Beginning in September, 2013, our yearlong theme at Proteus Gowanus is Water. Once a sacred substance, water is often taken for granted now. We in the developed world were told that engineers had mastered its flow to meet our every need, from drinking water and irrigation to water parks and fish tanks. We lost our respect for this strange elixir that has shaped our world and dictates how and where we live. Now, it seems we are paying for our disregard. Last fall, Hurricane Sandy punished Brooklyn and the East Coast. Across the globe, we hear almost daily of drought, deluge and flood. A sense of foreboding permeates the atmosphere.

Our guiding spirit, Proteus, Greek sea god of change, encourages us to dive in and explore these murky waters to see what answers we can find over the next nine months. Keep scrolling down to read about previous exhibitions of the WATER year.

5th and Final Exhibition of the WATER Year

Water Works

May 30-July 13, 2014
Opening Reception: Saturday, May 31, 6-8pm

Water Works image

Water Works is a group exhibition featuring the work of 16 visual artists from New Orleans. This exhibition is presented in low-lying Gowanus, Brooklyn, one of many areas where Superstorm Sandy’s tidal surge wreaked havoc, joining in flooded solidarity the two communities of greater New York and New Orleans.

Water Works is curated by Christopher Saucedo, an artist from both Brooklyn and New Orleans who suffered losses in the Katrina flood and in Superstorm Sandy. The show’s title is derived from the board game, Monopoly. It invokes the infrastructures and agencies that deliver water to our sinks and tubs while also serving as a metaphor for tears. Saucedo has observed that the Katrina flood has been “the implied filter through which out-of-town audiences contextualize [New Orleans] artwork.” He compares the “automatic solemnity that takes over when visitors find themselves at the World Trade Center site” to reactions to Katrina and concludes that “As sure as place defines us, place-altering events change us.”

But Water Works is not another hard-luck Katrina show. We asked this group of New Orleans artists to  consider water in all its complexity and universality. Saucedo further refined the lens to the two topics suggested by the title of the show: namely, infrastructure and emotion.

Curator and Artist: Christopher Saucedo

Artists: Kevin Baer, Ron Bechet, Generic Art Solutions (G.A.S.), Laura Gipson, Jessica Goldfinch, Cheryl Hayes, Rachel Jones Deris, Matthew Kirscht, Holger Lang*, Malcolm McClay, Anastasia Pelias, Gina Phillips, Christopher Saucedo, Dan Tague, Ashley Robins-Tague, Michel Varisco, Monica Zeringue

*all artists included in this exhibition are working in New Orleans except Holger Lang, from Vienna, Austria.


4th Exhibition of the WATER Year

Combined Overflow

April 26th – May 24th, 2014
Opening reception: Sunday, April 27th, 6-8pm

Combined Overflow is an exhibition of creative responses to the Newtown Creek and the Gowanus Canal, two New York City waterways with similar histories of industry, pollution and neglect. Both of these salt-water inlets were designated as federal Superfund sites in 2010, and are currently undergoing remediation, even as new residents are lured to their shorelines. Both have also inspired dedicated communities of artists, innovators and explorers, who have been working to collectively recalibrate these bodies of water as fertile sites of collaboration, invention and public engagement.

Laura Chipley, Nathan Kensinger, Sarah Nelson Wright

Exhibiting Artists:
Wendy Andringa, Liz Barry, Sarah Christman, Willis Elkins, Eymund Diegel, Jose Gaytan, Jan Mun, Leif Percifield, George Trakas, Mitch Waxman, Jenifer Wightman

Exhibiting Groups:
Brooklyn Atlantis, The Gowanus Canal Conservancy, The Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, The Newtown Creek Alliance, The Newtown Creek Armada, The North Brooklyn Boat Club, Urban Omnibus


3rd Exhibition of the WATER Year

THIRST, an exhibition & participatory laboratory

March 22 – April 19, 2014
Opening Reception: Sat. March 22, 6-9pm
First Thirstlab Workshop: Sat. March 22, 3-6pm
Thirst – (thurst) noun
1. a sensation of dryness in the mouth and throat caused by need of liquid.  
2. the physical conditionresultingfrom this need, in any of various degrees: ‘They almost died of thirst.’
3. strong or eager desire; craving: ‘a thirst for knowledge.’

Proteus Gowanus is excited to present THIRST, the third investigatory adventure of our yearlong exploration of WATER. THIRST is a participatory curatorial project exploring thirsty materials, plants, animals and people. In order to reveal the complex forces shaping our physical need and psychological desire for water, Proteus Gowanus will be transformed into a living research laboratory, a new iteration of our Zone A Workshop series.

