroad stations demolished or relocated. Over these seven years, the project’s chief engineer, J. Waldo Smith, devised a reservoir in this space that would continue to provide the most valuable of liquid assets for New York City: potable, unfiltered drinking water for the next hundred years. Cogswell’s most recent work, Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues(2014), aims to demystify the history of the city’s water and the people, communities and social fabric it displaced when the reservoir’s construction was initiated in 1906.  

In this bifurcated narrative, New York City’s mayor at the time, George McClellan, accurately hailed Smith as a magician for providing unlimited quantities of free drinking water to an otherwise dry city. The complex network of reservoirs, connected by a web of subterranean aqueducts, flows down through Smith’s Catskill Water System in a feat of engineering rivaling the aqueducts of the ancient Romans, and delivering 1.3 billion gallons of water daily to millions of people in New York City. Today, when both the local environment and the unfiltered tap water in New York is under threat by increasingly aggressive, corporatized efforts at hydraulic fracking beneath the watershed, it is well worth rethinking the city’s relationship to the water supply, the communities it connects and the divisive role its acquisition has played over the past century.   

In both works, Cogswell aims to dispel and unsettle the willful blindness as to where potable water comes from, recurrently laying bare the water’s commodification and the wizardry that keeps New York City’s tap water out of sight. Using the footage of the magician in both the Wyoming and Ashokan works, Cogswell ties a sense of mystery to one of mischief. The appearance of the magician may evoke childhood wonder, yet it can also arouse suspicion, as is seen in these installations. By linking these two works through the repeating footage of the magician, Cogswell connects the consequence of hydraulic fracking in Wyoming, the 1906 land grab that made possible the Ashokan Reservoir and a possible future for one of New York City’s most valuable assets.   

Drawing our attention to the politics of water and how the threat of hydraulic fracking has impacted Wyoming, this composition can be viewed as a multi-siren alarm attesting to what would be at stake in New York today should fracking begin below the New York watershed. By reflecting the aural, aesthetic and material commonalities between these two seemingly disparate geographic locations, Cogswell is able to address themes and consider relationships between the two. In the process she carves out a discursive space for considering the networked relations between hydraulic fracking, the erosion of social structures and New York City’s unwitting contribution to these invisible structures that are privatizing the natural resource we rely on most heavily and which will inevitably shape our future.  


Writer Amanda Parmer is an independent writer and curator living in Brooklyn. She recently she has organized Crossing Screens at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, the New School in New York. This exhibition and programming addresses the ways our bodies, in tandem with digital culture, act as filters for understanding the world and one another. In 2012 she organized the Open Forum Panel Discussions for the New York Armory and Volta Shows. These dialogs between New York and Nordic based artists, art historians, curators, critics, directors and dealers to drew on the distinctions and affinities between these cultural bodies. Some of the fifty-seven panelists included: Bjork, Eva Diaz, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Theaster Gates, Ragnar Kjartansson, Linda Nochlin, Sarah K. Rich and Sharon Zukin. Parmer’s 2011 exhibition F is for Fake: The construction of femaleness by the US media at Cleopatra’s Brooklyn and Berlin included screenings, talks, reading groups and installations from Judith Barry, Joan Braderman, Laura Mulvey, Jen Kennedy and Liz Linden, Paper Tiger Television, Elayne Rapping, and Martha Rosler. In 2010 she co-curated the exhibition and accompanying catalog Undercurrents: Experimental Ecosystems in Recent Art at The Kitchen and along the West Side of Manhattan. She is a contributing writer for Art in AmericaArt&Education, Artforum.com and Bomblog.

Mentor Barbara A. MacAdam is deputy editor of ARTnews, where she has worked since 1987. She was executive editor of Art + Auction from 2005 to 2006 and an editor at Review: Latin American Literature and Arts and New York magazine. She has reviewed books on art and literature for the LA Times Book ReviewNewsday, and the New York Times Book Review, among others, and contributed articles on art, design, and literature to  various magazines and newspapers. She is also a curator and serves on the boards of the International Art Critics Association and the Paris-based Arts Arena.

Margaret Cogswell’s Moving the Water(s) by Amanda Parmer


Margaret Cogswell’s two installations—Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues (2014) and Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues(2012)—play sound and image off one another to show the social and physical effects of water’s commodification on the land and citizens of the United States. 


Drawing on documents, interviews and historical records from the past hundred years in New York and Wyoming, these works present an immersive visual and aural score regulated by a metronomic beat. The content of Cogswell’s projected videos are a mash-up of her video documentation, holding together otherwise disparate themes, sounds and locations. Her politicized narratives are punctuated and tied together by the character of a magician who appears in each.  

