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Jeanne Verdoux on Governors Island

By Peggy Roalf   Friday July 13, 2012

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On a crystal-blue Wednesday morning in June I caught the 10am Governors Island ferry to visit Jeanne Verdoux’s studio at Building 110. This Brooklyn-based artist/illustrator/graphic designer is among the 20 selected by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Commission for the Spring-Summer Artist-in-Residency program, which offers artists daily access to the island for a five-month period. This weekend, the public is invited to the last Open House on Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 pm.

Building 110, a former Army warehouse set on a knoll overlooking New York Harbor offers a 350o view of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan, and Jersey City. Jeanne’s studio (below), on the opposite side, had a more sheltered feel, with windows opening onto a grassy glade.

Her approach to working at this historic place was to take on the role of “artist/archeologist” and use the island’s resources, both visible and buried. At the beginning she spent most days foraging for objects that might make a physical link to the island’s past. She was somewhat disappointed that the topmost layers of earth have been pretty much scraped clean since the city began developing the island as a park. However, the metal, plastic, and bakelite items she found had voices. She created a character named Mr. Bones, who soon inhabited her studio and the surrounding landscape as well.

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His exploits called for documentation and Mr. Bones soon became the subject of a series of cyanotypes. Jeanne chose this process (which was perfected in the 1840s by Anna Atkins) because the images are exposed in direct sunlight, one of the island’s natural resources. As Mr. Bones accompanied Jeanne on her daily foraging expeditions, however, she began photographing him in color using a digital SLR camera.

The items that turned up continued to be fairly small bits left behind by previous residents of the Coast Guard installation, which was shut down in 1995. Many of these formed the outline of a map of the island on the studio floor. Week by week, more characters took shape and joined the explorations and the photo shoots. By that time, the project had a name: Made on Governors Island. And the small size of the found items turned out to be a blessing in disguise; the characters in their studio environment, which includes the map, some furniture, and a chandelier lit by a found Christmas candle (above right), have an integral sense of scale. When photographed by Verdoux outdoors (top), however, they become oddly monumental. 

Ferries to Governors Island are free and depart regularly on Saturdays, Sundays, and holiday Mondays from the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan and Pier 6 in Brooklyn. Visit the Governors Island website for more information. More events this weekend on Governors Island. More about http://www.jeanneverdoux.com/#mce_temp_url# and Made On Governors Island.

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