The High Line Effect
As photography's designation as a medium of pure documentation becomes slowly archaic through the fissures of the Photoshop era, the possibilities of photographic cross-pollination with collage, sculpture, and installation are increasingly eminent. In this vein, Robert Mann Gallery is pleased to present The High Line Effect, Jennifer Williams' debut exhibition with the gallery. Digitally shot yet manually pieced together, Williams' hybrid forms blend a Dadaist-photomontage aesthetic with cohesive imagery and architectural sensibility to create deviant impressions of space and setting. Her works largely reject the square frame; they instead engulf corners, sprout out of walls, or drip languidly onto the gallery floor.
Williams' work also twists the role of the picture in the tradition of site-specific artworks. Rather than using photographs as gallery-ready records of off-site installations, she instead creates photographic installations inside the gallery space that directly reference the building or neighborhood in which the show is mounted. Her installation at Robert Mann Gallery will specifically focus on the High Line, the recently-constructed elevated parkway that runs directly through the gallery district in Chelsea, Manhattan. The piece will make use of the gallery ceiling, walls, and floor to manifest not only the physicality of the High Line skimming above the streets below, but also the intangible disconnects between park and city.
Leisure versus labor, utopia versus utility: Williams extrapolates through the green versus gray. The High Line is not merely an object or an experience, but an impetus—through new construction and rising property values, unprecedented foot traffic and increasing tourism—for multifaceted and mutating urban change. By photographing and collaging the High Line's divergent built environments within the traditionally exclusive gallery walls, she interrogates both the intersection of artistic media and the intimate relationship between place, privilege, and development.
Williams received her MFA from Goldsmiths College in London and her BFA from Cooper Union in New York, where she currently teaches. Her work has been widely exhibited throughout the country, and honors include the A.I.R. Gallery Fellowship and the NARS Foundation International Artist Residency, as well as the 2008 Juror's Grand Prize at the 4th Annual Alternative Processes show. Her work has been featured in publications like The New Yorker, Excerpt Magazine, Title Magazine, Photography Quarterly, and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. She lives and works in New York City.
Inspired by the richness and variety of the High Line, and its overall effect on the Chelsea neighborhood and the city itself, Jennifer Williams created a series of collages composed of digital photographs of the area that she manually pieced together. Eschewing traditional frames, she decided to install these works, which vary widely in shape and size, in such a way that they seemed to grow out of the gallery's ceiling, floor, and walls.
In fact, the collages often appeared to tumble to life, like so many angular, sculpted creatures. One of them, called 7000 Oaks to Tenth Avenue Square, was so large that it looked like a dinosaur about to take a stroll, while another, Approaching Hudson Yards (both 2013), hung from the ceiling like a plane caught mid-takeoff. Running through all of the works was the path of the elevated park, like the spines of the various creatures that Williams invented. The buildings almost overwhelm the green foliage in the images, much the same way they do in real life.
But as these works make apparent, amenities like the High Line are inevitably accompanied by increased development and higher rents. Williams's exuberant and attractive collages comment cogently on the ambiguous impact of the High Line.
The gallery also included a set of the artist's unrelated collages. Boxes #2 (2012) is particularly sensual, with layers of brown paper, varying in tone, folded and bent and squeezed together. These works beg viewers to touch them and glide their fingers across the surfaces, giving them an opportunity to sense Williams's emotional states.
October 22, 2013
The term "High Line Effect" typically refers to the international phenomenon in which global cities, having seen the park's transformation of a previously derelict stretch of train tracks into a thriving public space, seek to recreate its powers of resurrection by building one of their own. The High Line's other effect, when viewed more closely, is its magnetic draw to tourists and developers. Jennifer Williams "The High Line Effect," an installation of photo collages opening at Robert Mann Gallery Thursday, focuses on the latter.
Williams's non-linear (pun intended) approach to collage is uncannily appropriate for the subject matter. Photographs of cranes, construction sites, architecture, and the Standard Hotel are going to radiate from images of the lush tourist-trodden path and spill out of the constraints of the walls and onto the gallery's floors and ceilings. The immersive presentation has the potential to convey what the park's fans may fail to grasp in real life: The High Line is a living thing, a catalyst for what the gallery refers to as "multifaceted and mutating urban change." And it just keeps growing.