The 2018 SPRING/BREAK Art Show celebrated its seventh anniversary on two abandoned floors of a corporate high-rise in Times Square. Catalogued as one of the most experimental art fairs in New York, the S/BAS aims to exhibit artwork, with a low-cost entry, through underutilized New York City spaces that are uncommon to the traditional cultural landscape the art market has set as a rigid example. Both founders, Andrew Gori and Ambre Kelly—with a creative superstaff that has organized, curated, facilitated and produced events inside the “Big Apple”—provide an internationally recognized art platform that delivers established and emergent artwork from around the world, customarily but not exclusively during the Armory Show, Volta NY, Independent and NADA.
Shane Darwent, born in Texas and an MFA graduate from Stamps School of Art & Design at the University of Michigan, is the ISC’s 2017 Student Award winner and a recent Tulsa Artist Fellowship resident. Darwent is one of the hundreds of artists who is showcasing and selling their artwork at the SPRING/BREAK Art Show. Inside of space 2371, an office room in a corner of the twenty third floor, Darwent’s installation entitled Suburban Psalm, a landscape that could be defined as a “rockscape”, inhabits the space comfortably facing the eminent city views. Darwent states, “I grew up in the suburban fringe of a mid-sized American city, the son of a construction worker […] Today, my work picks up where my father’s left off.” Both Clara McClenon and Trevor King, who was ISC’s 2015 Student Award winner, curated Shane Darwent’s installation, which reconfigures and recycles the facades, objects, materials and experiences inside suburbia, implicating their liminal nature between the connecting zones of the metropolis and its neighbouring outskirts. The vinyl siding on remodeled buildings, the concrete rock walls grounding both extremities of the bridges, the galvanized garden edges of the parks, the painted brick walls, the metal fences, a pot: all of them are pertinent urban materials that honor the aesthetics and renewal of the suburbs, as well as his father’s work.
Suburban Psalm exposes a citified backyard lawn of contemporary contemplation where the sculptures—“able to be placed in a variety of arrangements in response to venue”—simulate a “suburban built vernacular” with its meandering walking pathways around the sculptures. Only two sculptures, Athabasca and Monolith/Mirage (Times Square) were specifically made for this fair’s project. The rest of the sculptures in the installation were gathered from other past exhibitions, such as the 2017 Windsor-Essex Triennial of Contemporary Art (Ontario, Canada), Wasserman Projects (Detroit, MI, 2017) and the Stamps Gallery, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI, 2017).
As the prompt for the fair’s curational theme reads: “A Stranger Comes to Town”, Shane Darwent constructed his idea of bringing a stranger, literally, into town. He forges a landscape in his installation where those gentrified frontiers and spaces become intertwined with what is the epicenter of an urban and corporate modern environment. Shane Darwent’s Suburban Psalm efficiently overlaps these imaginative sculptures with the geometrical similarities in the adjacent cityscapes. Although he does not try to echo the chaotic ambience the city emits, as one of his main intentions for this imaginative space is to evoke pause inside of the installation, to engender some type of serenity and tranquility in this suburban garden, counteracting the revolving SPRING/BREAK Art fair experience. Suburban Psalm also focuses its approach on the formal traditions of a garden: as a place that’s inviting, pleasurable, meditative, positive; even though the materials in the sculptures mimic a public urban environment which might often seem alien to those factors. In a way, Suburban Psalm establishes a dichotomy and a juxtaposition in the every-day relationships we, as spectators, hold of certain materials, images or settings.
The suburbs are places where people move with an aspirational purpose, sometimes due to the lack of space in the cities, sometimes for economical purposes, others just to be away from the chaotic metropolis in order to find a more familiar, open or bucolic setting. But the suburbs can also be alienating themselves, as people, nowadays, are spread out by big parking lots, many central spaces, gas stations, shopping centers and traffic thoroughfares. In a way, the suburbs make people strangers despite their XIX utopian design. With this in mind, Shane Darwent invites the viewer to retrieve from his installation the unfamiliarity and hyper-familiarity the materials emancipate, as if to say, “I know this form, I’ve experienced this form… but I’ve never experienced it in this way”. The artist states during Clara’s interview, “I think I’ve always been interested in what happens when you liberate those materials from those very efficient processes and you create works with them that are purely speculative. It’s been this interesting dialogue with the building trades in general.”
This dialogue is born when Shane Darwent thoroughly investigates the relationships between the potential in the material, its history and, later on, finds out how it responds by examining the way we, as psychological entities, hold onto spaces, objects, images and people to feel connected to a time and place, as well as to a sense of self. These relationships shape our sense of reality. With Suburban Psalm, he built his own reality, his own backyard garden inside an office, on the 23nd floor of a Times Square skyscraper.