Presented in a darkened room, the projected footage in Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues is deliberately rough and unpolished.  The space is animated by oscillating video projections atop sculptural iterations of surveyor transits—the instruments used to survey and portion off land—as a cipher of the ways in which access to real estate is bound up with access to water. The projector heads pan the walls of the gallery in horizontal bands, occasionally abutting one another and then moving apart again. The video turns left to right while the projected image shifts as well, zooming unpredictably in and out, and side to side in an allusion to the alienating effects of speed and the systematic way capitalism mines the natural environment. 

Three circular projections crisscross the gallery walls, employing alternating camera angles, tracking shoots, zooming focus and landscape pans to display footage of dirty, ragged orange tarps; dry, barren land; trucks sunk in a riverbed; decomposing wildlife; and industrial rotary sprinklers. The video begins in the darkened gallery with an audio recording of Mark Soldier Wolf, an Elder in the Arapho Tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He makes his tribe’s analogy between veins in the human body and rivers. In some shots, boots swish through tall grass, river water runs and birds call out to one another. These formal and contextual juxtapositions render tangible the effects of the industrialization that is increasingly controlling access to water in the country today, and reveal what is at risk if it continues unchecked.           

Contrary to 18th and 19th century practices that advocated for the preservation of the environment by aestheticizing landscapes that artists celebrated as nature unhindered by humans, Cogswell plays up the gritty details of industrialization and its effects on the environment. Through an imbricated structure of spoken word, ambient sound and visual cues, Cogswell chronicles the transformation of water over the past century from a free and available resource into an element subject to financial, social and political maneuvering. As curators Saskia Bos and Steven Lam explained in the introductory text for their 2009 exhibition Free as Air and Water at Cooper Union, “global power has systematically distributed the world’s resources in unequal ways, concerns such as human rights have become increasingly tied to issues involving air, water and land.”   

During the period from 1906 to 1913 the City of New York decided to claim 10,000 acres of land by eminent domain, giving 2,000 people 30 days notice before forcing them from their homes: 500 houses were destroyed, 35 stores leveled, ten churches dismantled, eleven schools eradicated and five railroad stations demolished or relocated. Over these seven years, the project’s chief engineer, J. Waldo Smith, devised a reservoir in this space that would continue to provide the most valuable of liquid assets for New York City: potable, unfiltered drinking water for the next hundred years. Cogswell’s most recent work, Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues(2014), aims to demystify the history of the city’s water and the people, communities and social fabric it displaced when the reservoir’s construction was initiated in 1906.  

In this bifurcated narrative, New York City’s mayor at the time, George McClellan, accurately hailed Smith as a magician for providing unlimited quantities of free drinking water to an otherwise dry city. The complex network of reservoirs, connected by a web of subterranean aqueducts, flows down through Smith’s Catskill Water System in a feat of engineering rivaling the aqueducts of the ancient Romans, and delivering 1.3 billion gallons of water daily to millions of people in New York City. Today, when both the local environment and the unfiltered tap water in New York is under threat by increasingly aggressive, corporatized efforts at hydraulic fracking beneath the watershed, it is well worth rethinking the city’s relationship to the water supply, the communities it connects and the divisive role its acquisition has played over the past century.   

In both works, Cogswell aims to dispel and unsettle the willful blindness as to where potable water comes from, recurrently laying bare the water’s commodification and the wizardry that keeps New York City’s tap water out of sight. Using the footage of the magician in both the Wyoming and Ashokan works, Cogswell ties a sense of mystery to one of mischief. The appearance of the magician may evoke childhood wonder, yet it can also arouse suspicion, as is seen in these installations. By linking these two works through the repeating footage of the magician, Cogswell connects the consequence of hydraulic fracking in Wyoming, the 1906 land grab that made possible the Ashokan Reservoir and a possible future for one of New York City’s most valuable assets.   

Drawing our attention to the politics of water and how the threat of hydraulic fracking has impacted Wyoming, this composition can be viewed as a multi-siren alarm attesting to what would be at stake in New York today should fracking begin below the New York watershed. By reflecting the aural, aesthetic and material commonalities between these two seemingly disparate geographic locations, Cogswell is able to address themes and consider relationships between the two. In the process she carves out a discursive space for considering the networked relations between hydraulic fracking, the erosion of social structures and New York City’s unwitting contribution to these invisible structures that are privatizing the natural resource we rely on most heavily and which will inevitably shape our future.  


