Windows Brooklyn: A Mutually Beneficial Marriage of Art and Commerce

Launching this Friday and running through the 13th, Windows Brooklyn is an art exhibition that challenges traditional conventions of art display by taking pieces out of the gallery and into public spaces; storefronts will play host to a range of local artists’ work in a variety of media, including performance and video art. We sat down with one of the event’s curators, Sara Jones (a fantastic artist in her own right), to discuss space, emerging artists, and edible artwork…

Flavorpill: How was last year’s event? What did you learn from curating it last year that you think will affect this year’s show?

Sara Jones: Last year’s event was an amazing collaboration between us, the artists, and the store owners. It was a lot of fun, a lot of work, and it received a great reaction from the community. We learned the intricacies of communicating and coordinating with over 70 different people at once, and realized the importance of lists, level-headedness, and organization. We also learned what kind of art works best in a public show, and what kind of risks we can take.

FP: What is your process for choosing participating artists?

SJ: Artists submit applications that include proposals for site-specific projects, and we look closely at what they propose and images of their past work as we try to match them up with stores that we think are appropriate. Site-specificity is very important, and our best submissions often focus on a strong concept complemented by innovative ideas and well-executed craft. From there we look for the artists that best suit the mission of the business venue, and the limitations of the window itself. Some venues only accept traditional media (e.g., they’ll only permit 2D work to hang in their window), but many are open to new media (multiple video monitors, projections, sculptural installations, etc).

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FP: How did you go about selecting the neighborhood for this show?

SJ: We live in Brooklyn, and as artists ourselves, we know that there are many artists living and working here. We like to forge connections in our own backyards and get to know our neighbors. The Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens area is a great place to start a project like Windows Brooklyn because it is popular enough to attract visibility for the artists, but it does not have many art galleries/venues. The majority of the store owners have an open mind to projects like this, and when done well, it can be beneficial to all participants.

FP: What kind of audience are you looking to attract this year? What kind of artwork gets the best reaction?

SJ: Part of the goal of Windows Brooklyn is to expose people to art who might not normally engage with it. We want all passersby to notice it, ask questions, and perhaps have an experience that they would not normally seek out. The artwork that receives the best reaction is usually interactive work where the audience members have a part in creating the piece. Last year, Candy Chang’s installation, I’ve Lived, at the antique store Yesterday’s News was a big hit. She installed a display where viewers were asked to write in where they live and how much they pay for rent. Andrea Wenglowskyj had a piece at Margaret Palca Bakes last year called Eat Your Words! Participants were asked to write thoughts onto cookies and then photograph themselves eating the cookie.

FP: What kind of connection does Windows Brooklyn forge between art and space?

SJ: One of the most intriguing aspects of WB is that each artist is forced to think about his or her site much more than in a traditional gallery setting. Even if the project is “standard” two-dimensional work, the artist has to figure out new hanging methods, the best placement for viewers strolling by, and how their piece interacts with the store’s business. When going through the applications, we pay close attention to whether the artist has considered the space at all in their proposal. The idea of the window itself is an important consideration as well. The exhibition is a commentary on the nature of the window both as a physical object and as an idea, one that goes far beyond just pieces of glass.

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FP: Are you running any events that audience members can participate in? What do you think of the role of audience participation in the visual arts?

SJ: Both years we have consciously selected some works that involve audience participation. This year we have several works at the Transit Garden (corner of Smith Street and 2nd Place) that are performative or involve participation. On June 12 and 13th we have a double bill of performance art. At 7:30 p.m., Shelton Walker traces the routes of passersby onto the glass walls of the box she is standing inside of in a piece called Brooklyn Cardiogram. At 8:00 p.m. we will have a play called In regards to Trains: A Play about Transit, Transitions and Travel. A Tragedy. It was created by Lisa Rafaela Clair and Emily Zimmer, and it features live music by the Woes.

In addition to those performances, there will be a sculptural sound piece by Jeff Burdian attached to the garden fence. The piece will recreate the history of the Carroll Gardens neighborhood. At Yesterday’s News, Joshua Schwartz and Sarah Simon will have a participatory piece called Wishful Thinking where viewers are invited to “plant” their wishes. We are interested in the ideas of relational art, where artists present certain circumstances and it takes the viewer to complete the work.

FP: How does curating this event affect your thinking and work as an artist?

SJ: The main inspiration comes from meeting all the different artists and learning from their approaches to art-making. It also opens up the dialogue among the three of us [Jones and co-curators Andrea Wenglowskyj and Leah Gauthier] a great deal as well. We find ourselves discussing the feasibility of this project or that idea — things we wouldn’t have thought of or stumbled across if we hadn’t had this view into other artists’ creative processes. Also, it has made us so much more aware of site and the ways you can make a work of art a lot stronger if you consider your environment and location.

FP: What kind of role do you hope the event plays in the community?

SJ: We hope that it helps challenge artists to create work in non-traditional settings. We also look to change the landscape of a regular day-to-day commute for those that live in the neighborhood. In general, we hope that it forges unlikely artist collaborations and is fun for all. We hope that it inspires people to continue showcasing art, for artists to reach out to their neighborhoods, and to create spontaneous events.