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 Mayday by Einat Imber


Martha Clippinger colors the Brooklyn Bridge’s archways.




Once upon a time: lines, colors, repetitive forms and varied textures existed as public installations in the form of rows and rows of intricate and vivid quilts – telling story after story on a clothesline.

And now: Martha Clippinger.

And this weekend! Martha’s work appears in conjunction with “Perimeters” and the Dumbo Arts Festival.

Last night in DUMBO, Martha and I got to work installing her pairs of brightly colored cardboard shapes on street signs and other forms of public property. At each location, viewers can visually align themselves with the works to fill the negative space of the Brooklyn Bridge archway. Pretty rad (and it’s not just my opinion, it’s also the opinion of the 8 year old kid we ran into while installing).  And I couldn’t help but notice when we met that Martha was wearing a lime-green jacket, a purple t-shirt, and turquoise shorts. In her person and her work, Martha –  Brooklyn based multi-media artist and creator of “Dirty Dirty”, a d.i.y. exhibition space in Ditmas Park – has her way of radiating rainbow beams into the universe.  HOW DOES SHE DO IT??? LET’S FIND OUT.

How did you get involved with Anne Percoco and “Perimeters”? 

Anne and I went to grad school at Mason Gross School of Art (Rutgers University) where we began sharing our interest in site-specificity.  Our practices differ from one another, but we’ve participated in each other’s projects through the past few years.  I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to work with her as a curator.  She’s an incredible organizer and wonderfully supportive!

What inspired this installation piece? 

The Brooklyn Bridge, of course! I ride the Q train over the Manhattan Bridge daily and the arches are a constant fascination.  When my studio was in Dumbo this past year, I encountered the shapes at a closer proximity and felt a more intimate connection to the architecture.  My work revolves around color, so I am always thinking of places where hues could exist, whether within a composition or within the real world.

I’ve also become interested in how we perceive and experience scale and depth.  Unless crossing the bridge, it is difficult for us to comprehend the actual size and scale of the arches, which are 117 feet high.  The cardboard shapes that I will hang are only a few inches high and yet because of our distance away from the arches, those few inches multiply to occupy a space that is 1,404 inches tall!  I hope that viewers will be able to align themselves with the shapes and the bridge in order to experience this play.  When the experience is documented, I am curious to see the flattening of that depth so that the color and the architecture appear to exist on the same plane.

One thing I am interested in is the ways in which you play with limits – of found objects as a medium. Yet you have a background & formal training in sculpture – when did you begin collecting and working with found objects?

When I was 8 I began painting colorful patterns on sticks and twigs and then attaching them to leftover chunks of wood from my father’s workshop.  Around that time I was also painting objects, like a telephone I bought at a neighbor’s yard sale.

And limits of placement, etc: 

I don’t know that I see them as “limits of placement” as much as “opportunities for placement”.  Sometimes I make a work with the intention of it living in a right-angled space or a corner.   Its existence in such a space is particular, but because our world is full of right angles and corners, the painting could live in any number of locations.  For this project however, the logistics of hanging combined with the necessary sightlines did create limitations to the placement of the works.

Are there any differences in your approach when exhibiting a work outdoors in a public arena vs. a kind of gallery installation? 

When participating in an official festival, I must consider certain factors, mainly safety, and follow certain rules like not hanging anything from the trees, but I try to see galleries and streets and houses and office buildings and natural landscapes as all providing places where my work can exist.  I’m interested in the potential interactions of my work with different environments.  In white boxes, the work is mostly in conversation with itself, but when I installed “Let water be the other half” on the side of a lake in Alabama, the pink and orange geometry popped against the trees and grass and the lake reflected the sculpture thereby completing the work.  I liked the dependence on nature for that work, which was very intentional.  Most of the time though, I work in the studio without a clear sense of the paintings’ future environments.

Also, your works are often shown in clusters or groups. How does the relationship between your works of develop?

I generally work through a painting without any pre-conceived notion of its position to my other work, but I find that my experiences and visual language inevitably carry through the painting and thereby develop relationships between works.  I’m always surprised and amused by repetitions of forms, colors, and textures, so my clusters provide a viewing ground for that kind of inter-connectedness.  But for a project like this, I created multiple sites so that the pedestrians might become aware of the project through repeated encounters with the shapes.

Can you tell us a little bit about your project that just happened, the Edgemere Peek neek? 

“The Edgemere Peek-neek” was a walking tour/book release/reading that celebrated the multi-media collaboration with poet Urayoán Noel.  Our devotion to the neighborhood of Edgemere, Queens resulted in an accordion book of “e”-constrained text (inspired by Georges Perec) and scenic postcards, as well as a website.  The E’s took over, so at the “peek-neek” we served cheese, pretzels, Beck’s beer, embedded peppers, seltzer, Keebler elves, etc.  We’ve rented web presence! :  We sell: $23 (shipping incl)  — “The Edgemere Letters.”

What motivated the creation of The Dirty Dirty and what happens there? 