Writer Amanda Parmer is an independent writer and curator living in Brooklyn. She recently she has organized Crossing Screens at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, the New School in New York. This exhibition and programming addresses the ways our bodies, in tandem with digital culture, act as filters for understanding the world and one another. In 2012 she organized the Open Forum Panel Discussions for the New York Armory and Volta Shows. These dialogs between New York and Nordic based artists, art historians, curators, critics, directors and dealers to drew on the distinctions and affinities between these cultural bodies. Some of the fifty-seven panelists included: Bjork, Eva Diaz, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Theaster Gates, Ragnar Kjartansson, Linda Nochlin, Sarah K. Rich and Sharon Zukin. Parmer’s 2011 exhibition F is for Fake: The construction of femaleness by the US media at Cleopatra’s Brooklyn and Berlin included screenings, talks, reading groups and installations from Judith Barry, Joan Braderman, Laura Mulvey, Jen Kennedy and Liz Linden, Paper Tiger Television, Elayne Rapping, and Martha Rosler. In 2010 she co-curated the exhibition and accompanying catalog Undercurrents: Experimental Ecosystems in Recent Art at The Kitchen and along the West Side of Manhattan. She is a contributing writer for Art in AmericaArt&Education, Artforum.com and Bomblog.

Mentor Barbara A. MacAdam is deputy editor of ARTnews, where she has worked since 1987. She was executive editor of Art + Auction from 2005 to 2006 and an editor at Review: Latin American Literature and Arts and New York magazine. She has reviewed books on art and literature for the LA Times Book ReviewNewsday, and the New York Times Book Review, among others, and contributed articles on art, design, and literature to  various magazines and newspapers. She is also a curator and serves on the boards of the International Art Critics Association and the Paris-based Arts Arena.

Margaret Cogswell’s Moving the Water(s) by Amanda Parmer

Margaret Cogswell’s two installations—Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues (2014) and Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues(2012)—play sound and image off one another to show the social and physical effects of water’s commodification on the land and citizens of the United States. Drawing on documents, interviews and historical records from the past hundred years in New York and Wyoming, these works present an immersive visual and aural score regulated by a metronomic beat. The content of Cogswell’s projected videos are a mash-up of her video documentation, holding together otherwise disparate themes, sounds and locations. Her politicized narratives are punctuated and tied together by the character of a magician who appears in each.  

Presented in a darkened room, the projected footage in Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues is deliberately rough and unpolished.  The space is animated by oscillating video projections atop sculptural iterations of surveyor transits—the instruments used to survey and portion off land—as a cipher of the ways in which access to real estate is bound up with access to water. The projector heads pan the walls of the gallery in horizontal bands, occasionally abutting one another and then moving apart again. The video turns left to right while the projected image shifts as well, zooming unpredictably in and out, and side to side in an allusion to the alienating effects of speed and the systematic way capitalism mines the natural environment. 

Three circular projections crisscross the gallery walls, employing alternating camera angles, tracking shoots, zooming focus and landscape pans to display footage of dirty, ragged orange tarps; dry, barren land; trucks sunk in a riverbed; decomposing wildlife; and industrial rotary sprinklers. The video begins in the darkened gallery with an audio recording of Mark Soldier Wolf, an Elder in the Arapho Tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He makes his tribe’s analogy between veins in the human body and rivers. In some shots, boots swish through tall grass, river water runs and birds call out to one another. These formal and contextual juxtapositions render tangible the effects of the industrialization that is increasingly controlling access to water in the country today, and reveal what is at risk if it continues unchecked.           

Contrary to 18th and 19th century practices that advocated for the preservation of the environment by aestheticizing landscapes that artists celebrated as nature unhindered by humans, Cogswell plays up the gritty details of industrialization and its effects on the environment. Through an imbricated structure of spoken word, ambient sound and visual cues, Cogswell chronicles the transformation of water over the past century from a free and available resource into an element subject to financial, social and political maneuvering. As curators Saskia Bos and Steven Lam explained in the introductory text for their 2009 exhibition Free as Air and Water at Cooper Union, “global power has systematically distributed the world’s resources in unequal ways, concerns such as human rights have become increasingly tied to issues involving air, water and land.”   

During the period from 1906 to 1913 the City of New York decided to claim 10,000 acres of land by eminent domain, giving 2,000 people 30 days notice before forcing them from their homes: 500 houses were destroyed, 35 stores leveled, ten churches dismantled, eleven schools eradicated and five railroad stations demolished or relocated. Over these seven years, the project’s chief engineer, J. Waldo Smith, devised a reservoir in this space that would continue to provide the most valuable of liquid assets for New York City: potable, unfiltered drinking water for the next hundred years. Cogswell’s most recent work, Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues(2014), aims to demystify the history of the city’s water and the people, communities and social fabric it displaced when the reservoir’s construction was initiated in 1906.  