From World Water Day to the brink of Earth Day 2014, ThirstLab will feature an evolving installation, an open archive and a series of hands-on workshops that highlight the politics and pleasures surrounding Brooklyn’s waters, actively linking events in the past to our present conditions. This public platform brings together multidisciplinary artists, designers, students, scholars, chefs, filmmakers, writers, farmers, DIY makers, political activists, musicians, entrepreneurs, water sports enthusiasts and curious audience members to exchange different forms of knowledge, cultivate practical skills and share personal stories related to our use—and abuse–of local aquatic resources.

Workshops will teach water-based crafts of felting and dyeing with locally sourced plants, explore the challenges of water purification and fresh water access, investigate the popularity of hydroponic farming and small-scale craft liquor production, and demonstrate the capacity of water to act as a healing force, as seen through the eyes of eco-scientists, fly fishing anglers and surfers. Thirsts by their very nature must be quenched, but how this occurs, and the implications of those actions, will be the focus of collective inquiry within Thirstlab.

For further information on Thirstlab, see the project website, created by curators Lydia Matthews and Current Collective: http://thirstlab.org/home/

Project Curators:
Lydia Matthews + Current Collective* 

Project Participants:
Hope Ginsburg + Sponge HQ, Laura Sansone, Chris Lovrich + Alex Wenner (Brooklyn Homebrew), Peter Walsh, Alex Prud’homme, Michael Cirino (A Razor A Shiny Knife), Mary Mattingly, Windowfarms, Bhawani Venkataraman, Viraj Puri (Gotham Greens), Brad Estabrooke (Breukelen Distilling Company), Cleo Woelfle-Erskine + July Cole (Water Underground), Lexy Lovell + Michael Uys (Out of the Blue Productions), Cliff Skudins (Surf For All), Lena Roca (Yoga on the Rocks), Tamar Franklin + Andy Rogers (Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing), Jeremy Olson + Aaron Cooper + Barbara Compagnoni + Juan Pablo Pemberty + Veronica Uribe (Current Collective**)

*Sponge HQ is an interdisciplinary lab, workshop, classroom and project space installed at the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Anderson Gallery in Richmond, VA, which serves as home to Hope Ginsburg’s Sponge project and the experimental Colablablab curriculum. Participants include: Kara Beckner, Colleen Brennan, Jasmine Calvert, Jessica Carey, Madison Clark, Lindsay Clements, Liesa Collins, Mason Fletcher, JoJo Houff, Gretchen Mull, Summer Rezeli, Stephanie Schapowal, Davis Scherer, Clare van Loenen.

**Current Collective is a transdisciplinary team of graduate students from Parsons The New School for Design who co-create research-oriented, socially-engaged curatorial platforms focused on the politics and poetics of natural and social systems. Founding members include: Barbara Compagnoni, Aaron Cooper, Veronica Uribe Del Aguila, Allison Grimes, Taylor Kuhn, Natalie Neilson, Olivia Nickel, Jeremy Olson, Juan Pablo Pemberty, Komal Sharma, Salem Tsegaye.


(for details, click to Events page)

Hydrogen Bonding: A Workshop in Natural Dyeing, Felting and Water-Molecule-Making, March 22, 3-6pm

POST-WORKSHOP TREAT! At 6pm following the workshop, Chris Lovrich from Brooklyn Homebrew will be demonstrating how to brew a batch of beer from one of their favorite DIY kits, so if you’re interested in learning how to use water to cook up a different kind of plant-steeped concoction, be sure to catch him in action during our Thirst Opening.

THIRSTLAB WORKSHOP #2: Ripple Effects: The Politics of Fresh Water Flows, Sunday, March 30, 3-5pm

THIRSTLAB WORKSHOP #3Gowanus Drinks: A Workshop/Walking Tour of Thirsty Plants and Thirsty People, Saturday, April 5th, 4-7pm

THIRSTLAB WORKSHOP #4:  Body-Mind-Water Aquatherapy: A Gnarly Rip and Fly-Fishing Workshop
Saturday, April 12, 3-6pm


2nd Exhibition of the WATER Year

Reanimation Library/Gowanus Branch

January 4 – March 16th, 2014
Opening Reception: Saturday, January 11th
7:00 – 9:00 p.m.

For the second exhibition of our WATER year, Proteus Gowanus is pleased to announce a new exhibition by our Project-in-Residence
Reanimation Library :

Reanimation Library | Gowanus Branch will present new work by Jen Bervin, David East, and Marget Long accompanied by a selection of books from the library’s collection. All of the work and books included in the branch will engage with the subject of water—the focus of this year’s investigative theme at Proteus Gowanus. Works in sculpture, photography, video, installation and textiles all grew out of an initial encounter with printed material, often from the library’s own collection.

Jen Bervin will present a section of her large-scale installation River—a 230 ft. panoramic scale model of the Mississippi River rendered in reflective hand-sewn silver sequins. For Gowanus Branch, she will install a segment of the river’s meander belt, famously charted by Harold Norman Fisk in his Geological Investigation of the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley. Installed on the ceiling, the piece shows the river mapped from the geocentric perspective—from inside the earth’s interior looking up at the riverbed. Viewers will be able to see themselves reflected in it as they move through the space.