I created The Dirty Dirty as a way to bring artists together in a laid-back atmosphere where artistic exchange and social interactions would take priority over the edited, curated exhibition space. Exhibitions are generally open calls, meaning open to whomever choses to participate. Parameters are given that hopefully inspire the artist to create something new or expose something already made that had not been exhibited or shared with the outside world.  Examples include the most recent show, a visual game of “telephone” titled “Off the Hook!” where works were generated in a chain reaction and 2009’s “Pseudonymous” where works were presented under pseudonyms.  I also like to suggest a relationship to the South (aka The Dirty Dirty), so the outdoor sculpture exhibition “The Yard Show” was inspired by vernacular yard art.  And I typically serve somethin’ Southern: pimento cheese sandwiches, boiled P-nuts, sweet tea—you get the idea.


If you’re following the development of Anne Percoco’s curatorial project Perimeters for the Dumbo Arts Festival this weekend, you may already know: Wandering Directions by Lily Mooney is a self-guided audio tour through the historic fabulous neighborhood of DUMBO in Brooklyn.  The tour speaks to ideas of memory, association, and physical connections in time and space, resulting in a uniquely rich and layered story – as the tour narrator tells one story, the tourist creates another. Here, Lily sits down to share some of her own story.

How did you get involved with Anne Percoco  and “Perimeters”?

Anne is my cousin, so we’ve known each other for most
of our lives. As we got older and moved into our respective disciplines, we’ve collaborated a little, and we share and discuss our work a lot. I had been talking to her about some site-specific work I’d been doing during grad school—I’ve become really interested in multi-media and experimental theatre, which often sits on the line between visual and performance art. Anyway, she knew that’s what I was doing and thinking about, and she invited me to submit for the DAF, and I came up with Wandering Directions.

What inspired “Wandering Directions” initially?  Had you done public site-specific works prior?

I had done a couple site-specific pieces and one shorter audio tour, which led participants on a walk around the main floor of a library. For that piece, we planted actors in these kind of mini-tableaus around the library, and their actions/appearances either confirmed or contradicted things you were hearing along the tour. That piece was a lot of fun and an exciting challenge, so I had already been thinking about the tour form. When I started looking at DUMBO, it seemed like a great setting to do the tour on a larger scale. A scripted tour also plays to my strengths, because at the moment I’m a little better at sculpting language and experience than materials or bodies.

What did the research for Wandering Directions involve, and what informed the construction of the tour narrative?

I did a little of everything. To gather information I researched the neighborhood’s history and talked to people about the place. I read “Wanderlust: A History of Walking,” by Rebecca Solnit, which was a good way to think about what was unique about making a performance where people walked instead of sat. I also cobbled together a small fictional story that I expanded from some real experiences I had walking around. My training as a playwright came in handy during the later writing stages, where, using what I knew about story structure, I organized all the disparate stuff I’d collected and tried to design an experience that weaved around a lot and indulged some tangents (much like a circular walk around the neighborhood) but had an arc, felt cohesive, and changed over time.

Did you wander DUMBO first or already have a story in mind?

I wandered first. And I didn’t have a story. At the start, I felt pretty aware of the fact that I’m not actually from here, and that I’m sort of an outsider, which was an idea and line of thought that is now in the tour. I was actually pretty concerned with constructing an “accurate” or “believable” fictional narrative, which in retrospect I think was sort of silly. It’s really important to me not to be presumptuous or “get it wrong,” but on the other hand, as much as we all feel connected to these places that we live or work, they also kind of belong to nobody, or everybody, and the same space can mean wildly different things to different people. And it’s ironic that sometimes tourists end up with a whole lot of information, or an entirely different set of information, than residents and natives. So once I got comfortable with that, I trusted myself to wander more, through the space and through all the historical research, and I based pretty much everything on what I read and encountered.

Do you have a particular favorite memory or association that formed while working on this project?

I’m not sure I have a single favorite memory, but I think coming here over and over really caused DUMBO to grow on me in this unique way that it wouldn’t have otherwise. And I liked noticing at other people’s relationships to this place. I love how many different people I see here taking engagement and wedding photos, and going to the park and seeing people just basking in the views of the city and the bridges. There were also a million weird little moments and things I noticed but can’t explain and couldn’t include. One example would be these pink handprints that I saw high up on the side of one of the buildings on John Street, between Jay and Pearl, I think. I saw those about five times one week, had no idea what they were, and then on the sixth time I noticed a dirty glove on the sidewalk below the handprints, soaked in pink paint. I still don’t know WTF that was about, but I felt like Sherlock Holmes.

You are often referred to in press as a “writer and performer.” What came first for you, or attracted you to these modes of expression?

I started writing and performing around the same time, actually – when I was younger I did a ton of improv comedy, in which you write and perform simultaneously. For me, writing and storytelling are a really fulfilling way to communicate and connect with people – I love language, and I love drama and suspense and emotion and all that human stuff – and I guess for me, performing allows me to be in the room for all that communication and connection. It also physicalizes it, which is important to me. Sometimes I feel like it’s getting easier and easier to spend all this time in your head, and performance, theater, live comedy, site-specific work all get me out of mine.

As a human / creative person, what motivates you to execute your ideas? 

In general, I create things for two reasons. First, I make stuff because there are true things I feel or observe that I’m not sure are said loudly or often enough. So I try to make things in order to increase the frequency or volume of the truth-telling. And second, I make things to make people laugh, because laughter is both fun and necessary.

Are you working on anything else at the moment?

I just finished a full-length play, and this fall I’ll be producing a short film based on a feature I wrote, so there are some more traditional writerly things going on. I’m also interested in expanding and refining this tour idea, so I may be trying it out in other neighborhoods or cities over the next few months.