After riding a slide into a dirt-filled basement of the massive church at 626 Bushwick Ave (a.k.a. Bobby Redd’s Project Space) on Friday night, whatever we found in the artist-occupied space upstairs was going to feel like a special discovery. When we arrived, the indie/garage rock band Photon Dynamo and the Shiny Pieces was finishing up a performance onstage at the altar, and the artists in the adjacent elementary school building had just closed their studios.
The first floor of the space was filled with what looked like installation and large-scale junkyard sculpture; on the balconies above hung sharp-toothed nudes by Don Pablo Pedro and Kandinsky-like abstraction be Peter Bardazzi. James Keul’s massive Renaissance-style triptych of pant-suited professionals driving twenty-somethings like wildlife into the bushes hung across from the nave high on the pipe organ. Elsewhere, the painting would have been sopping with melodrama, but it fit well here. It was dark, though, and for the time being, the exhibition took a backseat to what came next.
I am aware that I sound like I’m describing an acid trip at a Criss Angel performance here, but bear with me. The high arches over the altar became a portal for Ryan Uzilevsky’s (a.k.a Light Harvest Studio)’s 3D projection of a roughly five-minute-long CG video, mapped precisely to the architecture. The projection showcases the technology well: life-size figures appear on the church’s arches, standing and kneeling, before manifolding into overlapping rows, mirroring the architecture of the church in a kaleidoscopic bloom. Strands of light sheath the columns in a billowing mist, before coalescing into the skin of a godlike couple making out. Blocks of projected stone move over the wall accompanied by vault-unlocking sound effects, rapidly forming into armor-like bands before sliding apart again to reveal images of women, legs, and a flash of red sheets. The impact is like that of a Michael Bay film: a parade of effects, each eclipsing the last. By the time the finale rolls around, a strand of nude bodies are ascending from the altar to the ceiling, and enormous hands swipe at them as though performing a card trick. Sound design by Brandon Wolcott and Sky White Tiger puts you somewhere in the realm of an adventure video game, which was just fine.
Subtle? Nee-yope. Religion isn’t exactly subtle, and that didn’t seem like a relevant priority here. This was like stepping into an IMAX Theater for the first time. All jaws dropped. It was gratuitously entertaining, but also the sort of high-impact special effect that Medieval tympanums supposedly had hundreds of years ago. You just can’t—and shouldn’t—compare this to painting.
After hearing rumors that the (apparently structurally sound) church will soon be torn down and replaced by condos, this felt like a pointed political act. It wasn’t: the video intends to talk about decaying signifiers alienating people from reality, hence the title Simulacra. Baudrillard’s was a loftier conversation than what actually resulted here, but it did satisfy both by ends by effectively reminding us of where we were; the projection shifted the focus onto the natural scale and beauty of the structure in a way that was utterly effective. If rumors about the building are true (which no one was able to confirm in time for this piece), I hope artists will continue to find ways to utilize the space this well.
Though I was only able to see a small portion of the event, this was part of a weekend-long festival of screenings, performances, installation, and exhibitions curated by Art Gypsy Tales writer Sabrina Y. Smith and Henry Glucroft.