In this bifurcated narrative, New York City’s mayor at the time, George McClellan, accurately hailed Smith as a magician for providing unlimited quantities of free drinking water to an otherwise dry city. The complex network of reservoirs, connected by a web of subterranean aqueducts, flows down through Smith’s Catskill Water System in a feat of engineering rivaling the aqueducts of the ancient Romans, and delivering 1.3 billion gallons of water daily to millions of people in New York City. Today, when both the local environment and the unfiltered tap water in New York is under threat by increasingly aggressive, corporatized efforts at hydraulic fracking beneath the watershed, it is well worth rethinking the city’s relationship to the water supply, the communities it connects and the divisive role its acquisition has played over the past century.   

In both works, Cogswell aims to dispel and unsettle the willful blindness as to where potable water comes from, recurrently laying bare the water’s commodification and the wizardry that keeps New York City’s tap water out of sight. Using the footage of the magician in both the Wyoming and Ashokan works, Cogswell ties a sense of mystery to one of mischief. The appearance of the magician may evoke childhood wonder, yet it can also arouse suspicion, as is seen in these installations. By linking these two works through the repeating footage of the magician, Cogswell connects the consequence of hydraulic fracking in Wyoming, the 1906 land grab that made possible the Ashokan Reservoir and a possible future for one of New York City’s most valuable assets.   

Drawing our attention to the politics of water and how the threat of hydraulic fracking has impacted Wyoming, this composition can be viewed as a multi-siren alarm attesting to what would be at stake in New York today should fracking begin below the New York watershed. By reflecting the aural, aesthetic and material commonalities between these two seemingly disparate geographic locations, Cogswell is able to address themes and consider relationships between the two. In the process she carves out a discursive space for considering the networked relations between hydraulic fracking, the erosion of social structures and New York City’s unwitting contribution to these invisible structures that are privatizing the natural resource we rely on most heavily and which will inevitably shape our future.  


Writer Amanda Parmer is an independent writer and curator living in Brooklyn. She recently she has organized Crossing Screens at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, the New School in New York. This exhibition and programming addresses the ways our bodies, in tandem with digital culture, act as filters for understanding the world and one another. In 2012 she organized the Open Forum Panel Discussions for the New York Armory and Volta Shows. These dialogs between New York and Nordic based artists, art historians, curators, critics, directors and dealers to drew on the distinctions and affinities between these cultural bodies. Some of the fifty-seven panelists included: Bjork, Eva Diaz, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Theaster Gates, Ragnar Kjartansson, Linda Nochlin, Sarah K. Rich and Sharon Zukin. Parmer’s 2011 exhibition F is for Fake: The construction of femaleness by the US media at Cleopatra’s Brooklyn and Berlin included screenings, talks, reading groups and installations from Judith Barry, Joan Braderman, Laura Mulvey, Jen Kennedy and Liz Linden, Paper Tiger Television, Elayne Rapping, and Martha Rosler. In 2010 she co-curated the exhibition and accompanying catalog Undercurrents: Experimental Ecosystems in Recent Art at The Kitchen and along the West Side of Manhattan. She is a contributing writer for Art in AmericaArt&Education, Artforum.com and Bomblog.

Mentor Barbara A. MacAdam is deputy editor of ARTnews, where she has worked since 1987. She was executive editor of Art + Auction from 2005 to 2006 and an editor at Review: Latin American Literature and Arts and New York magazine. She has reviewed books on art and literature for the LA Times Book ReviewNewsday, and the New York Times Book Review, among others, and contributed articles on art, design, and literature to  various magazines and newspapers. She is also a curator and serves on the boards of the International Art Critics Association and the Paris-based Arts Arena.

Margaret Cogswell’s Moving the Water(s) by Amanda Parmer

Margaret Cogswell’s two installations—Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues (2014) and Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues(2012)—play sound and image off one another to show the social and physical effects of water’s commodification on the land and citizens of the United States. Drawing on documents, interviews and historical records from the past hundred years in New York and Wyoming, these works present an immersive visual and aural score regulated by a metronomic beat. The content of Cogswell’s projected videos are a mash-up of her video documentation, holding together otherwise disparate themes, sounds and locations. Her politicized narratives are punctuated and tied together by the character of a magician who appears in each.  

Presented in a darkened room, the projected footage in Moving the Water(s):  Wyoming River Fugues is deliberately rough and unpolished.  The space is animated by oscillating video projections atop sculptural iterations of surveyor transits—the instruments used to survey and portion off land—as a cipher of the ways in which access to real estate is bound up with access to water. The projector heads pan the walls of the gallery in horizontal bands, occasionally abutting one another and then moving apart again. The video turns left to right while the projected image shifts as well, zooming unpredictably in and out, and side to side in an allusion to the alienating effects of speed and the systematic way capitalism mines the natural environment. 

