Nancy Barton in front of the Prattsville Art Center
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012
Installation view including work by:
Upper left, Jason Martin, Lower left Michelle Petricini,
Lower right, Lyle Ashton Harris
Prattsville Art Center
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012

What happens one year after a natural disaster has ravaged a small town in upstate New York? You have Mudfest! The residents of Prattsville organized a weekend of events, book signings, lectures and an art exhibition, organized by Nancy Barton. Nancy and her husband Michael Cohen have had a cabin in Prattsville for ten years. They were in the town when Hurricane Irene hit and caused flooding whose unwanted presence in the town is still evident throughout homes and businesses on Main Street, still in need of repair. Upon witnessing the devastation the town suffered Ms. Barton decided to help in the best way she knows how, through contemporary art. The former chair of the NYU Steinhardt Art Department, she was able to create a growth based possibility by bringing young and more established artists to the town to participate in workshops along with a residency appropriately called the Prattsville Art Residency. Invited residents were offered accommodations in a spacious cabin near the center of town and given the chance to work on his or her own art projects or interact with the locals in art related discussion, assignments etc. The residency just came to fruition this summer and participants, mostly based in Manhattan or nearby Brooklyn, were able to work around their schedule to create a situation that was best suited for them.

Installation view of works by James Woodward
Prattsville Art Center
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012

Having worked to attain the lease to a former hardware store in the center of town, a hand painted sign now hangs above the door declaring it the “Art Center”. The building had been already stripped before the floods and even tho further damaged, it is not necessarily in the condition to be utilized once again in the same way it was previously. However, Nancy and her team of artists worked hard scrubbing away mud residue from flood damage the best they could and art was installed, salon style on the bare, wood exposed walls. Juxtaposing well-known established artists with those just starting out, the assortment of participants in the exhibition range from Lyle Ashton Harris to a local high school student whose painted self portraits were a colorful addition. Many Prattsville natives have never had the opportunity to experience a contemporary art center in this way, raw, open, available, yet also featuring sometimes hard to decipher artwork. The result was a mixed bag, as during the event, some people chose to stroll by the venue, mysteriously peering into the now cleaned, yet somewhat dusty windows, while others curiously entered the space, reminded of their own childhood having spent time in the hardware store and found inspiration in the transformative process underway. The other demographic of people who arrived were art lovers and artists themselves who were not only curious about the undertaking, but willing and excited at the opportunity to participate in future events.

Conjuring a mixed bag of artworks and related activities, the art center in time, promises to provide the community with art specific events, exhibitions, lectures and workshops. Still in the incubation period, the agenda is likely to change and evolve as more discussions are had. For now, at the finale of the first ever Prattsville residency, the exhibition was held in two separate venues; the art center, and the Reformed Church which was gutted post-flood. Artists were allowed to choose his or her ideal location and proceed to install their project as they saw fit. Some of the artists chose to respond directly to the community and the strife that they had and are experiencing while others continued to pursue an individual practice and install work that would allow for opening a dialogue, benefiting all who were willing to participate, ponder and debate. Neither one method or the other seemed superior, as each provided the opportunity for an active, thought provoking discussion.

Installation view at the Reformed Church by Jonathan Wang
Prattsville, NY
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012

One artist who chose to react directly to what  he recognized as need-based, is Jonathan Wang. After having spent time in South Africa, Jonathan has used his process to interact with the people that he has met. His spatial interventions are usually directly related to the surrounding environment as is (or was) his site-specific installation in Prattsville. Upon arriving at the church, Jonathan and several of the other residents found the interior to be filled with donated goods. Rather than (re)move the items out of the interior space, the artist chose to organize the materials in a subtly sculptural way, making an installation that was symbiotic, giving people the opportunity to take whatever they wanted upon arrival and departure.

Artist Paco Marcial with his sculpture
Reformed Church, Prattsville, NY
Photograph by Katy Hamer

Another great instance was witnessing one of the young local participants waltz into the art center with her friends in toe and proudly show off her conceptual fabric wall piece. The work was made during one of the workshops and although initially bored or disinterested, the media attention and individual praise allowed for the teen to change/adapt her own opinion about the work she made, recognizing it’s value in a different way. This is what fine and contemporary art can be about. Largely speaking, the art making process lends itself to decision making and choices that may not otherwise come about. Given the opportunity to expand one’s thinking in a way that initially feels foreign or unnatural can be a gift in disguise.

Artists who participated in the group exhibition include but not limited to: Damien Davis, Nancy Barton, Jane Ruby, Jason Martin, Lyle Ashton Harris, Michael Cohen, Paco Marcial, Carrie Pollack, Jonathan Wang,
Marissa MandlerJames Woodward and Nadja Marcin. Local artists and resident participants included Michelle Petricini, Rayven Analice, Alexis Marsh, Darcy Jaeger Brand, Lacey
Brand, Ashleigh Rose Brand, and others.

As is common with a large group show, the artwork varied in style, technique and individual vision. Each artist, like a unique fingerprint, brought something different to the table or in the case…wall and floor space. The interior of both the church and the art center carried a faint, damp odor proof of the unwanted river water that plagued the many buildings only one year prior. The town is full of survivors and Mudfest was a celebration of tenacity and will for those who have remained and are looking to better (or expand upon) the existence they have.

Stay tuned for future updates on the Prattsville Residency and art center, which looks to fill and create a niche that many might not have known was even missing, the spirit of hope and visual aesthetic transcribed though the many processes and practices of art making. The exhibition will be open to the public for several weekends in September and by appointment, be sure to check their website and facebook page for additional information.

Damien Davis, Installation view at the Reformed Church
Prattsville, NY
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012

More soon.

H O P E, sign on Main Street
Author unknown
Photograph by Katy Hamer, 2012