Workspace Series #2 – Dylan Gauthier
Dylan Gauthier – IMA alum and Professor
SUNVIEW LUNCHEONETTE – GREENPOINT BROOKLYN
1) How often do you generally work in the space during the week?
I am generally in the space at least once a day, and sometimes this qualifies as “work” and sometimes it’s just part of the work of keeping the space (meetings, feeding the fish, talking to Bea – our landlord and lead collaborator on the Sunview project).
2) What are the best aspects of working there? And what are downsides?
The best thing about working there is that it can be totally private or totally public, you can open the front door and because it’s a storefront, people will stop in. When I was a kid growing up in Venice Beach, CA, I used to walk around and you could just wander into some really amazing artist studios and art spaces, and it made a huge impression on me, one that I carry to this day — that art could and should be public, at least some of the time, and that studios should be open more than just for the annual “open studios” events so that they function in relationship to the everyday, the passage of life and time and bodies through a neighborhood.
3) Brief history of the genesis of the space and how it functions as a collaborative space.
The Sunview Luncheonette has always been something of a collaborative space, and a community hub, since back when its owners opened it as a restaurant in 1963, and was still that when I moved to the neighborhood for a while in 2002. After the city health department shut the restaurant down in the mid-2000s (ostensibly and ironically for “quality of life” infractions) it sat empty for a number of years. I was living in the neighborhood again at this point and wondered what had become of the old couple who ran the space. I learned that the husband had passed away, but that the woman was still alive, and then I started seeing her everywhere, walking around the neighborhood. I approached her about hosting a dinner and talk for a project I was working on for an exhibition with our collective, Red76, and she was excited to have people in the space again… things kind of went from there – she invited me back, then kept asking when I was going to do something in the space again. I reached out to about a dozen people I’d made theater with or had been involved with in this anarchic boat squat called The Empty Vessel Project we used to run on the Gowanus Canal, and from that group a loose collective formed of people interested in making use of the space together. My wife Kendra Sullivan, with whom I collaborate a lot, and is a poet and visual artist brought in some of the poets and writers she knew. A lot of people who got involved early helped shape the ethos of the space as well: Greg Mihalko, who helps run Interference Archive, and Chad Laird, a musician and art historian grounded in the music scene, and Veronica Daugherty who has been involved in so many other DIY spaces over the years. A bunch of others joined from various recently-closed art spaces and music venues. It was kind of a diaspora of things we’d lost and cultures that wouldn’t exist anymore because they had been closed down for quality of life issues or because their rent went up or in some cases because the neighborhood they were in had changed so much there was no longer any place for them.
We knew we wanted it to be collaborative and envisioned it as a social club, a kind of cooperative that eschews art-world art (that is internationally and market-focused) and, basically, commerce itself. And in a very literal way was going to be acting as a stopping block to converting the building into condos or the storefront being taken over by a for-profit venture. At the time, the neighborhood had begun to exhibit signs of gentrification and displacement of the longterm, mainly Polish residents, and though we were aware that as artists we play a role in that displacement, we aimed to make the Sunview function differently than other art spaces I had been a part of, which is to say that it would be grounded in an engagement with residents. We talked about giving it some horrible name, like Nike, to keep it from becoming “cool.” We have also had a no-press policy for the most part, aside from a few mentions in the Greenpoint Gazette from time to time we have turned away culture vulture reporters from the NYT, New Yorker, and a number of blogs that we felt were too at ease with the sort of narrative that leads to more displacement, or uses artists’ presence in the neighborhood as a form of what is being called now “art washing” (i.e. touting “how cool a neighborhood is” because “artists live there now” while covering up for aggressive developers or neoliberal urbanism or bad urban policy that fails to help long term residents in their homes – as if gentrification and displacement are just natural parts of city life). It helps that the members of the Sunview are not all artists, though most are – but we have some members that are also urban planners, nonprofit lawyers, teachers, activists, tour guides, editors – and I think this is important to creating a model for art spaces or venues in the city that are, perhaps, not wholly art spaces, but cultural spaces, community spaces.
4) What do you listen to in the space while you work?
Bea tells a lot of stories. I don’t usually listen to music because there is so much music outside. The Sunview is right across from McGolrick Park, so in the daytime there are kids playing, and people hanging out, and ice cream trucks. There is a lot of natural sound to observe and it filters right in through our broken front windows (which I should add we leave intentionally broken in a coy stance against quality of life policing).
5) Story behind an object in the space – maybe something I photographed.. What’s the story behind the San Francisco souvenir which is near the red light bulb?…or the giant letter Bs? Or the cardboard cutout of..blanking on his name..video artist?
Wow I have no idea where most of this stuff came from. For the first few years people would just drag stuff in off the street and put it up on the walls, things that seemed like they belonged there or could have been there forever. A lot of the pictures belong to Bea and were already in the space. The cutout in the back is a project by a few of our members who were in a collective called Et.Al – it’s a life-sized cutout of Bradley Eros, who is also a member, who a lot of people know from having worked at Anthology for years and being a pretty legendary expanded cinema artist and filmmaker and performer. It accompanies the “Bradley Eros VHS (Velvet Hermetic System) Archive” which is, roughly, a VHS tape collection of some of the most incredible video art bootlegs and old movies often all cut up and re-edited. A lot of them were shot by Bradley by projecting whatever piece it was on a wall and filming it with a VHS camcorder, so you have all this natural interference – like the scene in Bradley’s copy of Un Chien Andalou which has a fly appear midway through the film (because it lands on the projection screen he is filming), and this fly becomes the most important character in the movie for a while. It’s utterly transfixing, and like most of Bradley’s dubs makes for a more compelling watching experience because it has this layer of media history added onto media history – 16mm refilmed with VHS – and this fly that was only a live for a day caught in the middle of these two waves of what is often erroneously referred to as “obsolete media.”
6) something near the space that is noteworthy – good or bad..to situate it in space. BQE? a cafe? someone you work with? a place to buy art supplies?
A lot of the amazing old-time Polish restaurants on Manhattan Avenue have closed, sadly, and arguably one of the best bars in the city, Palace Cafe, closed recently after 83 years. We had a screening one night when we first started doing things in the Sunview and one of the brothers who runs Palace came in: “Are you serving?” He asked (meaning, are we a bar), and we said “No.” And he said, “OK. Good.” And smiled and walked out. To keep our neighbors happy we have an early curfew so we generally send people to Palace after events since it’s just on the corner. I’m not sure where we’ll send them now. I’m sure there’s some new ice cream places or juice bars that are “really cool” nearby though so don’t worry.
7) Briefly something you’re working on right now?
I just finished writing an essay for a catalog and putting work in a show with my (other) collective Mare Liberum at the Parrish Art Museum in Long Island. I’m currently working on a piece for Socrates Sculpture Park’s Emerging Artist Fellowship and at the same time am the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Brandywine River Museum of Art in Pennsylvania, so I’ve been going back and forth a lot this summer. These projects take me out of the city, but I’m also working on finding ways to build momentum around this idea of social clubs in the city, and a function that noncommercial spaces can serve for residents. Later in the fall, I’m organizing a 10 day focus residency up at Blue Mountain Center with Kendra Sullivan and the artist Chloe Bass on rebuilding the urban commons and collectivity as resistance to neoliberal urbanism. And Kendra and I are co-curating an exhibition, Resistance After Nature, at Haverford College in the spring that brings together artists projects as forms of resistance to environmental crises, extractive industries, and global inequity. Here’s a link to the site: College Resistance after Nature