Three circular projections crisscross the gallery walls, employing alternating camera angles, tracking shoots, zooming focus and landscape pans to display footage of dirty, ragged orange tarps; dry, barren land; trucks sunk in a riverbed; decomposing wildlife; and industrial rotary sprinklers. The video begins in the darkened gallery with an audio recording of Mark Soldier Wolf, an Elder in the Arapho Tribe on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. He makes his tribe’s analogy between veins in the human body and rivers. In some shots, boots swish through tall grass, river water runs and birds call out to one another. These formal and contextual juxtapositions render tangible the effects of the industrialization that is increasingly controlling access to water in the country today, and reveal what is at risk if it continues unchecked.           

Contrary to 18th and 19th century practices that advocated for the preservation of the environment by aestheticizing landscapes that artists celebrated as nature unhindered by humans, Cogswell plays up the gritty details of industrialization and its effects on the environment. Through an imbricated structure of spoken word, ambient sound and visual cues, Cogswell chronicles the transformation of water over the past century from a free and available resource into an element subject to financial, social and political maneuvering. As curators Saskia Bos and Steven Lam explained in the introductory text for their 2009 exhibition Free as Air and Water at Cooper Union, “global power has systematically distributed the world’s resources in unequal ways, concerns such as human rights have become increasingly tied to issues involving air, water and land.”   

During the period from 1906 to 1913 the City of New York decided to claim 10,000 acres of land by eminent domain, giving 2,000 people 30 days notice before forcing them from their homes: 500 houses were destroyed, 35 stores leveled, ten churches dismantled, eleven schools eradicated and five railroad stations demolished or relocated. Over these seven years, the project’s chief engineer, J. Waldo Smith, devised a reservoir in this space that would continue to provide the most valuable of liquid assets for New York City: potable, unfiltered drinking water for the next hundred years. Cogswell’s most recent work, Moving the Water(s):  Ashokan Fugues(2014), aims to demystify the history of the city’s water and the people, communities and social fabric it displaced when the reservoir’s construction was initiated in 1906.  

In this bifurcated narrative, New York City’s mayor at the time, George McClellan, accurately hailed Smith as a magician for providing unlimited quantities of free drinking water to an otherwise dry city. The complex network of reservoirs, connected by a web of subterranean aqueducts, flows down through Smith’s Catskill Water System in a feat of engineering rivaling the aqueducts of the ancient Romans, and delivering 1.3 billion gallons of water daily to millions of people in New York City. Today, when both the local environment and the unfiltered tap water in New York is under threat by increasingly aggressive, corporatized efforts at hydraulic fracking beneath the watershed, it is well worth rethinking the city’s relationship to the water supply, the communities it connects and the divisive role its acquisition has played over the past century.   

In both works, Cogswell aims to dispel and unsettle the willful blindness as to where potable water comes from, recurrently laying bare the water’s commodification and the wizardry that keeps New York City’s tap water out of sight. Using the footage of the magician in both the Wyoming and Ashokan works, Cogswell ties a sense of mystery to one of mischief. The appearance of the magician may evoke childhood wonder, yet it can also arouse suspicion, as is seen in these installations. By linking these two works through the repeating footage of the magician, Cogswell connects the consequence of hydraulic fracking in Wyoming, the 1906 land grab that made possible the Ashokan Reservoir and a possible future for one of New York City’s most valuable assets.   

Drawing our attention to the politics of water and how the threat of hydraulic fracking has impacted Wyoming, this composition can be viewed as a multi-siren alarm attesting to what would be at stake in New York today should fracking begin below the New York watershed. By reflecting the aural, aesthetic and material commonalities between these two seemingly disparate geographic locations, Cogswell is able to address themes and consider relationships between the two. In the process she carves out a discursive space for considering the networked relations between hydraulic fracking, the erosion of social structures and New York City’s unwitting contribution to these invisible structures that are privatizing the natural resource we rely on most heavily and which will inevitably shape our future.  


