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Mapping Brooklyn - BRIC Arts, New York, 2015

Mapping Brooklyn - BRIC Arts, New York, 2015

BHS Mapping Brooklyn wall

There are artists who work purely off their imagination, and artists who like to document or interpret something of the world around them. I partake in both sensibilities. A key aspect of my practice is to mine the historical archives in search for evidence of past geographical, topographic, and architectural traces of places I am emotionally attached to. So, when Elizabeth Ferrer, Vice President of Contemporary Art at BRIC House in Brooklyn, invited me to be part of the exhibition Mapping Brooklyn, I took it as a chance to explore the area around where I live, and specifically focus on one feature that defines my neighborhood, the Prospect Expressway, built in the 1950s under the supervision of Robert Moses.

Prospect Expressway plan The Brooklyn Eagle 1949

“Mapping Brooklyn” has been co-curated with the Brooklyn Historical Society, where part of the artworks were on display, and where I have spent many hours over several months poring over large maps of the 1920s and 1930s, including the impressive series of Sanborn Atlas insurance maps, a spectacular palimpsest spanning some seventy years (until the 1990s, after which mapping became digital). The numerous revisions have been pasted upon the maps with collaged details of streets, buildings, and highways, obliterating previous city blocks, houses, and empty lots. A faint trace of past structures is visible underneath some of the thin papers.

Prospect Expressway Sanborn Map

As I drew from these maps on translucent sheets of mylar, I wanted to reveal these “hidden” traces by utilizing drawing as an archaeological tool. The final installation displays a series of drawings in intertextual dialogue with the old maps, in a paradoxical inversion of past and present.

Simonetta Moro Crossing Prospect Expressway detail

Simonetta Moro Crossing Prospect Expressway view

Simonetta Moro Crossing Prospect Expressway visitors BRIC

Simonetta Moro Crossing Prospect Expressway visitors BRIC

Simonetta Moro The Last of Bed Stuy BRIC
click on the image above to magnify it

The second part of the exhibition took place at the Brooklyn Historical Society (February-August 2015).
In this context I displayed a panorama drawing, Dumbo Blues, in a mechanical scrolling Panorama Box*.
BHS Mapping Brooklyn Moro

The view from the ground constitutes a counterpoint to the view from above of the maps – chorography versus topography, fragment versus whole – and also a reference to the historical genre of the “veduta”, of Venetian art especially, which is part of my cultural background. While from the traditional panorama I borrowed the elongated format and the scrolling mechanism that some of the large 19th century panoramas utilized, in this particular drawing I embraced a rather fragmentary sense of time, the one that comes from taking a walk around the neighborhood, focusing my attention on this or that detail, which I would draw at intervals of time, over a series of days. Walking in fact can be though as a kind of mapping, or perhaps is mapping that is a way of walking…and ultimately both mapping and walking are ways to finding oneself (or getting lost, as every flâneur knows).

In this scrolling drawing I have tried to represent not so much a scene, but the experience of wandering in a small area in Brooklyn, below the Manhattan bridge, as I got to know the neighborhood where I had found a new studio after being forced out of Williamsburg. The bridge became the pivot and the magnet of my observations, and a chance to evoke some of my favorite places and artists – Rome and Piranesi most of all (adding another layer of time to the existing experiential one – the time of the past entering the present via iconographic models).

I see these drawings as a form of tracking and preserving specific events as they unfold in time, and as a form of affective documentation. If drawing, as it is often said, is an act of seeing, it is seeing for the first time, even when the object of contemplation is a familiar one; and it is seeing clearly, a form of knowledge, an activity of the mind, which is originated by the maker of the image, but it’s re-created by the viewer.

The sense of time is given in duration [cf. Bergson]; the duration of my experience is part and parcel of the duration of the drawing. This is given as a continuous experience enhanced by the back-and-forth motion of the scroll, through which the viewer is given the chance to witness the walk and return on one’s steps, by inverted motion, as if trying to sum up the memory of a place by revisiting in one’s mind the itinerary/itinerrance** from the end to the beginning – and back again…

Simonetta Moro Dumbo Blues panorama drawing
click on the image above to magnify it

Simonetta Moro, "Dumbo Blues." Ink on paper & Panorama Box with scrolling mechanism, Brooklyn Historical Society, 2015 from simonetta moro on Vimeo.

*Panorama box designed and built by Giovanni Moro (the artist’s father).
**“Itinerrance”, a word invented by philosopher Paul Ricoeur, combines the concept of itinerary with the concept of error (the Italian “errare” expresses both).

All images Simonetta Moro ©

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Submitted on: 24 Sep 15

Categories: Drawing, Panorama Drawings

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