Today’s feature comes to us from visual artist Anne Wu, whose work titled Detour is installed in The Corner Room at the NYPL’s Mid-Manhattan Library. Thanks to Curator and Art Librarian Arezoo Moseni for her help in assembling this feature. ~Laura
by Anne Wu
Situated in the street-level vitrines flanking the main entrance to the Mid-Manhattan Library, my installation, Detour, is comprised of two sets of plaster sculptures. In each window, five freestanding panels are placed one in front of the other, creating a layered effect. Cut from sheets of wire mesh and covered using plaster strips, the sculptures reference the shapes, patterns, and textures of the urban landscape, recalling recurrent architectural forms and structures, from security grates, iron railings, to stainless steel gates. Each piece is painted with bright colors reminiscent of business banners, street signs, and storefront flyers, particularly those found in New York City’s Chinatowns. Using an image transfer process, visual elements pulled from photographs of found signage appear on the first panels of each set.
The opportunity to create work for the Mid-Manhattan Library can be traced back to a couple of years ago, when I first met Arezoo Moseni at a talk she was hosting at the New York Public Library. At the time, I was a few months out of art school, living and making work in my mother’s attic in Queens. As I listened to Arezoo introduce the speakers, I was struck and inspired by how much she, a practicing artist, devoted herself to giving back to the public through this meticulously crafted program. Over the years, as I navigated the realities of maintaining a studio practice in the real world, we continued to keep in touch.
A few months after I completed a residency at BHQFU (New York’s freest school, as it is known), I received an email from Arezoo, who had followed the work I was making there and invited me to create pieces for the library vitrines. It was the perfect time to be presented with a new challenge, and I was eager to take it on. While I was surprised and honored that she wanted to take a chance on my work, Arezoo’s gesture embodied the qualities that I have come to respect about her: open, generous, and incredibly supportive of all artists.
Because of the site specificity of this work, I could not visualize the sculptures’ ultimate effect without first installing the pieces. For this reason, it was vital to regularly communicate with Arezoo, the curator of the Art in the Windows exhibition series, to create the most fitting work for the space—her continued guidance and input were crucial to the process. Equipped with the dimensions of the vitrines and potential installation limitations, I thought about how the finished pieces could be site-responsive without altering the space directly. From the beginning, I was set on allowing the L-shape of the windows to dictate the form of my sculptures. Instead of letting the pieces simply inhabit the vitrines, I hoped that they would enhance and highlight the existing physical attributes of the windows. Creating work that conformed to the specific dimensions of the space brought the site into the sculptures—the two must coexist for the installation to be fully realized.
It was important to remember that the sites where I would eventually install were working windows. Unlike my other sculptures, which exist in the same space as the viewers and can be experienced from all sides, this installation would be seen behind glass, only allowing the public to view the work frontally. To accentuate this characteristic of the vitrines rather than be limited by it, I sought to make pieces that introduced an alternative way of looking. Instead of walking around the work as one would a sculpture, viewers can approach the installation by peering inside and exploring the depth of the vitrines shaped by the cutout forms of the plaster panels. At first regarded as a challenge, the physical attributes of the windows ultimately provided a conceptual framework from which to make something new.
Seeing the work finally installed was a profoundly meaningful experience. As someone who grew up in New York, I can say with certainty that libraries played an important role in raising me. I recall many afternoons since childhood spent in the comfort of the stacks, rifling through new and familiar titles as the clock ticked on. For me, the library is the ultimate place of reflection and contemplation. The sounds of pages turning and feet shuffling between shelves signaled moments of discovery—like sheer magic, the library slowed down time and encouraged those who entered it to follow suit. As I became an adult, libraries provided a place to regain this sense of wonder about the world around me. It was crucial to maintain this feeling of openness (to concepts, thoughts, beliefs) as I embarked on creating work. There is a clear relationship between the way in which I wander the city to gather ideas and the way I weave through the library stacks; both instances reveal a desire to uncover information. These journeys are guided by the importance of looking and paying attention. As I installed the works in the Mid-Manhattan Library vitrines, I hoped that my sculptures would offer passersby a similar moment of meditation, no matter how fleeting, as they made their way through the hectic intersection.
Making Detour for the Mid-Manhattan Library has given me the much-needed jolt of energy to plunge onward in my studio. It is never easy to create art in a vacuum, and to be able to show these sculptures not only to those who know and support me, but also to those completely unfamiliar with my work, has been a truly enlightening experience. One of the biggest takeaways from this opportunity was the lesson in stepping back and letting the work speak for itself. Because the installation is situated in a public library on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan, the experience of viewing the work is characterized by a kind of chance encounter. As the crowd of people stream by, I catch a lingering glance, or perhaps even a pause in step. That moment of recognition in someone’s eyes as they transform from merely seeing to intentionally looking is just enough to push me to continue making and creating.
Check out more information about this exhibition at Mid-Manhattan Library:
from Library as Incubator Project http://ift.tt/2jJSl82