Amanda Browder’s Future Phenomenon
St. Cecilia’s Convent is all hustle and bustle. Colorful strips of fabric fly through the air as bunches of Greenpointers scramble to measure the sheets, cut them into strips and sew them together in a draping chevron pattern. Neighborhood residents wander in and out of the workroom clutching cloth, pins and needles in their hands. At the center of it all—or positioned in the doorway, rather—stands Amanda Browder, dressed in a pair of neon yellow skinny jeans, smiling brightly. She is the brains behind the operation. This makeshift sewing circle is one of three community-based sessions that will result in a finished product: Future Phenomenon, Browder’s large-scale public art piece.
Future Phenomenon is a temporary public art piece constructed exclusively out of found and donated strips of fabric, sewn together to create a swatch large enough to cover the entire edifice of a Greenpoint apartment building. Once the piece is complete—sometime in late May or early June—it will be draped, transforming the building into a big, beautiful burst of color.
“It’s community-driven, sewing textile pieces displayed for public view,” Browder said. “I want people to stop and think, that’s insane! Or that’s beautiful! Or start asking questions. I want to get a reaction.”
The piece itself will be undoubtedly massive—and most likely quite beautiful—but aesthetic appeal is only part of the power. By creating an installation of this size and intensity, Browder is primarily concerned with the effect it will have on passersby—she aims to create a shift in perspective.
“In Greenpoint, aluminum siding is prevalent, so with this piece I am reacting to the stripes in the environment,” Browder said. “Here it moves from brick to aluminum in a matter of blocks, and I want it to be a shift in perspective.”
That shift in perspective, however, is multi-dimensional. Browder’s interest in public art, as opposed to that displayed in museums and galleries, comes from a fundamental fascination with physical spaces, and the ways in which people interact with one another and the built environment. Future Phenomenon will not only act as a disruption of the ordinary, but a talking point: something that can potentially bring neighborhood residents together. After all, the project itself is a product of cooperation and neighborhood collaboration— yet another shift in perspective; away from the anonymity the city often fosters and towards something more community-based.
“It’s important to think about who your neighbors are, and raising awareness of each other,” Browder said. “With public art, you’re forced to interact with your environment and with the people around you. It aids those interactions.”
The material chosen for Future Phenomenon—a mish-mash of different types of fabrics, most of which donated by neighborhood residents and organizations—is also key to the project’s concept and desired affect, creating once again a shift in perspective of what one considers to be large, strong and fit for artwork.
“Fabric is something we discard so much of,” Browder said. “But it can be used for art. You can take things found in your house and use it for art. Also, sewing is considered to be such a private thing, but now we’re shifting it to this big, loud public thing. Fabric can be something just as strong and big as wood or steel. It’s based on a concept of craft, but making it large enough to where it acquires weight and strength.”
In addition, sewing is something that almost everyone can do, making Future Phenomenon accessible from conception to execution, even to those who don’t consider themselves to be artists.
“There was a sixteen-year-old girl who came to a sewing workshop. She brought her own fabric and sewed it into the piece,” Browder said. “Now she’s going to be able to look up and see her work. That’s so awesome.”
But all this is no surprise. Browder has a history of being something of a proprietor of the Do-It-Yourself art ethic. Though she is classically trained—she received an MFA and proceeded to take a teaching job upon graduation—Browder believes that art can be found in many different places, including the street.
“Connecting to art isn’t always easy, and I want to push the idea that art doesn’t have to be confined to a gallery. It can be part of every day,” she said. “The traditional myth is that the MFA-and-gallery system is the only way. But I think we shouldn’t wait. Do it in your apartment! Make it happen!”
And that’s exactly what Browder has done, first in Chicago with a large-scale three-story fabric drape called Repunzel, and now in Greenpoint with Future Phenomenon.
“This will be awe-inspiring,” she said. “When you see buildings and skyscrapers, you think building those things is impossible. But sewing—that’s the every day. This is the notion that something like that can become so big!”
Browder is working in close collaboration with the North Brooklyn Public Arts Coalition, which has helped her fundraise, negotiate the challenges and obstacles of displaying a public piece of art and helped foster a support system.
Future Phenomenon will be on display in Greenpoint sometime in the near future.