Reviewed by Luisa Caldwell
I approached Auxiliary Projects gallery on a recent Sunday to find double doors wide open to Susan Hamburger’s “Zone B” installation. At first glance I note a pleasing sense of butter, the primary color of an elegantly visual environment, complemented with sepia tones and whites. In Hamburger’s 18th century room, prints are tastefully arranged in groupings accentuated by mass-printed festoons and bows; they are adhered directly to the walls like wall paper, to the hobbyist’s liking.
What we see, overall, is a composition of ovals and rectangles elegantly framed by patterned trim evoking ornately carved wooden frames, visually held together by the dainty bows and the swaggering festoons. The lower panelling and the meticulously rendered dentil molding is made of unpainted white foam core, and gives Zone B it’s structure.
Upon a closer look, beyond the lovely depictions of animals and birds (endangered species) we get the traditional landscapes and portraits, albeit politicized: factories polluting, and palm trees being windswept by hurricanes, and portraits of David Koch, and scientists who deny global warming theories. Think Metropolitan Museum of Art period room meets Greenpeace.
Crafty in her use of materials, Hamburger’s original brushy works of ink on paper (a few on display in the rear gallery) of wolves, bears, deer, and dolphins, factories blowing smoke, ominous cooling towers, and ocean oil rigs, and my particular favorites: snapshot- like depictions of modest homes with felled trees and power lines and flooded neighborhood streets are reproduced, as they would have been in the time of print room popularity, only now on a contemporary adhesive sticker vinyl. The potential with this medium is vast, like Color Forms that can be repositioned to create new designs and scenarios. A minimal waste approach to installation work for sure.
The images repeat in various groupings, the composition based on an actual print room explaining a certain awkward placement—I imagine ladies would wait until they had accumulated enough images to make groupings, systematically moving around the room.
Zone B, which refers to former flood zone classifications (they are renamed to 1-5) at which the gallery and much of Brooklyn waterfront exists, ultimately presents a cycle of destruction. Mean and greedy overlords, who run factories without emissions control, that cause lovely creatures to suffer and die, to the humble humans that feel the fall-out of other’s wealth. It certainly is a commentary on greed, and possibly wealth in general. Fancy is nice, but is it worth the price?
One powerful feature of the show, which may be easy to overlook, as it’s so naturally incorporated into the room, is a waterline about 12” high from the floor, making it appear as if the room had recently been flooded, leaving muck and leaves and a lone plastic fork on the floor. That too is artificial, as are all the elements in this installation.
It’s an odd, and very seductive way to address the topic of climate change, as if presented from the view of the wealthy and wasteful. The painful images are neatly framed, and used to elegantly decorate the homes of the ostensibly at-fault parties. However just being human makes us all culpable to an extent, as it equates consumption and waste. Yet to envision an elderly couple in their home of 50 years having a giant tree come crashing down on their roof, well, it’s humbling, as is nature, something the men “at the top” care nothing about.
Zone B is on view through June 28th at Auxiliary Projects, located at 212R Norman Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11222. Open Saturdays and Sunday from 1-6 or by appointment.