David East’s site-specific installation, Pastoral Double Plot (Non-Circulating) explores the theme of water by referencing one of its greatest consumers—the American suburban lawn. Driven by the idea of the lawn as a sort of parasitic architecture to the suburban home, the piece itself echoes the lawn/home relationship, growing out of Proteus Gowanus’s own systems of display. He will also present A Walk in the Park (thank you Mr. Lynch), within the library stacks, a looped animation further exploring the lawn inspired by the opening sequence of David Lynch’s film, “Blue Velvet”.

Marget Long will exhibit photographs and video from her current series Mirage Mirage (which, incidentally, grew out of her involvement with the library’s Center City Branch in Philadelphia in 2009.) Daylight at the Oasis consists of three pixelated, black and white photographs of an oasis in the Mojave Desert which are mounted under a dichroic, refractive plexiglass cut into a grid pattern. The specialized plexiglass, marketed by 3M for its ‘mirage like’ properties, causes the oases to change hue, appear, and disappear, depending on the viewing angle. The photographs also reflect the contents of the room in which they are displayed. She will also present Rancho Mirage, a looped video work featuring footage of a mirage interacting with  automatic sprinkler systems on a commercial strip of road in the city of Rancho Mirage, CA.

The Reanimation Library will temporarily relocate its water-related books from the stacks in the back of Proteus Gowanus to the main gallery space. Titles will include Ebb and Flow: The Tides of Earth, Air, and Water, The Effect of Water on Rock Powders, Waves and Beaches: The Dynamics of the Ocean Surface, Water Flying, Of Water, Salt and Life: An Atlas of Fluid and Electrolyte Balance in Health and Disease, Abyss: The Deep Sea and the Creatures that Live in It, and The Shocking Truth About Water: The Universal Fluid of Death.


1st Exhibition of the WATER Year


September 15-December 20, 2013

Our first exhibition of the Water year is Containment, exploring our increasingly troubled relationship with water. Containment suggests antithetical meanings: on the one hand, the act of holding and enclosing, as you might a rare treasure; on the other, a defensive act, as in restraining a hostile power. With respect to water, both meanings apply: we cannot live without it and yet we know it has the power to destroy us. Fear and desire circulate through our relationship with water. Bottles, cisterns, reservoirs and baths; sewers, levees, dikes and dams: all seek to contain and control water, the source of all that is liquid. And somehow the more we seek to control, the more out of control it all becomes…

In this exhibition, the containment of water is depicted in systems ranging from underground tunnels that contain once vibrant surface water bodies (Diaz) to bowls and buckets capturing furtively invasive water (Cogswell and Phunsombatlert). We see structures designed to hold floodwater back (Diaz) as well as the rivers that resist containment (Garnett). Goldfinch portrays the liquid exchange that keeps our brains alive. Saucedo portrays everyday containers as pure form while Tannen goes for functionality, containing a river in a simple jug. Damon portrays the biodynamic movement contained within a single drop of water –  movement replicated throughout the living world. Gagic records the musical sound of the sea contained in organ pipes and Sturman simply sails away, happily contained. Containment also includes a special installation on our Proteus Shelves.


In the gallery’s big shelves, we present Break/Remake, a Containment installation alluding to the problematic nature of big dams around the world. Big dams now girdle most of the world’s major river basins, creating “staircases of reservoirs” that have inundated vast tracts of land worldwide, causing massive population dislocation, species extinction, ecosystem degradation and even climate change. The world’s rivers are at risk and big dams are a major reason why. They ‘break’ rivers and then ‘remake’ them to serve our needs for drinking water, energy and crop irrigation with little regard for the massive disruptions that result. When you break and remake a form, you alter its function, posing the question: What is gained from such changes and what is lost? Artists were invited by the curator to break and remake a container for this installation.

Containment and Break/Remake Curator: Tammy Pittman.
Amy Lipton and Tom Miller served as Containment correspondents and Charles Caesar, intern, provided design and general support.

Containment Participants:

Diane Bertolo, Margaret Cogswell, Betsy Damon, Jaime Ramiro Diaz, Bojan Gagic, Joy Garnett, Jessica Goldfinch, Bundith  Phunsombatlert, Christopher Saucedo, Sally Mara Sturman

Break/Remake Participants:

Rosaire Appel, Stella  Chasteen, Ellen Driscoll, Makalé Faber-Cullen, Jessica Goldfinch, Charles Goldman, Melita Greenleaf, Molly Heron, Eva Melas, Janice Movson, Tony Stanzione, Tani Takagi, Robert Tannen, Barbara Westermann