Writer Amanda Parmer is an independent writer and curator living in Brooklyn. She recently she has organized Crossing Screens at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at Parsons, the New School in New York. This exhibition and programming addresses the ways our bodies, in tandem with digital culture, act as filters for understanding the world and one another. In 2012 she organized the Open Forum Panel Discussions for the New York Armory and Volta Shows. These dialogs between New York and Nordic based artists, art historians, curators, critics, directors and dealers to drew on the distinctions and affinities between these cultural bodies. Some of the fifty-seven panelists included: Bjork, Eva Diaz, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Theaster Gates, Ragnar Kjartansson, Linda Nochlin, Sarah K. Rich and Sharon Zukin. Parmer’s 2011 exhibition F is for Fake: The construction of femaleness by the US media at Cleopatra’s Brooklyn and Berlin included screenings, talks, reading groups and installations from Judith Barry, Joan Braderman, Laura Mulvey, Jen Kennedy and Liz Linden, Paper Tiger Television, Elayne Rapping, and Martha Rosler. In 2010 she co-curated the exhibition and accompanying catalog Undercurrents: Experimental Ecosystems in Recent Art at The Kitchen and along the West Side of Manhattan. She is a contributing writer for Art in AmericaArt&Education, Artforum.com and Bomblog.

Mentor Barbara A. MacAdam is deputy editor of ARTnews, where she has worked since 1987. She was executive editor of Art + Auction from 2005 to 2006 and an editor at Review: Latin American Literature and Arts and New York magazine. She has reviewed books on art and literature for the LA Times Book ReviewNewsday, and the New York Times Book Review, among others, and contributed articles on art, design, and literature to  various magazines and newspapers. She is also a curator and serves on the boards of the International Art Critics Association and the Paris-based Arts Arena.

Graem Whyte’s Carnal Optimism by John Corso

Walking through one of Graem Whyte’s exhibitions is an adventure. On the walls might hang an assortment of curious objects that seem to resemble misshapen billiard sticks or wobbly tennis rackets. They may appear alongside of ping-pong tables that are so drastically reconfigured as to suggest entirely new gaming equipment. There might be musical instruments that seem to belong to Dr. Seuss’s world. Occasionally, Whyte even includes space-age pods into which you might climb for a few magical moments. Whyte’s work may seem humorous, but at its core is a deeply social understanding of play. With his performative sculptures, Whyte establishes environments that bring together spectators as participants in a shared social field. He does this to forge new communities that seek not a better future, but a better present achieved through the careful cultivation of social relationships. 

Take, for example, a group of divining rods entitled In Search of Water (2013). Displayed on a wooden wall rack, three linear forms hang horizontally. They include a double blade paddle made of rackets from racketball; a twisted and burnt vinyl rain gutter that resembles a cast-off from a John Chamberlain sculpture; and a giant wishbone made of polished maple, the joint of which terminates in a larger-than-life-sized human tongue rendered in bronze. The works imitate divining rods, but their ridiculous forms seem to imply that they are unable to divine anything useful. Viewers might imagine a comical scenario in which wielders of these functionless sticks wander without purpose. (Whyte has even considered allowing visitors to handle these objects in the gallery, though so far, they have not been shown with this option.) Whyte’s work confuses the object of the game. Here, the act of seeking water or other resources is thwarted by the absurdity of the objects. By removing clear strategic objects of a game, Whyte swerves away from the notion of winning or losing and instead emphasizes the interaction of players. In works like In Search of Water, Whyte invokes what Nicolas Bourriaud and other critics refer to as “relational aesthetics.” 1

Whyte is heir to a generation of relational artists that includes Rirkrit Tiravanija, Gabriel Orozco, and Felix Gonzalez-Torres—artists whose work advances sociological relationships as its principal aesthetic concern. Devoted to the social, Whyte nevertheless admits the challenges and obstacles that befall relationships, as he incorporates these twists and kinks into the form of the work. For two works seemingly in conversation with Gabriel Orozco, Whyte constructs fantastic permutations of ping-pong tables. In Venue for Advanced Conflict Resolution (2011), Whyte alters a ping-pong table by fracturing the flat plane into an irregular topography of contiguous facets. The asymmetrical structure renders a table tennis match—here, a stand-in for conflict—virtually impossible, since contact with any of the planes would send the ball whirling off in unpredictable, unmanageable directions. Conflict is prevented by changing the conditions on the field: both offensive and defensive moves are subverted by the field, and instead the competitors are united in a comically hopeless situation. The battlefield is again altered in Make Love, Not War (2012), another table tennis construction. This time, Whyte encloses the area of play by wrapping the table around it. Whyte builds an octagonal channel through which agents may play. This work, too, relies on humor, as the pink tubular sculpture, which resembles the birth canal, transforms antagonistic competition into a sexually suggestive game of cooperation.

Constructing a real social sphere—a relational sphere in which live agents interact—constitutes a critical aspect of Whyte’s artistic practice. Each of these two sculptures enacts what Bourriaud identifies in relational art as a shift away from modernism’s tenets toward the desire to build “concrete spaces.”  Among the effects, this shift instigates a return of disembodied vision (key for modernists like Clement Greenberg) to the body as a carnal site for sensation. The “preference for contact and tactility” that Bourriaud observes in relational art is manifested explicitly in these two works. Their materiality renders the spectator an embodied social agent who experiences concrete sociological exchange in a tangible environment. To develop these sociological environments, both Bourriaud and Whyte refer to the “field,” a concept developed by sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. For Bourdieu, the field contains the area in which agents assume social positions in relation to one another.

