Dan Carlson

Published in Panhandler Issue 6

Dan Carlson was born in Providence in 1981 and recently attended the M.F.A. Fine Arts Graduate Program at Parsons The New School for Design, where he was awarded the Deanʼs Graduated Scholarship (both in 2008 & 2009), the University Scholars Award, the Chaim Gross Sculpture Scholarship, a Dedalus Foundation nomination, and a nomination for the International Sculpture Centerʼs Student Award. During his time at Parsons Dan developed a mentor-like relationship with Brian Tolle (as well as working closely with Andrea Geyer and having studio visits with artists like Alfredo Jaar, Fred Wilson, and Michael Joo), helping to refine his interactive approach for developing artistic responses to sites with dense cultural and political histories. Carlsonʼs sculptures, installations, videos, and drawings have been shown across the country in private galleries, contemporary art fairs, and alternative art spaces including: PULSE, VERGE, the Kitchen, Artists Space, Gallery 151, Grace Cathedral, and AT1 Projects. He frequently collaborates with other interdisciplinary artists such as Alain Declercq, Natalie Jeremijencko, and Suzanne Stroebe. He recently completed two residencies at I-Park and the Wassaic Project and is currently working on curating a show anchored around the contemporary American landscape. http://www.dancarlson.org

Artist’s Statement

Reinforcing the belief that perception, at its core, is a destabilizing force, I make art in an effort to capture the tension between conceptual ideals and existing realities. I create artistic responses to sites with dense cultural and political histories, most recently through exploring abandoned military bases and industrial wastelands from the mid 20th century. Investigating these residual monuments provides a compelling outlet to decode human nature and question our understanding of phenomenological histories that ultimately affect our future. The videos, installations, and sculptures that manifest as a result of this questioning show a heightened attention to the materiality of high and low technology and obscure boundaries of authenticity. Overall, my work often addresses issues of masculinity, labor, science, and the archive while maintaining a strong sense of play.

what might happen will not happen here

Fort Tilden, Queens is a former US Army base that housed 4 Nike-Hercules class nuclear missiles that served as the last line of defense for New York City during the Cold War. It was one of dozens of sites hidden along the Eastern Seaboard that were ready to fire nuclear warheads at enemy targets every day for 15 years. During the same time NASA was launching Saturn V rockets into outer space in the name of progress and discovery.

When trying to process the sheer number of deaths and casualties that would occur in just a few minutes under mutually-assured destruction or the distance between a rocket launcher in Cape Canaveral and the lunar surface, there is a kind of displacement that is generated between how we relate to these intangible numbers in a virtual space and how we understand them when they are somehow manifested into the physical world we navigate. Our perception of proximity and value systems becomes skewed and our relationship with mortality is heightened.

For this project, handmade, scale-model Nike missiles were shot taking off from the top of a bunker and a gun battery at Fort Tilden with a consumer-level digital slow-motion camera. The video was then edited with 2 post-production filters in order to mimic the 1960ʼs NASA stock footage of Saturn V rockets launching in slow motion during the Apollo missions. The final scene shows the New York City skyline in the background, giving the viewer a sense of just how close the missile elevators are to downtown Manhattan. For the installation, a 1966 Zenith television was gutted and retrofitted with a newer model playing the video on a loop. Iconic Campbellʼs soup cans and an over- turned Eames-style chair nod to both art-historical references of the 60ʼs and to common items stored in a fallout shelter. The plastic sheeting and duct tape over the windows is a nod to the contemporary “foriegn threat,” when in 2001 the Department of Homeland Security suggested these tools as the best protection for civilians from chemical, biological, and nuclear warfare.

liminal: powered by newtown creek

Over a span of 100 years (and including the largest oil spill in American history*), in excess of 30 million gallons of oil has leaked into Newtown Creek, a 3.5 mile long body of water that forms the border between North Brooklyn and Long Island City. The “soft- bottom” that remains to this day is a 5 to 10-foot thick layer of immensely viscous sludge composed of petroleum, raw sewage, heavy metals, and decaying organic matter, which hovers above the “hard-bottom” of Newtown Creek. After the E.P.A. instituted an investigation of the primary parties responsible for the notorious spill and the designation of the creek as a Superfund site, the existing oil marinating in the water is referred to as “free-product.”

For this project, 10 gallons of sludge was harvested from Newtown Creek with a 25-foot long manual bilge pump attached to a canoe. It was then refined using a waste-oil processor equipped with dual-pole polymer filtration beads that absorb any material that is not petroleum-based. The resulting product was poured into a 3 kW diesel generator that provided power for a handmade, back-lit billboard that read “Powered by Newtown Creek” and functioned as a temporary public installation near the East River entrance to the creek in April of 2010. The billboard, generator, and video documentation were shown as artifacts of this engagement at The Kitchen the following June.

*at the time the project was completed (one month later the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico)

The video for this project is available on the Media page of this site.

dead end

A full scale utility pole is submerged into the ground in a dense forest, leaving only the top ten feet exposed, giving the impression that a significant amount of time has passed since it was first erected. It’s out-of- placeness is highlighted by a series of pulsating lights gathered on the transformer that at once appear to be signaling some kind of abstract code calling for attention and act as a kind of electric fungus that has adapted to a new environment. The obsolete mode of distributing energy from coal and nuclear power plants to remote locations in rural America is highlighted by the fact that the lights are solar powered.