It’s difficult not to notice the puffs of white smoke pouring out of a smokestack skyline while driving through Bridgeport on I-95. Passing through, abandoned factories blur into the background, edges fading on the coast’s cargo docks. Confused images of production and malfunction begin to mix.
Set in the outskirts in an area of Bridgeport that used to be buzzing factory businesses, The Gallery at Black Rock is hosting Industrial Strength where it becomes difficult to distinguish art from reality. Gallery director and owner, Eileen Walsh, has always had a fascination with factories, their simple exterior structure and the complex processes occurring inside. Assembling fifteen local artists, the show has a taste of what Bridgeport used to be and makes you wonder what it could become.
Walsh recalls how in the 1980s, Bridgeport was affected by drugs taking over the city. “It was a time when no one felt safe driving through the streets. But as the 1990s came, cocaine went out of fashion, which resulted in less crime.” Urban planning and politics helped build Bridgeport’s self-esteem and now feels on the brink of something good to happen. The stigma still remains though, not only in the residents’ minds, but in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and soil we build on.
Photographer and mechanical engineer, Jeff Becker, captures this sentiment of concern through images of cracked windows, spiraling staircases, and illuminated incinerators in the night sky. The image of a smoky red Bridgeport RESCO (a refuse incinerator and energy plant) recalls the EPA controversy in the early 90s of citizens taking action against the burning of toxic, illegal construction site materials, emitting mercury, lead, asbestos, and other pollutants into the air.
Other artists expose a more serene side to factories. Artist, E. Fitz Smith, for example, displays three large archival prints (44x40) of abandoned factories but in cool pastel tone, simple lines, unobstructed from the grime and grittiness associated with derelict buildings.
Each artist brings a unique perspective of how factories have impressed upon our lives and affected our local landscape. Amber Maida, for instance, seems to combine feelings of despair and hope in her collage paintings. Using a mixed media of acrylic paints, combined with organic materials like egg shells, twigs, and sand, Maida beckons viewers to look inside and figure a way out of this maze.
Industrial Strength provokes discussion on how these factories have affected all aspects of our lives. A show on architecture and form, it also asks for creative sustainable solutions to recover brownfields and neglected buildings to assist Bridgeport in cleaning up its image; it asks, “how can we make society work again?”
Industrial Strength is an off-site exhibition and can be viewed at 51 Crescent Avenue in Bridgeport every Saturday through March, from 12 – 4 pm. For a video coverage of the opening reception, click here.
Images on exhibit at The Gallery at Black Rock courtesy of Jeff Becker and Amber Maida, respectively.