402 Ashland Ave. Artist Statement

Many art projects approach the idea of concealment. While 402 Ashland Ave. follows that tradition by covering forms in aluminum foil, from the very beginning it has produced some very unique and often surprising results. The project can be divided into three general sections. The first to be developed was inspired by the interaction of the natural world and the human one in Tarpon Springs, Florida. It then applied an incursion into the natural environment by covering palm trees in aluminum foil. In the second phase, 402 Ashland Ave. launched into a more personal and psychological domain by juxtaposing abstract subjective forms with the objective external environment. The third, most recent phase is most prominently grounded in public practice. By meticulously covering the facade of a house in foil another incursion was made, but this time into the societal realm.


402 Ashland Ave. is an installation originally inspired by some very immediate reactions to its location, the city of Tarpon Springs in Florida. In other cities I have resided and practiced art in for prolonged periods of time, places as diverse as Chicago and Vienna, I noticed little ambiguity in the relationship between nature and human society. In those places the natural world played a tamed, subservient, and most of all contained role in the urban environment. Upon arriving in Tarpon Springs, a more nuanced and balanced interplay seemed to be taking place. While it may be true that the relationship between the world of fauna and flora and society is one of opposition, Tarpon Springs did not seem to have a clear aesthetic winner in that struggle. Nature appeared to mount a response to the introduction of the usual houses, stores, roads, and so forth. For example, the response can manifest as a traffic jam caused by vultures feasting on carryon on the side of the road. Or, perhaps, the sudden migration of a crowd of people caused be the arrival of a formation of stingrays at a public beach.

Inspired by this more balanced dynamic between nature and human society 402 Ashland Ave. then offers an intervention into the latter through artistic practice. Covering palm trees in aluminum foil has opened up a host of aesthetic possibilities. For example, one of the unique characteristics of 402 Ashland Ave. is that while it conceals objects in aluminum foil this actually results in an intensification of certain aspects of their form, mainly texture. The very meticulously applied and highly reflective medium invites the viewer to explore every groove and hair of the bark. It does this mainly by exceptionally strong reflectance at sharp angles, and a very unpredictable, scrambled appearance of colors and light temperatures coming in from the surrounding environment. In the uncovered palm tree, expected colors and shadows conceal the natural complexity and beauty to the viewer. Paradoxically, it is revealing through concealing.

The foil covered palm tree is still a very much linguistically identifiable, universally recognizable object. In the second phase, 402 Ashland Ave. focuses dominantly on the introduction of abstract sculptures stemming from the artist's internal psychological world into the objective environment. This is a very personal, aspect that is much harder to describe and define. While traditionally working with entirely abstract shapes and forms, over time I've come to the need to fuse them - to attach them to the objective world of things shared by everyone. Hence in 402 Ashland Ave, the abstracts sculptures are attached to palms, a very iconic tree that is plentiful in Florida.

The idea of the abstract exists first, not bound by the emotional or rational conception of the artist or viewer. Like a dream, it is a state of understanding that doesn't make logical sense. Upon waking, it is easy to discard the dream. But by working with a medium, often struggling with it, the idea can be translated into a sculpture. Decisions made by the artist are deliberate breaks that give rise to the translation of the idea, like the position of a mirror gives rise to a reflection. The decisions of the artist also often stem from chance and intuition as much as rational aesthetic choices.

Art is more than the execution of a concept, just like technology is more than a finished cell phone. Technology, boiled down to technique, is inseparable from the fabric of reality. There is a technique for birds building a nest, a technique for picking up a glass of water. There are techniques of thinking, techniques of absorbing this statement. Likewise, art cannot be easily collapsed into an object, to be placed in a designated area such as a museum or gallery to be experienced at a person's prerogative.
The above conclusion is the bedrock of the third phase of 402 Ashland Ave. It is a site specific installation, built on a typical property in a residential area of Tarpon Springs. A house, largely covered in aluminum foil came as a surprise to the residents and many passersby. The art piece is constructed of very common materials, foil and typical weak spray-on adhesive. Though care must be given to the process of application, the project can be easily duplicated just about anywhere and anyone. However, curious onlookers rarely identified the installation as art. It was almost always assumed to have a practical value, such as a new form of insulation, pest control, or fire retardant. The act of covering the facade of a house (along with the palm trees and sculpture installation) introduced something uncommon and unexpected into the neighborhood environment, and hopefully offered a new perspective on what had been commonplace.

The house in particular raises issues of private and public space. Residing in Tarpon Springs for a period of eight months, the project is centered around my home, my garden, and my palm trees. It is a bubble to conduct practice in, but one that is exposed to the observation and pre conception by other residents in the area. The aluminum foil-covered facade also has connotations of retro futurology. Sleek, cool and metallic, people have described it as reminiscent of old, popular science fiction which projected modernism's promise of prosperity, private wealth, and the nuclear family values onto the future during the post war rise of suburbia in the United States.

Though 402 Ashland Ave. is site specific, it can be a springboard to other similar projects that could exist in the artistic world of museums and galleries. By covering the external facades of these institutions and installing site specific works of sculpture in or around them, the project can potentially serve to blur the line between the art sphere and other aspects of life. Like the mutual incursions of nature and human environment in Tarpon Springs, the foil would trespass outside the gallery walls unto objects (such as palm trees or benches) in the broader space, blurring the lines between art and daily experience, internal psychology and the objective environment.


Piotr Janowski

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