COVER, Sam Lewitt’s 5th exhibition at Miguel Abreu Gallery, follows and extends the artist’s work Stranded Assets, shown first at the 57th Venice Biennale. The exhibition is held at the gallery’s 36 Orchard Street location.
For Stranded Assets, Lewitt obtained a set of lamps found in the stairwell of the recently decommissioned Giuseppe Volpi thermoelectric power plant in Venice’s industrial port of Marghera.(1) In Venice, he installed these original lamps, which provided light to his exhibition section, alongside a number of reproductions of their decorative carapace and Murano glass shade.
The reproductions are made from pure compressed fuel ash: a particulate byproduct of coal refinement, which is utilized as a filler and substitute material for all manner of construction and consumer purposes due to its light weight and inherent cementing properties when molded with water and pressure.
For COVER, Lewitt has installed an original iron lamp from Marghera alongside several reproductions, wired to provide light to the gallery. These are hung alternately on unfinished gypsum and freestanding, aluminum- cladding walls, built to spec as cross sections of the layers of thermal insulation and environmental protection needed for new construction.
If the lamps here are pulled and compressed from the ash of a famously sinking city’s energy infrastructure, the walls on which they are hung are similarly sandwiches of solid fuel. The synthetic gypsum out of which a large percentage of drywall is formed emerges from the chemical emissions systems of thermoelectric power plants. This is just as the polyethylene core of the ubiquitous architectural aluminum cladding used here flows from fossil fuel.
Lewitt focuses on conventions of support and shelter, of energy and infrastructure, in the context of the surplus matter that is up-cycled into the built environment: a process by which the material byproducts of global energy production is itself magically accounted for as a stock of supplies. The work in this exhibition is the result of shuttling these concerns between a historically specific order of matter, and the plasticity of its significance as it passes through various forms. From a bucket of formless ash, to the rationalized industrial standards of wallboard and cladding, to the inflated contours of an ornamental light, which, by having been switched on, commands the piling up of the particles from which the whole sequence of forms is the more or less coagulated result.
(1) Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata developed the Port of Marghera as the “lung” of the region’s cultural and industrial modernization. As Mussolini’s finance minister, he diverted state funds to military-industrial programs of land reclamation over the course of the 1920s and 1930s. This was an early echo of the campaign of sventramento or “disembowelment” which attempted to modernize urban infrastructure and clear away architectural eclecticism. Volpi eventually became the president of the Biennale — who in 1932 instituted the world’s first international Biennale of Film — and acquired the Lido’s Excelsior Palace Hotel, helping bring about Fascism’s rapprochement with capitalism and the city’s dependence on tourism.