Whyte occasionally investigates the concept of the field literally, as in his 2010 collaborative work Memory Field, created with his wife, artist Faina Lerman. Memory Field features three concentric ripples made in a grassy field, designed to channel rainwater to an underground cistern that feeds a local community garden. The piece delineates a literal field for sports and social interaction. But the ripple elliptically refers also to the community gathered around the garden. Whyte returns to the idea of the field in his 2013 work, Laying it All Out, a mechanical device capable of inscribing a spray paint circle of up to eighteen feet in radius. The device includes a spike (the compass center) which, when driven into earth, allows the trammel arm to rotate, delineating literal spheres of relations. But relational aesthetics involves more than geography; it equally requires action by social agents. That action is always conditioned by an agent’s experience. The field, therefore, works in tandem with another crucial tenet of Bourdieu’s philosophy—the habitus.

Though Bourriaud never mentions it, the habitus haunts relational art. The habitus is a dynamic system that relies on established dispositions while simultaneously defining the conditions for potential response.2 Whyte brings attention to the habitus by requiring social reaction from his viewers.  In some cases, Whyte tests the habitus by calling on his constituents and awaiting their reply. Wishing for Mountains (Supper’s Ready) (2013), for instance, is Whyte’s approximation of an alpine horn. He crafted the functioning instrument to be used to call to meetings residents of the Detroit artists community in which he lives. In other cases, Whyte cultivates an embodied response that more closely resembles the kinesthetic sociology practiced by Loïc Wacquant. Wacquant studied prizefighting by joining, training, and competing in a black urban boxing gym in Chicago. He recognized that by embedding himself in the sporting community, he was able to achieve a “deep immersion in, and carnal entanglement with” his sociological object. In Squash House, to be completed in late 2014, Whyte will offer a similar experience to art goers.

Working with the non-profit organization known as Power House Productions, Whyte is in the process of converting a dilapidated Detroit house  into a usable squash court. The house, bought at auction, has been gutted and will be outfitted with a squash court, an area for spectators, and a greenhouse. As a pun on the house’s name, Whyte intends to grow squash in the greenhouse and its outside gardens. (Squash appears frequently as a crop in many backyards in the surrounding Bengali neighborhood.)  Squash House invokes the habitus on multiple levels. Sport itself relies on skill developed by past practice. But this house will also function as a community hub and recreation center, so established social habit will routinely come into play. Importantly, the social activities here—athletics and gardening—are highly physical activities. Whether participating in a game or working in the greenhouse, art goers necessarily interact with one another on a physical level. Visitors to Squash House thus experience what Wacquant calls the “potency of carnal knowledge” since these artworks insist on real-time, embodied exchange, not only the representation of such.

Whyte’s use of play is powerful not only because it is engaging, but because it returns the viewer to an embodied sense of the sociological so often missing in contemporary discourse. His work offers us the chance to investigate “carnal knowledge” by sharing directly in corporeal sociological transaction. Whyte’s interactive sculpture offers a compelling venue in which social interactions are initiated, tested, and revised. Moreover, his work is optimistic. By calling attention to our habituated responses while simultaneously returning our sensibilities to the body, Whyte insists on our inherent agency and ability to build better relationships through aesthetic means.


Writer John Corso is a Detroit-based art critic and an assistant professor of art history at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. He holds a PhD in the history of art and visual studies from Cornell University, master’s degrees from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and a BA in art from Williams College. Corso has written art criticism for Art Papers, The Huffington Post, and most recently, Art in America. He is currently drafting a manuscript on the American sculptor Sheila Pepe.

Mentor David Ebony is currently a Contributing Editor of Art in America and its former Managing Editor, part of an association with the magazine that spans over 21 years. He has written for A.i.A. more than 450 signed articles, including features, reviews, profiles and news pieces. He is also a senior editor-at-large for SNAP Editions, based in New York. He is the author of “David Ebony’s Top 10,” a long-running contemporary art column for Artnet.com, which is accessible on the Artnet web site. He was a Contributing Editor and writer for Lacanian Ink, (from 1998-2012), a journal of art and psychoanalysis. He served for two years (2002-2003) on the Board of Trustees of AICA, the Association internationale des critiques d’art, of which he is a long-standing member. He lives and works in New York City and Clermont, New York. Among his books are Anselm Reyle: Mystic Silver (2012); Carlo Maria Mariani in the 21st Century (2011), Dale Chihuly; Garden Installations (2011); Emily Mason, (2006); Botero: Abu Ghraib (2006); and Craigie Horsfield: Relation (2005).  


