New York: the spirit of the city according to United Visual Artists

Using a series of moving prisms installed in the courtyard of the A/D/O space, a group of British artists investigates the physical and emotional relationship between individuals and the urban space.

UVA, Spirit of the City, New York

A/D/O is a creative space in the former industrial area between Williamsburg and Greenpoint, in Brooklyn (NY). It is the result of an intelligent project to restore an old industrial warehouse, the work of nARCHITECTS, an up-and-coming New York studio which won the annual MoMA P.S.1 Young Architects Program in 2004 (this competition has for years brought the best emerging American studios to the attention of the general public and sector professionals).

The aim of A/D/O is to “explore the future of design”. It does this by providing workspaces to designers, organising talks and seminars on themes related to innovation and design, and promoting events in a multifunctional space 2,150 square metres in size, which has an attached restaurant and a shop where you can buy objects and books. A large atrium in the centre of the complex is the heart of the gallery. Its standout feature is the skylight – as well as illuminating the space, during the day this also reflects the image of the Empire State Building in the Manhattan skyline in a mirror set at an angle and incorporated into the interior. (On a different scale, this architectural escamotage brings to mind a similar device by Viaplana & Piñon for the CCCB in Barcelona in the 1990s.) The space is completed by a series of communal tables and a modular installation by MOS Architects. This can be set up to create a stage for performances or a series of chairs and bookcases, depending on the occasion. 

A/D/O is currently presenting its latest site-specific installation. This has been designed for the courtyard adjacent to the entrance atrium by UVA (United Visual Artists), a group based in London and founded in 2003 by Matt Clark. The installation, called “Spirit of the City”, investigates the physical and emotional relationship between individuals and the urban space. The work comprises a series of rectangular prisms on square bases. These have been covered with gold-toned mirrors, recalling the amber glass of 1970s skyscrapers such as Gordon Bunshaft’s Marine Midland Building. The classic theme of the mirror – as a symbol of the two-dimensional representation of reality – has run through the history of art from the Renaissance down to the present day (Pistoletto’s work comes inevitably to mind). To this, UVA has added another theme, one beloved by many artists of the twentieth century: movement. The prisms are programmed to rotate, evoking the idea of the continual transformation of the city.

UVA’s fascinating installation creates an experience that is in some ways estranging and surprising, thanks to the focus on the details: the gold-toned glass adds a level of sophistication to the reflected images, while the absence of bases and the distance between the prisms and the ground seem to make the columns float magically in the space. The mechanical movement is not coordinated or continuous, but syncopated, creating an unexpected and kaleidoscopic sequence of images within the columns’ urban setting. The spirit of the city and its non-linear transformation are evoked in the way they settle in our individual and collective memory, blending continually future and past, fiction and reality, dreaming and waking, imaginary and real cities.

Installation title:
Spirit of the City
Opening dates:
until 2 september 2018
A/D/O, Brooklyn, New York

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