Remembrance of Things Present
Brooks Hall Gallery, N.C. State University
Through Sept. 12
"Have you seen the movie Blue Velvet?" Greg Lindquist, North Carolina native and N.C. State alumnus, asks while we are talking in his Brooklyn studio. Lindquist tells me that in the celebrated David Lynch film, which was shot in Wilmington in 1986, "There are some opening shots of the river that are completely unrecognizable, in the sense that there are all these warehouses on the water that are no longer there."
Lindquist and I have been talking for months about memory and the reclamation of industrial spaces in a post-industrial society. Loss, change and the documentation of the cycle through the decay and destruction of structures are the major foundations of his paintings. His solo show, Remembrance of Things Present, opened last month at the Brooks Hall Gallery on the N.C. State campus and continues through Sept. 12.
We began this discussion in the spring, when Lindquist picked me up from my apartment in Brooklyn and took me on a sightseeing tour of the borough. The spots we were visiting were all sites of creative fodder for his ever-evolving body of work depicting Brooklyn's industrial shore. When we reached the remnants of Red Hook's graving dock and sugar refinery—an area that has now become a neighborhood-transforming IKEA super center—we looked at the arched brick windows of a building that looked very similar to Wilmington's historic Cotton Exchange. Lindquist, who hails from Wilmington, says, "I grew up during a period of the downtown becoming very gentrified and the attention, and social attention, [was] being turned back on the water."
The same process is now occurring on Brooklyn's waterfront, and Lindquist has observed it keenly. For these past two years, he has documented the rapid gentrification and restructuring of Brooklyn's shore in the form of oil paintings. His carefully rendered Brooklyn-scapes—stark gray and beige images of abandoned factories and dilapidated buildings—comes at a time when empty industrial spaces are being converted into high-density residential real estate, equipped with luxury condos and high-end retail. Lindquist's work captures the rapidly disappearing remains of Brooklyn's industrial period, before such landmarks as the Egyptian-Art deco Austin, Nichols and Company building are redeveloped into Apple stores or Whole Foods markets.
The elements of the natural world—water, earth and air—that are traditional subjects in landscape painting become, in Lindquist's hands, merely frames to the imposing, central subjects of the works: decaying man-made structures. The lack of people and the overwhelmingly oppressive sense of emptiness provide a temporal vagueness to his work; the images are united in an eerie purgatory of forgotten edifices.
Lindquist's exhibition is his first one in North Carolina since he moved to New York four years ago to attend graduate school at Pratt Institute, and it has been scheduled in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of N.C. State's Design School. Lindquist, who graduated with a bachelor's of arts in English and bachelor's degree in art and design from N.C. State, credits his exposure to Nabokov, Kafka and postmodern literary theory as having shaped his understanding of language. "The idea of appropriation, the idea of post-heroic and that everything is just a text—I think I appropriate a lot from articles," he says. "I use parentheses a lot to kind of give it another subtext; it's kind of like footnotes for a painting."
He traces his interest in abandoned spaces to an experience he had as an undergraduate in Raleigh. After the old North Hills Mall was closed and before it was completely demolished, he was able to enter the empty complex with some friends in the summer of 2003. "What we did was get inside of this mall when it was virtually gutted, except some of the display cases and interior design was still there, but there were no products [and] stairwells that were tiled were stripped," Lindquist says. He adds that he experienced a "sense of desolation" that reflected current events at the time "because that exactly coincided with when we went to war with Iraq." In his subsequent work, Lindquist has continued to correlate empty spaces with social and political themes, and his most recent body of work is most concerned with issues of gentrification and change.
Though Lindquist is able to remain slightly elusive on his opinions of redevelopment, each work's title has an element of dissent that adds character to the piece. "Writing is a really important influence in my practice ... I think that comes through in my titles; they are overly verbose and kind of overly labored." Indeed, Lindquist's self-conscious titles are integral to his art: "Todd Shipyard Graving Dock (Sailing into Historic Parking)" and "Red Hook Revere Sugar Refinery (Flattening the Remains, The Age of Steam)" give you an idea of his sense of history and irony. The titles are "meant to capture some opposing viewpoints to activate the works so they are not just urban landscapes," he says. The titles seem to be the only element of the works that places them in a distinct time frame. For example, the contemporary relevancy of the piece "Ikea Site (Design for Consumer Choice, Parking over Preservation)" is understood more through its name than the images of looming, dinosaur-like cranes in the foreground.
Painted on stretched linen that adds a rough texture to the pieces, each work mirrors a landscape that has recently been reclaimed or, as in the case of "Rossville Marine Scrapyards (Maritime Ruins)," has yet to be reclaimed. The current depiction of the spaces can be considered a documentation of the landscape as it is now; a record of the Brooklyn shore. Yet Lindquist is consistently attracted to decay, and the complete absence of people in his record of the shore lends the pieces a certain post-apocalyptic integrity that conjures to mind Thomas Cole's "Desolation" piece in his series The Course of Empire.
Part documentation, part day of reckoning, Lindquist's paintings unite memory, the present and a possible future devoid of humans in shades of taupe and gray. His combination of time periods unintentionally reflects the style of reclamation that is currently in vogue—including parts of the old edifices in the new structures. In a similar fashion to Durham's American Tobacco Campus, many of the developers in Brooklyn are leaving defining characteristics of the old spaces in their new structures. IKEA chose to leave the cranes from the graving dock in their original places and removed their cables, painted them gray and built the parking lot around them. But like the Lucky Strike water tower in Durham (or the fake smokestack at the Streets at Southpoint mall), these structures are purely aesthetic, serving no purpose.
"I was thinking about the cranes in relationship to the battleship," Lindquist says, referring to one of Wilmington's popular tourist sites. "[The site] is preserved in a way that is unnatural ... in a way that goes against the way [the cranes] were used," he says. "They are functionless, they are a pure aesthetic, and it is kind of a fetishizing of these icons."
The philosophical issues over modernity and memory are knotty—one person's fetishization of no-longer-functional architecture can be difficult to reconcile with the contrary impulse to forge ahead with design innovation. As the existence of Lindquist's art makes clear, the very process of wrangling over the design of urban spaces can yield art all on its own.