White walls and recessed lighting be banished! Indulging in the pleasures of rawer space, Clara Darrason and Jennifer Houdrouge’s The Chimney is proof inspiring innovation isn’t necessarily high-tech. We step to, and get a fireside chat with the founders of this gallery seated in prime East Williamsburg.
When you reach The Chimney, you’ll know- it’s unmistakable and even the simplest description is accurate. It’s a black building without windows- a near-cube- tucked into a corner of an empty lot with a chainlink fence at its street side and the Newtown Creek on its back. It is so improbable because it’s so New York in its clever application and this-could-be-something spirit, but so not New York because of its lavishly minimal use of land. It’s like being shoved into the corner of a 100,000 square foot room. But this is not a problem or fault with The Chimney. In fact, you could make the case that this is what makes the Chimney so good- it’s choosy spirit and established appearance.
Though its physical footprint seems small in the context of NYC, The Chimney is not small for artists. It is really an ideal environment and deeply inspiring for artists to activate in. At twenty-three feet tall and nearly the same in floor space, there is a favorable alchemy of balance and disorder- the walls are raw brick and wood but the floor is clean and the lighting is at the will of the artist.
TIR: How did you find the Chimney?
Clara Darrason: Upon conducting a studio visit on Morgan Avenue, we came across a 23 ft high square shaped building overhung by a chimney, situated on the edge of the Newtown Creek.
Embedded into the history of a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood, the visually striking black cube resonated with our desire to commission large scale installations while revitalizing an industrial wasteland.
Upon further investigation we discovered that this venue was not used by its owner, and reached out to him.
And so the adventure began ...!
TIR: What were you doing before the chimney?
Jennifer Houdrouge: I worked at a gallery in the Upper East Side and engaged in a curatorial project in a museum.
CD: I worked for an art fair and organized curatorial projects in France.
TIR: What is an artist allowed to do in the chimney? what is forbidden?
JH: We always try to materialize the artist's vision so we don't have a set of rules. For instance, the artist Autumn Ahn suspended herself from the ceiling during a 2-hours long performance and created a spatial choreography mid-air. It was impressive and scary at times - but we were extremely happy to provide her with that stage.
TIR: What is one piece of furniture you cannot live without?
JH: My book shelf - it contains my most important books, small artworks from the artists of The Chimney and artisanal objects from my travels.
CD: I would say my dining room table. I love to host, and invite our artists to have dinner, and to share a more intimate time. We talk about their work, but this setting allows to venture in other directions and to create familiarity with one another. I also work, write, and imagine the Chimney's next chapters on that very same table.
TIR: Would you regard the chimney as part of the world of sustainable art?
CD: Several of our exhibitions have explored the intersection of art and ecology in the Anthropocene - a concept used to evaluate the complex phenomenon of humanity's geological impact on earth systems today. Atsunobu Kohira assembled plastic objects found in the surrounding of the gallery with bitumen to build an 11ft high monolith addressing the history of the polluted creek. In their installation, Eyes as Big as Plates, the Finnish-Norwegian artist duo Riitta Ikonen and Karoline Hjorth, collected discarded Christmas trees to cover the floor of the Chimney with pine needles. Their photography series unveiled the process of ‘becoming’ and ‘returning’ to nature through a form of reconciliation with the earth. Though we would not describe such practice as fully "sustainable", many artists that we work with demonstrate materials' agency and reflect on man's relationship to its environment.
Right now, Matt Taber has his work on view at The Chimney (200 Morgan Avenue)- it is a physical cloud that one climbs into. It’s solitary and refined, approachable and oddly elegant and disconcerting, exploring the implications of the digital cloud in real time and space. It’s on view until December 16th, 2018.