Red Hook Is Home to the World’s First Waterproof Art Gallery

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James Powers, like every other artist in this ~blessed~ borough, is looking for a place to work. And what he’s asking for is simple: a cost-effective, quiet space thoroughly removed from the eternally inane cycle of landlords and roommates. Easier said than done, right? Finding such a space in Brooklyn is enough to make most people moan and move on.

But most people aren’t James Powers, and so they don’t buy a 5,000-pound waterproof Corten steel container, name it after an Irish lighthouse—Fastnet—rent a parking space in flood-zone Red Hook, and set up shop. 

Powers, born in Ireland, explains why this was the move he made: “I wanted to experiment with a hermetic space—an outpost. I wanted to create a space that was insulated from the toxic atmosphere that proliferates across residential and studio real estate. Physically, I wanted an architectural structure that was robust and transportable.”

Considering the final resting place of this bright blue one-trip container (made in China for Triton Shipping, via Europe and Port of Jamaica to New Jersey), outpost is an understatement. If you look at a map of Red Hook, you’ll see an actual hook extending beyond Ikea, protecting the Erie Basin from Red Hook Channel and the Gowanus area, which includes the flats, the bay, and the beautiful, world-famous canal. In exchange for the monthly fee of a parking space, the container lives in this no-man’s land, where wrecked cars and Arizona Tea trucks take up temporary residence. Fully exposed, with no barrier to potentially rising, rough water, this is the perfect place to put a luminary beacon in the night/priceless art.

He’s not the first person to re-envision the practically ubiquitous shipping container as home/studio/shopping plaza/gallery, but he might be the only person in all of New York with a gallery you could just toss in the water. After a quick survey of Powers’ work, this venue makes complete sense, not only practically, but theoretically. His roiling waves are both an inverse and a repetition of the container: printed on aluminum and mirror, they simultaneously defy and embody a sense of what it is to be captured, or contained.

Though simple, buildout design is key because steel containers are particularly prone to extreme micro-climates, and they don’t let in much light. To defray the cost of installing a skylight, insulation, and the cutest wood stove ever (it’s even named the “Sardine”) with a top you can brew coffee on, Powers put together a Kickstarter campaign.

James

His ultimate goal (after outfitting a gorgeous studio and gallery) is to liberate not only himself but future MFA-holders, too, from “very conventional and politically conservative modes of survival.” Says Powers, “I would like the container to be a paradigm amenable to recent college and graduate students, or anyone who wanted an alternative workshop, away from it all.” He has plans to design a how-to guide after everything is settled.

Lofty? Definitely. Unorthodox? One hundred percent. But this kind of thinking is a necessary antidote to white-cube complacency, and a real solution to our well-documented space crisis.

Fastnet’s first exhibition is planned for Saturday, October 31st at 700 Columbia Street—check the Fastnet website for updated details. 

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