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* all images FOP 2014
An inhalation of overwhelming toasted sweetness coincides with something sticking to the bottom of your shoes. It’s as though you are suddenly swimming in air filled with sugar. At the far end of this vast warehouse, sited along a quickly-changing stretch of Brooklyn waterfront, an enormous white sphinx looks back at you. She’s larger than you imagined. Her glowing presence is part of a completely immersive sensory experience — the stickiness, the scents, the curves of searing white contrasting with the derelict, dark, rusty, crumbling architecture. Shafts of light cut down from a lofty ceiling. Figurines of children, made of molasses, are melting in the summer heat. Their black substance spills violently across the floor, resembling both blood and oil.
The former Domino Sugar Factory in Brooklyn (at one time, the largest in the world) currently is haunted by the material it traded in, for over 100 years. Through July 7th, the factory is home to Kara Walker’s project entitled, A Subtlety or the Marvelous Sugar Baby an Homage to the unpaid and overworked Artisans who have refined our Sweet tastes from the cane fields to the Kitchens of the New World on the Occasion of the demolition of the Domino Sugar Refining Plant.
Sugar runs wild through this space and permeates it in totality. This material occupation drips from the walls, and not so ironically, from collapsing infrastructure. Thoughts race: what did you consume today that included sugar, or perhaps more realistically, what did you consume that didn’t? This material is literally both inside and outside of you today, and has been all your life. Sugar is instantly and irrevocably bound to a multitude of complex human realities — racism, gentrification, global trade, labor, capitalism. Yet, in this encounter, the bare materiality is disarmingly commanding unto itself.
Forces of people and planet have assembled with this material and set it into motion, and in turn have been set into motion by it, for hundreds of years. For a brief window of time, those forces now are subordinated to the mighty voice of its singular substance—through a booming female form. We look up to her and feel incredibly small in comparison. It’s the Anthropocene and Walker’s work baths us in our entangled complexities. Here, material suddenly seems to be speaking more loudly than it has in the past, or perhaps we have new ears to hear it. When did we begin to take for granted the elaborate networks of people and planet that have delivered this particular material, and so many others, into our lives? Through an encounter with A Subtlety, this material’s power and agency speak back to us and hold us in its steady gaze.
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