Saturday, May 12, 2012

Down Through The Needle's Eye

Conceived and curated by the Rotating History Project (Teddy Johnson and Heather Rounds) and in cooperation with EMP Collective, Down Through the Needle’s Eye is an exhibition consisting of 20 contributors exploring themes related to Baltimore’s historic former Garment District.

An area of the city loosely falling between Fayette Street, Greene Street, Pratt Street and Hanover Street, it was in the Garment District where umbrellas were first manufactured in the US and the second largest men’s clothing factories in the world once operated. The city’s labor movement and many of its early union struggles happened here as well. 

The rise and decline of the Garment District as a flourishing industrial center for Baltimore’s manufactured products, as well as the people who worked and struggled to maintain their livelihoods through the decades, speak to events and societal practices that are not alien to our own time and highlight the finite nature of our society’s industries in general.

The site of the exhibition, EMP, sits in the Faust Building. Located in the heart of the Garment District, the building was once a wholesale boot and shoe business, and through time leased space to clothing firms, dry goods wholesalers, and merchants of men’s furnishings.

The show is part of a larger group of happenings called the Rotating History Project.

Founded in 2010, EMP Collective is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to creating and producing multi-media events by collaborating with artists from all backgrounds, across disciplines. EMP Collective hopes to nourish emerging artists with its new incubator space (creatively named EMP) at 306 W Redwood Street, in the forgotten Loft District of Baltimore. This multi-use arts venue is comprised of a rotating art gallery for developing artists that doubles as a rehearsal / performance space for theatrical and musical events, experimental collaboration, workshops, and film screenings. Around the corner from the Hippodrome, right off of the Baltimore St/University Center Light Rail stop, EMP hopes to be part of the revitalization of a neighborhood just blocks away from the Inner Harbor and Mount Vernon.

What I May Have Seen on Routes 70 & 340

A New show of paintings by Rotating History Project co-founder Teddy Johnson.

The paintings making up the series What I May Have seen on Routes 70 and 340 are meditations on highway 70 and 340, specifically the section of these two highways running west from Baltimore, through West Virginia, into northwest Virginia.

The paintings feature personal interpretations I have made of the landscape based on traveling along these highways, juxtaposed with reinterpretations of figure drawings by 19th century Harper's  illustrator, writer, and journalist, David Hunter Strother, better known by his pen name Porte Crayon.   Extracted out of their original and sometimes problematic contexts more than 150 years later, many of the figures represented in these works are within an hour's drive of where they were originally drawn.

    The time in which Strother worked was a time of significant upheaval in America. The 10 years before the Civil War were the peak of Strother's career as an artist.  He later was a Union Officer in the Shenandoah Valley and, given his muddy political views and his alliance to the Union over his state of Virginia, was on both sides of the conflict. His work for Harper's and archived, sketchbooks, many of which are dated with location, document hundreds of people throughout the region of all classes and races at a time before convenient and widespread photography. Though his body of work is a detailed attempt to document the people of the area it is also a product of it's time and place.

    This show is meant to share a conversation I’ve had with myself over a number of years about the complex history these highways pass through and the ongoing development of Western Maryland, Northwest Virginia and West Virginia around 70 and 340, as Washington DC continues to stretch its circle further outwards the farmland and landscape of the past is becoming housing developments. I sought to interpret figures that I felt offer a glimpse of humanity, at once trying to see if I could envision these documented people in the landscape that once existed, simultaneously wondering how they might react to see this same landscape today.