Founded in 2009 as an artist collective, Collar Works was created to give voice to the contemporary arts in the Capital Region. From the start, its mission was to “support emerging artists and underrepresented artists working in any media, exhibiting challenging and culturally relevant contemporary artworks.” At first, their exhibitions were presented in various vacant spaces throughout downtown Troy. For a few years, a workable space at 444 River Street served as home, but more recently, Collar Works moved into a new 4,000 square-foot gallery space at Hudson Arthaus on 621 River Street. It also hired its first Executive Director, Elizabeth Dubben.
This April, Dubben celebrated her one-year anniversary at Collar Works. By all signs and signals, it’s been an exhilarating and productive year for the organization. “I’m interested in how arts and community work together, and it’s exciting to be part of a community that’s aligned with my own vision,” she notes. “The Troy community, which has a lot of momentum and energy, has played a big role in our success.” As Collar Works has settled into its new gallery space, it has also worked hard to increase its visibility, offer new and interesting programs, and connect with potential collaborators and partners.
Important work is being completed behind the scenes as well. Brainstorming sessions on vision and strategy are displayed on large poster paper taped to the walls behind Dubben’s office. It’s clear that the board is actively engaged in planning for the future. “It’s a very enthusiastic and committed board,” she says. “We’re working on both the internal planning and the external programming at the same time.” She notes the desire to continue the organization’s momentum while staying true to their founding mission and history as a collective. The successful Collard Greens Dinner + Dialogue series (a fundraising event, curated dinner, and lively panel discussion) is an example of how Collar Works has broadened its offerings and raised its profile through mission-driven events. It’s found a way to grow, which is easier said than done for many arts startups in the Capital Region.
Soon, Collar Works will launch The LAB, which will utilize the rear alcove in the gallery as an incubator space for emerging curators or artists who want to explore an idea or experiment with new work. The program, which is in a pilot stage, will support artists and curators while, at the same time, give the audience a glimpse into the creative process. The artist Jacqueline Weaver will be first up at The LAB, where she’ll present her participatory work “The Border Project.” Collar Works will release details soon.
When asked about what’s ahead, Dubben notes that Collar Works’ long-term vision includes offering studio spaces and residencies for artists, expanding its public programs and activities, and continuing to create inroads with other Troy organizations and community members. “We’ll remain true to our goal to support emerging and underrepresented artists, but Collar Works is also focused on the community experience,” Dubben explains. “We’ll continue to create events or programs where artists and community members share a space for dialogue.”
Of course, the exhibitions on display in the gallery generate the bulk of the dialogue, buzz, and activity, and the latest exhibition, Material Witness, is no exception.
Material Witness: The Object of Photography
Curated by Justin Baker, Bill Jaeger, and Rob O’Neil, Material Witness is on display through April 29. It features work from nine artists – a few from the Capital Region or Hudson Valley and others from further afield, like Toronto, Boston (by way of Russia), and Philadelphia. “All of the artists in the exhibition are using photography in new and interesting ways,” Dubben says. “They’re pushing the boundaries of what photography is and what it can be.”
First and foremost, it’s a wonderful exhibition, interesting and remarkable for its range of work, presentation, and the dedication to its theme. Second, my summary notes on the work, which are included below, will not do the art justice. I encourage anyone who enjoys contemporary art and photography to visitor Collar Works’ gallery on River Street before it closes at the end of the month to see the work firsthand.
Ellie Krakow’s “Arm Armature” is the first work you see when you enter the gallery. In her artist statement, Krakow notes her obsession with armature “used to display ancient fragments in museums, to hold subjects for long-exposure photography, to set broken bones with medical devices.” Her work collides the practice of photography and sculpture, offering the viewer a jarring look at “posturing, transformation, and loss that armatures and display methods represent today.”
Anna Yeroshenko’s photographs, appropriately titled “Hidden Dimensions,” are architectural and layered. As the viewer focuses on the images, they seem to unfold into sculptures. “I reimagine flat building facades as three-dimensional structures in order to add new depth to the photographs,” she writes. Yeroshenko, a Russian photographer who lives in Boston, encourages the audience to “rethink architectural, aesthetic, and urban planning choices that shapes our lives.”
Next to Yeroshenko’s work, Nathan Bain’s video diptych provides images from New York State Mesonet, which is a network of 125 weather data collection sites across the state. One video provides a live feed from security cameras at the sites, while a second video provides images of the same sites 12 hours prior. It is all automated, and it offers an oddly captivating view at objective scenes across the state.
Scott Nelson Foster’s watercolors, which offer a near photographic view of locations, objects, and landmarks, and Danny Goodwin’s checkerboard grids and pegboard surfaces may be familiar to art-goers in the Capital Region, but they both offer work that nests perfectly inside the cutators’ vision for Material Witness.
In the center of the gallery, Nicola Kinch’s installation combines large format photographs of tree trunks, which hang flat from the ceiling to floor, with a flock of birds projected on a wall from an old overhead projector. The view of nature she depicts is an illusion created with man-made machines (projector, cranks, optical devices), designed to “draw parallels between the mediated photographic experience and the construction of romantic thought.”
Toronto artist Sarah Comfort’s photo-based images are woven in electronic jacquard, which “acknowledges the historical relationship between digital, pixel-based images and jacquard weaving technology.” While in the alcove, Matt Frieburghaus offers a captivating mix of video, sound, and manipulated media. Frieburghaus is Chair of the Department of Art and Digital Media at Marist College.
Lastly, Hudson Valley artist Robert Hite, who is perhaps the best known and most established artist in the exhibition, shows work from his “Imagined Histories: Sculptures in Hudson Valley Landscapes” series. Hite creates sculptures, which he notes are an “homage to people who make homes from found materials and who have scant resources,” and photographs the sculptures in situ in nature. The photographs themselves are stunning. More than that though, the scenes he creates begin to generate a narrative while, at the same time, offer a shift of perception when the viewer begins to reconcile the scale of the sculpture against the environment. Both the sculptures and the photographs are on view.
Dubben notes that the show creates a dialogue between artists in the immediate region and those outside the area. This is one of Collar Works’ main objectives – to creative opportunities for artists working in contemporary art. She explains that often these opportunities stem from presenting emerging artists alongside established artists, and sometimes they stem from connecting regional artists with artists from other areas. “Collar Works presents fresh and interesting ways to look at contemporary art and to engage with contemporary art,” she notes. This is true for both artist and audience. Material Witness certainly achieves these goals and then some.
The exhibition is on display through April 29. Visit www.collarworks.org for more information, including gallery hours and directions.