Tuesday, June 2, 2009

LostLES: A celebration of an iconic neighborhood

On Friday, Michael Brown, an environmental designer and East Village/LES resident, debuts "LostLES" — described as a panoramic installation that celebrates "the vivid character of the Lower East Side through its distinct architectural heritage."

The installation will be on display throughout the summer at Tiny's Giant Sandwich Shop at 129 Rivington St.

Brown, founder and creative director of Lot71, answered several questions about the project via e-mail for EV Grieve.

How will the historic spirit of the Lower East Side be reflected in the installation/mural?

Kevin Gregor, my friend and owner of Tiny's Giant, approached me in February with the idea of designing an installation for his restaurant. Having lived in the East Village/LES for 12-plus years, I have long been a fan of this part of Manhattan.

The neighborhood has a cultural diversity different than any other part of the five boroughs. The historical heritage of immigrants — my family's included — resounds in this area through the architecture, the storefronts, and the lasting cultural markings of industry and arts. I have often drawn from the rawness of spirit and visceral character unique to the EV/LES in my work and my research. Ultimately, I began to consider the "place" (neighborhood, community, environment) as the driving narrative for the work I would create.

LostLES has been described as a true celebration of an iconic
neighborhood. Can you elaborate?

LostLES is a celebration of this iconic neighborhood in several ways. Tiny’s is set behind two plate-glass windowed walls that create a transparent, double-sided environment — from the outside, an intimate space on a vibrant LES street corner; from the inside, court-side seats to experience the vibrancy flow by, in all directions. Inspired by the camera obscura photography of Abelardo Morell, the mural is a reflection of the old Lower East Side superimposed across the new.

I shot a photograph of an old tenement building on Orchard and Broome that we will project inside Tiny's Giant from a single source. The image will streak across the walls and ceiling of the space, and a group of scenic artists (several who are local to the EV/LES) will then paint the mural from this guide. The resulting effect will appear as a cast silhouette, or reflection, of the old architecture that has redefined the sculptural space of the restaurant.

Ultimately, the graphic/2-d image will transform the 3-d space, rendering the space with a new narrative/experience. In the work is a metaphorical play on exterior space over-layed on interior space, as well as a visual comment of the old tenement architecture re-imagining a space for the new. It will transform Tiny's Giant into a jewel-box, experiential stage of the LES.

The work is intended as a gesture of honor to the old architecture, and in our painting style, the scenic artists will be informed by the longstanding traditions of street mural and graffiti artists in the neighborhood.

Some longtime locals are upset about the changing skyline — the condos, the hotels — and feel as if these changes take away from the spirit of the neighborhood. How do you feel about this mix of the old and the new?

I, too, am discouraged by some of changing skyline of the EV/LES. While I'm not entirely well-read on the matter, I find it staggering that this area was not landmarked or otherwise, considering that close to 25 percent of U.S. citizens can trace their genealogical roots to this neighborhood.

I certainly appreciate modern architecture — there are qualities of Tschumi's Blue Building, as well the New Museum, that appeal to me within the context of the EV/LES. However, respect for the past and balance of context for the new is very important to me, and there are certainly several instances of egregious condo-fication here that pain the eye.

Ultimately, the context/balance of which I write guided the choices I made for LostLES. I am hopeful that with my installation I am able to create a space that celebrates the past with a deference to the present. I do not intend my work to be sentimental, but rather simply an encouragement to open one's eyes anew and reflect on our surroundings — cultural, architectural, and spatial.

To learn more about the project and make a pledge to support the work and community, watch this video.

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