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The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2021

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JUL-AUG 2021 Issue
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Sophie Friedman-Pappas: Transfer Station

Sophie Friedman-Pappas, <em>City Full of Sticks</em>, 2020. Brick, found object, and plastic sequin, 8 x 3 1/2 x 12 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.
Sophie Friedman-Pappas, City Full of Sticks, 2020. Brick, found object, and plastic sequin, 8 x 3 1/2 x 12 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.

On View
Alyssa Davis Gallery
organized by Moira Sims of Octagon
July 12 – August 29, 2021
New York

While walking through Sophie Friedman-Pappas’s solo show Transfer Station, it’s difficult not to pick up some of the rust-colored soil beneath her sculptures on your clothes and arms. The exhibition on view at Alyssa Davis Gallery is organized by Octagon, a curatorial project founded by Moira Sims that presents artistic practices mediating and intervening upon public and infrastructural sites. This powdery orange material, collected from Freshkills Park in Staten Island, was brought in from a soil stockpile to cover the West Park’s 545 acres.1 In a different setting, it might indicate iron-rich soil, but in reality the earth covers terraformed mounds paving over what was once Freshkills landfill. Decades worth of New York City’s industrial and household garbage is now buried within the park—burial here becoming both a means of visually hiding the past, and a crude technology for containing leachate, methane off-gasses, and physical refuse on a scale that has never been tested before.2 Shortly after closing in 2001, the landfill was temporarily reopened to accept over 1.2 million tons of debris from the destroyed World Trade Center, materials which now sit beneath one of the park’s mounds.3 Friedman-Pappas’s work examines the City of New York’s attempts to deal with these materials through the project of reanimating this former landfill site and developing a park on top of it. The show puts forward a series of works made from the city’s refuse, compelling us to examine the life cycle of trash as it makes its way through entropic urban systems. 

Sophie Friedman-Pappas, <em>They Spoke of this Fruit with Grimaces of Disgust</em>, 2020. Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.
Sophie Friedman-Pappas, They Spoke of this Fruit with Grimaces of Disgust, 2020. Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.

In the process of creating what she calls “self-cannibalized” assemblages, Friedman-Pappas continually disassembles and rearranges found bits of driftwood, plastic figurines, half-chewed dog toys, phragmites, and other materials from the Freshkills area. The results are objects that appear to be neither hand-crafted nor found; they are weathered by wind or decomposed under layers of soil, but are simultaneously new. The works in the show appear out of time, and though they feel somehow frozen in processes of transformation, the artist describes them as “resisting the archival nature.” The animal hides, grasses, homemade collagen adhesive, and fish skins that appear throughout the gallery will visibly degrade within our lifetimes. Hide Pile (2021), City Full of Sticks (2020), and Spotted Cake Topper (2019) exist as artifacts of the waste management system that brought these disparate substances together. They make monuments to the impermanence of the empire that discarded them, and highlight the immortality of the plastics it will leave behind. In response to the anxiety created by this horizon, Friedman-Pappas depicts a sewer channel that would function to collect urine for hide tanning in leather production. They Spoke of this Fruit with Grimaces of Disgust (2020) suggests making use of refuse (both bodily and infrastructural), proposing a sewage system that produces a usable good as social commons rather than contaminating waterways. 

Sophie Friedman-Pappas, <em>Heat Island</em>, 2020. Urine-tanned cod leather, artificial sinew, saprophytic fungi, penicillium mold, aloe fibers, charcoal, watercolor, Apoxie Sculpt, found objects, thread, grade stake, and aluminum foil, 22 x 10 x 8 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.
Sophie Friedman-Pappas, Heat Island, 2020. Urine-tanned cod leather, artificial sinew, saprophytic fungi, penicillium mold, aloe fibers, charcoal, watercolor, Apoxie Sculpt, found objects, thread, grade stake, and aluminum foil, 22 x 10 x 8 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.

In Heat Island (2020), a miniature ship protrudes from its own glass display case like a molting lobster. The ship’s sails are replaced with the artist’s own urine-tanned cod leather, carefully sewn onto its masts with bright pink thread and artificial sinew. An untitled graphite drawing accompanying this ship demonstrates the use of tilapia skins as bandages to treat human burn wounds. Friedman-Pappas articulates a connection here between two landfills: Freshkills as the disposal site for the debris of the collapsed World Trade Center, and a landfill along the Hudson River that lay beneath the foundations of the towers. During the construction of One World Trade Center in 2010, an 18th-century boat was found compressed within the site in Lower Manhattan.4 The abandoned vessel was part of a centuries-old landfill created to expand the island’s landmass, burying the ship 20 to 30 feet below street level. Friedman-Pappas joins together found objects from the burial site of the World Trade Center rubble to point back to the place where the buildings were first erected. The sailboat and other garbage, forming the substrate upon which a new center of commerce was built, established a corrosive mutualism between the generation of waste and the production of real estate. The piece concludes that landfills and waste management serve dual functions in hiding the discards of industrialization (producing an illusion of sanitation), while also serving as the literal foundation for a continued expansion of the means of extraction, wealth accumulation, and economies of private property. 

