Site Specific installation at Morris-Jumel Mansion, New York City
Located at the top of Manhattan in Washington Heights, the Morris-Jumel Mansion was surrounded by forest, marshes, and farmland when it was built in 1765. The majority of the population of Manhattan resided in the small corner at the bottom of the island. By 1865, when the last resident Eliza Jumel died, the city grid had travelled up Manhattan and reached the house, and the neighborhood was undergoing urbanization.
In the site-specific installation, Passage, the transformation of this landscape will be explored by juxtaposing a grid-based design with flora and fauna that existed in the area before it was urbanized. The installation appropriates the motifs in historic and existing wallpaper and carpets from the home, as well as period styles, to describe the changes in the landscape surrounding the house over time.
The installation consists of two related pieces, a mural in the main stairway, and a floor-based installation in Aaron Burr’s bedroom on the second floor of the house. In the mural, a motif from the hallway wallpaper on the first floor is transformed into a design referencing the growing city grid in Manhattan in 1832, the era of the Aaron Burr Room. As the viewer moves up to the second floor, the mural reflects a progression back in time, with the grid dissipating and the natural motifs dominating.
The flora and fauna motifs in the mural both reference, and directly borrow from, the wallpapers in the house, including the chinoiserie paper, the morning glory paper, and the grape leaf pattern from the Burr Room. Birds and other fauna have been painted by the artist in the chinoiserie style. The most predominant birds in the mural are the passenger pigeon, which were also the most prolific bird on the continent and in the area when the house was built. By the time the city grid had reached the house in the late 1860s, the number of passenger pigeons had decreased drastically, and by 1914 the bird became extinct.
The piece in Aaron Burr’s bedroom transports the viewer to 1832, portraying a wild, garden-like space suggestive of the area of upper Manhattan during the time that it was inhabited. The piece also uses existing motifs, this time solely from the room itself, including the grape leaves in the wallpaper, and the rose motifs in the carpet. The grape leaves appear to grow off of the lattice pattern in the wallpaper, covering the furniture, weaving among the roses of the carpet, while erasing suggestions of the grid from the design.
Precarious Balance, 2015
Installation at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts
In the series, Precarious Balance, animals are meticulously rendered in spaces that are empty, save for suggestions of architectural remains. Their detailed rendering, reminiscent of the illustrations that Victorian naturalists intended as a faithful document of animals in their natural habitat, belies their unnatural activities. Here they are perched atop one another, scrambling for prominence. These animals seem forced into unsustainable positions, perhaps as a consequence of diminishing space. The idea of an environment out of whack is taken to a place of absurdity.
Emerging from unexpected corners of the gallery are playful vignettes that counterpoint the seeming formality of the prints. The vignettes create a bridge between the incredible and what may seem possible. A hawk stands atop a pile of dead passenger pigeons. An endangered condor stands wistfully atop a pile of rubble. In one corner of the space, brambles covered in ants seem to push through from an adjacent space.
On the surface, the branches seem to underly the pervading suggestion of ruin. In fact, they point to a more hopeful symbiosis. The spiky pods that grow on the brambles are inspired by the whistling thorn acacia tree, which grows pods for the sole purpose of feeding ants which live on the tree. In turn, the ants protect the tree from animals that would otherwise cause its destruction. Amidst the wreckage, a suggestion of another way is found in an unlikely place.