NOTES: See Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Dijon, France: Les presses du reel, 2002). 2 Bourdieu’s protégé, Sociologist Loïc Wacquant, puts it this way: “the notion of the habitus proposes that human agents are historical animals who carry within their bodies acquired sensibilities and categories that are the sedimented products of their past social experiences…” See Loïc Wacquant, “Habitus as Topic and Tool: Reflections on Becoming a Prizefighter,” Qualitative Research in Psychology 8 (2011): 82.

Holup

Dennis Congdon

DELVE Networking for Artists

Kind Aesthetic, in partnership with CUE, invites all artists, creatives and arts professionals for a productive, inspiring night at DELVE Networking. 

We will kick the evening off with presentations by artists Steve Lambert and Shanti Grumbine (bios below). They will be followed by complimentary drinks and networking where you can meet new people, and talk about the things you do best. 

We are interested in creating community, sharing information to help you succeed, and learning about everyone’s unique paths in the art world. Join us!

RSVP here!


Shanti Grumbine (www.shantigrumbine.com) received her MFA from the University of Pennsylvania, her BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied at Simon’s Rock College of Bard. Select exhibition venues include A.I.R. Gallery, MagnanMetz Gallery, Planthouse Gallery, the Lower East Side Printshop,The Dorsky Museum, Paul Robeson Gallery at Rutgers University and IPCNY. Residencies and fellowships include the Vermont Studio Center, the Lower East Side Printshop Keyholder Residency, the Millay Colony, the Ucross Foundation and the A.I.R. Gallery Fellowship. She will be attending the Bemis Center For Contemporary Art in 2013. She currently lives and works in New Paltz, NY and New York, NY.

******************************************************

Steve Lambert (http://visitsteve.com/) Steve Lambert’s father, a former Franciscan monk, and mother, an ex-Dominican nun, imbued the values of dedication, study, poverty, and service to others – qualities which prepared him for life as an artist.

Lambert made international news after the 2008 US election with The New York Times “Special Edition,” a replica of the “paper of record” announcing the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and other good news. In the Summer of 2011 he began a national tour of Capitalism Works For Me! True/False – a 9 x 20ft sign allowing people to vote on whether capitalism worked for them . He has collaborated with groups from the Yes Men to the Graffiti Research Lab and Greenpeace. He is also the founder of the Center for Artistic Activism, the Anti-Advertising Agency, Add-Art (a Firefox add-on that replaces online advertising with art) and SelfControl (which blocks grownups from distracting websites so they can get work done).

Steve’s projects and art works have won awards from Prix Ars Electronica, Rhizome/The New Museum, the Creative Work Fund, Adbusters Media Foundation, the California Arts Council, and others. Lambert’s work has been shown everywhere from museums to protest marches nationally and internationally, featured in over fourteen books, four documentary films, and is in the collections of The Sheldon Museum, the Progressive Insurance Company, and The Library of Congress. Lambert has discussed his work live on NPR, the BBC, and CNN, and been reported on internationally in outlets including Associated Press, the New York Times, the Guardian, Harper’s Magazine, The Believer, Good, Dwell, ARTnews, Punk Planet, and Newsweek.

He was a Senior Fellow at New York’s Eyebeam Center for Art and Technology from 2006-2010, developed and leads workshops for Creative Capital Foundation, and is an Assistant Professor at SUNY Purchase. Steve is a perpetual autodidact with (if it matters) advanced degrees from an reputable art school and respected state university. He dropped out of high school in 1993.

Blind Field Shuttle

This program is presented in conjunction with Carmen Papalia’s solo exhibition, Long Time No See.  Event is free and open to the public. RSVPs are required.

Papalia’s non-visual walking tour, the Blind Field Shuttle, is an experience in which up to 50 people can walk with the artist through an urban space while closing their eyes. Participants line up behind Papalia, link arms and close their eyes for the entire hour-long experience. After using their non-visual senses, participants begin to recognize looking as just one of the many ways to engage with and interpret a place. Shuttle will begin at CUE and will travel to the High Line. 

Limited to 50 participants. RSVP: jessica@cueartfoundation.org.


Carmen Papalia: Long Time No See opens on Sept. 7th.

Images from Blind Field Shuttle, 2012

CUE is a non-profit visual art center in New York City dedicated to emerging and under-recognized artists. This is our tumblr.

137 W. 25th Street, NYC

view archive



ABOUT US

CONTACT US