Crossing Brooklyn: Lisa Sigal

Lisa Sigal, Hinged Painting (Halleck Street, Brooklyn), 2013

Through January 4, the Brooklyn Museum will present a major survey of contemporary Brooklyn art, featuring more than one hundred works from 35 artists. Crossing Brooklyn: Art from Bushwick, Bed-Stuy, and Beyond includes work in virtually every medium, including painting, drawing, photography, sculpture, installation, video, and performance, linked only by place and by an engagement with the modern world. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be rolling out profiles of artists who appear in the exhibit. You can read the rest here.

Through the windows of her spacious Dumbo studio, the artist Lisa Sigal can look out over the East River, past the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges, to the architectural city, a grand landscape rising in steel and concrete. It’s a stunning view, even on a grey day. In her work, though, Sigal trains her eye on the more mundane features of the urban landscape, and records what she sees. “It’s a way of seeing,” she says. “Of taking in my surroundings and being present in a place.”

Sigal’s work explores the temporality of our surroundings. She’s interested in reading the cityscape as a palimpsest containing innumerable histories, writ small. “Architecture becomes a kind of code,” she says. “It can be read to understand a social environs, or a political or economic struggle.”

Sigal works across mediums, combining elements of painting, sculpture, and architectural materials. Her images are of structures and environments, and her process is closest to that of a classical painter’s, in which the act of painting necessitates and enables looking at a subject in a more concentrated way. When Sigal decides to make an image of a building, she sets up her easel outside it and gets to work. The process is a way of fully occupying a specific time and place, of firmly locating oneself inside a concrete reality that we so often pass by. The resulting work is a document of the artist’s provisional relationship to materials and locality.

“I think of painting as a social practice, a way of not being in the studio,” she says. “The process makes me feel that I can begin to be empathetic.” It’s also a way of preserving something for posterity. The landscapes we live in, like time itself, are liminal spaces. For one work in New Orleans, she spent several days painting a building that was being deconstructed while she worked. “I love the idea that an image can protect a space,” she says.

Sigal’s materials refer to the built environment, while blurring margins both physical and notional: between interior and exterior, permanent and temporary, familiar and unknown. She often works with structural materials that double as delineations of boundaries: painting onto window screens, printing photographs on Tyvek housewrap. Two of her works in Crossing Brooklyn are what she calls “hinged paintings”—archival photographs digitally printed on Tyvek, over which Sigal applied spray paint and mounted colored window screens. “I’m interested in the question of where things begin and end, and how to confuse those margins,” she said. In this context, the view from the studio window took on a new meaning.

This interest in margins has led Sigal to explore environmental and cultural peripheries—the places where nobody goes, the zones between one place and another. Shooters Island is and oil-on-canvas depiction of a rowboat trip to the eponymous, uninhabited island in Newark Bay that Sigal took with Marie Lorenz, operator of the Tide and Current Taxi and a fellow Crossing Brooklyn exhibitor (she has a video installation that includes footage of the same journey).

At the core of Sigal’s work is an interrogation of the stability of formal and philosophical structures we take for granted, the houses and hierarchies we live in. “You look at a thing different when you have to record it,” she says. It is only natural that you would start to ask questions.

Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.

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