The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

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DEC 21-JAN 22 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

83. 40 Wooster Street

In a SoHo gallery an artist props three old doors against one of the walls. Each door is painted a different color and each carries different signage. One announces an “Upper West Side Plant Project,” the second something called the ”N.Y. State Bureau of Tropical Conservation” and the third “The Department of Marine Animal Identification of the City of New York (Chinatown Division).” Corresponding to each door are sets of plain, practical and shabby office furniture. Each area is meant to evoke a different kind of organization or bureaucracy, from the folksy neighborhood “Plant Project” to the semi-official Tropical Conservation Bureau to the more chaotic Marine Animal Department. Every day for the three weeks of the show the artist spends two hours per day at each of these stations, examining, categorizing, preserving and storing specimens he has collected. The Upper West Side “plants” are fruits and vegetables he has purchased on Broadway between 110th and 111th Streets. The “tropical” items are leaves, rocks, tree bark, moths and other items he collected the previous year in the Venezuelan rainforest. For the Marine Animal section, he concentrates on a large sampling of edible seafood he has bought at Chinatown fish markets a few blocks from the gallery. As he identifies each item he deposits it, carefully labeled, on a shelf. The glass jars containing the seafood, which includes blue mussel, channeled whelk, northern quahog, and Atlantic mackerel, are filled with formaldehyde. By the final week, as one art critic notes, the artist has “made impressive progress,” accounting for all the tropical material and dehydrating all the Upper West fruits and vegs. “As for the marine animals, only one fish—a probably member of the flounder family—remained outside a glass jar, still lacking a firm identification.”

(Mark Dion, David Bourdon)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

DEC 21-JAN 22

All Issues