This cyclical relationship between waste disposal and market expansion is theorized by architect John May in his essay “Bringing Back A Fresh Kill: Notes on a Dream of Territorial Resuscitation.” May describes waste production as the function of a libidinal economy in which “demand is merely a facet of supply itself; desire and consent—to buy, to use, to consume, and to waste—are manufactured like any other product.” Friedman-Pappas creates a visual vernacular that attempts to digest this excess. In Friedman-Pappas’s drawing Big Fish Eat Little Fish (After Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engraving of the same name, 1557) (2020), figures from Breugel’s 1557 engraving are arranged in a loop emerging from putrefied and burning water. Some of these fish have human legs, while others have bellies full of smaller creatures. Here, consumption and waste occur frantically at the stern of a massive ship, even as the city around it sinks into the ocean. According to May, within the logic of Freshkills (a kind of product in itself), disposability and replaceability are the qualities by which collective consumer appetites are defined. Freshkills landfill allowed for the expansion of markets and commodities in the New York metropolitan area by absorbing the resulting material discards. In other words, the landfill ensures that waste production is made an indispensable facet of supply chains, by setting unlimited infrastructural parameters for continued accumulation of capital and, therefore, its byproducts: “Supply was simply multiplied, waste produced (more) consumption, and Fresh Kills took it all.”5 

Sophie Friedman-Pappas, <em>Big Fish Eat Little Fish (After Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engraving of the same name, 1557)</em>, 2020. Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.
Sophie Friedman-Pappas, Big Fish Eat Little Fish (After Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engraving of the same name, 1557), 2020. Graphite, colored pencil, and watercolor on paper, 10 x 14 inches. Photo: Timothy Mahoney.

Though what’s buried in Freshkills Park is no longer visible, the marshes of Freshkills have been irrevocably altered. After the disposal of up to 13,000 tons of solid waste every day for 53 years, the park project installed a landfill “cap,” keeping these materials just out of sight.6 Perhaps this is why Friedman-Pappas refers to the new Freshkills Park project as a “2,200-acre veneer”: the irresponsibility of mid-century attempts to deal with the toxic consequences of economic growth, the subsequent environmental hazard created by this neglect, and the surface effort to bury it all in artificial grasslands, result in a project that more closely represents a lack of accountability than repair. Friedman-Pappas’s work dredges up memories of the disowned materials at Freshkills. In doing so, it affirms that beneath the city’s solution to a problem of its own making lays the imprint of an economic system whose directive is to consume everything, including its own ruins.

  1. Field Operations, Fresh Kills Park: Lifescape (2006). New York Department of State Division of Coastal Resources. https://freshkillspark.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Fresh-Kills-Park-Draft-Master-Plan.pdf.
  2. May, John. “Bringing Back A Fresh Kill: Notes on a Dream of Territorial Resuscitation.” Issuu, Millions, 10 Mar. 2014, issuu.com/millionsofmovingparts/docs/johnmay-freshkill.
  3. Villavicencio, Karla Cornejo. "Blood and Glory." The New Inquiry, 11 Sept. 2017, https://thenewinquiry.com/blood-and-glory/.
  4. Dunlap, David W. "18th-Century Ship Found at Trade Center Site." The New York Times, 14 July. 2010, https://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/07/14/18th-century-ship-found-at-trade-center-site/.
  5. May, John. “Bringing Back A Fresh Kill: Notes on a Dream of Territorial Resuscitation.” Issuu, Millions, 10 Mar. 2014, issuu.com/millionsofmovingparts/docs/johnmay-freshkill.
  6. Ibid.



The southern room of Alyssa Davis Gallery has been converted into a permanent lobby, complete with a small library of books and vinyl that rotate in conjunction with each show. The interior creative direction is overseen by Houman Farahmand with special help from Aran Simi; the library is provided by Left Bank Books and the vinyl library on loan from Daniel Givens. The gallery is offering the lobby to be used by members of the community for listening events, meetings, book clubs, pop-ups, or other events. The lobby launched concurrently with Transfer Station.

Contributor

Rudy Natanzon

Rudy Natanzon is an artist, curator, and writer working in New York City.

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JUL-AUG 2021

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