The Russian-born artist Marina Pinsky’s work is political in the most expansive sense of the word. Delving into intersections of spatial, material and ideological models of the world and its inhabitants, her pieces examine personal relationships, contractual agreements and concrete localities as part of an ongoing continuum, working at specific narratives and sites in a mode of process that seems as inspired by social research strategies as they are by the writings of Foucault. Delving into both sculptural and photographic practices, her works seem to both model and reconstruct environments and situations while also actively documenting them in real-time. In her most recent show at 303 in New York, the city’s origins become her focus.
For Pinsky’s work in this exhibition, her attention centered primarily on early narratives around the establishment of colonies in the area that is now New York City. Her documentations explore the iconographies of early colonial flags, their respective symbol systems, and the interrelated contracts and agreements that ultimately allowed them to flourish. Photos and renderings of colonial flags are presented alongside scale models and other objects tied to the city’s history. Of particular note in this vein is a rendering of the Wyckoff House, the oldest home in New York, located in Canarsie that was purchased by the Dutch West India company from the local Lenape tribe. Pulled tight and held together by a set of ratchet straps, her piece dramatizes the fraught tensions and force that ultimately served as the bedrock for the city’s establishment.
True, Pinsky’s work does tend towards the poetic, particularly in sculptures where her dramatization of political tension may in fact undermine some of the more politically-fraught and violent relationships of colonial settlers in this new land, but the end product also manages to echo this framing as part of the underlying situation itself. The objects and images in other corners, presented as ready-made starter kits for colonialism, underscore the sheer economic might underlying the act of settlement, and the identities of those doing the settling. It’s similarly worth noting that Pinsky draws a direct line between these colonial flags, many of which feature the pine tree, and the original 1913 Armory Show, whose logo was also a pine tree. Despite the exhibition’s assertions of a “rebel spirit” and a new vision for American art, Pinsky’s work here manages to subtly frame the show as just another planting of a European flag on native soil.
Like any sound political work, Pinsky’s show works in almost all directions at once, managing to address and understand, frame and reframe, all while expanding the scope of the narrative to include long occluded or silenced voices. Here, it’s not only the voices and vantage points included, but equally their historical moorings, and continued repetitions across time.
The show closes March 31st.
— D. Creahan
Marina Pinsky at 303 [Exhibition Page]