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Silo City Show
by Anthony Chase
Buffalo’s grain elevators to be site of rare art event
The gigantic grain silos on the Buffalo waterfront are an iconic symbol of our city, but most Buffalonians have never been within a hundred yards of the once vital artifacts of our industrial past.
Dan Shanahan of Torn Space Theater has made a career of exploring neglected Buffalo spaces, with his site specific avant-garde performance pieces, so when Mark Goldman, Buffalo historian-entrepreneur and visionary called him with the idea to use “Silo City” as the site of a collaborative performance piece, Shanahan jumped at the opportunity.
“Mark decided that he was going to reach out to a few different organizations,” says Shanahan. “He was wondering what we could do with ‘Building A,’ a structure that is 110 feet high. So he brought together lighting artists John and Carlie Rickus, University of Buffalo’s Department of Music, the Buffalo State College Communications Department, the Nimbus Dance Ensemble, and Torn Space in a one-day program to be held in Marine A on Saturday, August 25th.”
Marine A is a striking, bone-white, early 20th century grain elevator in the heart of Silo City, a complex of grain elevators just off Ohio Street corridor. Long one of the most influential and admired industrial structures in the world, the building has been empty, abandoned, and in danger of demolition for years. The 2011 annual meeting of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which was held in Buffalo, renewed interest in the enormous silos.
“You can see influence on Bauhaus architecture,” notes Shanahan. “I think of them as the American version of the pyramids.”
Indeed, these silos are reflection of the former greatness and prominence of Buffalo in the industrial world.
“And the acoustics are fantastic,” adds Shanahan, “like nothing you’ve heard! We have brought together five different performances and will move the audience from silo to silo, culminating with a musical concert in the final chamber.”
While the structures are startlingly tall, they are not very wide, and so only five groups of 40 people can be seated at the event. Reservations are essential.
“We wanted to accommodate people who cannot actually get inside,” notes Shanahan, “so we are creating a festival atmosphere outside the silos with drinks. People will be able to see projections onto the buildings. We urge everyone to come down to Silo City, whether or not they actually get one of the inside spots. The event will be memorable and worthwhile regardless.”
Dan Shanahan has long been taken with the history and mythology of neglected Buffalo spaces and has taken audiences into such off the recent path locations as the Dnipro Ukrainian Center on Genesee Street, the abandoned Central Terminal, the Theosophical Society in Black Rock, and the old foundry on Northampton Street.
“Building A connects us to our utilitarian history,” enthuses Shanahan. “These buildings are entirely functional, but they are also very beautiful, and a reminder of a time when America took on large scale ambitious projects. Walking into the silo is like walking into a cathedral with its size and height, and the echoes it creates.”
The only effort similar to the event on next Saturday (8/25) of which Shanahan is aware took place in Quebec City, where Robert LaPage used a colossal row of grain elevators was used as a projection screen. Images from that event are astonishing.
(See a video of Robert LaPage’s Quebec City grain silo display at www.christiedigital.com/en-us/business/visual-solutions-case-studies/christie-videos/pages/quebec-400th-anniversary.aspx).
“Buffalo has the greatest examples of grain elevators in the world,” says Shanahan. “We’re really excited to be using them in this way.”
While Buffalo has made undeniable contributions to the American industrial landscape, it is also notable that this city seems to be a recurring incubator for the avant-garde. During our economic decline, we experienced an artistic explosion, nurturing Pictures-generation artists like Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, attracting video and film artists like Bill Viola and Stan Brakhage, supporting large-scale land art by artists like Martin Puryear and Nancy Holt. The ability of the city to sustain artists like Shanahan, Sarah Bay-Cheng, and Ella Joseph, as well as an enthusiastically embraced residency by Richard Foreman in 2009 attest to Buffalo’s continued fervor for cutting edge work.
“Part of what inspired Mark was [‘Wish You Were Here’] this summer’s avant-garde retrospective at the Albright-Knox,” agrees Shanahan. (See a New York Times piece on the exhibit at www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/arts/design/buffalo-avant-garde-art-scene-revisited-at-albright-knox.html?pagewanted=all ).
It is a goal of this effort to build on Buffalo’s relationship to modernity, past and present.
In addition to Shanahan, the specific artists assembled include musicians Jonathan Golove and Matt Sargent of UB; and videographer Brian Milbrand of Buffalo State.
“Even though it is just a one-time event,” notes Shanahan, “interest in the silos has enabled us to get sponsorship from the Arts Services Initiative, the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp, the Baird Foundation, the University of Buffalo, Buffalo State College, NYSCA and the New York Dance Fund, Congressman Brian Higgins, M&T Bank, and the law firm of Hodgson Russ. We’re really excited and grateful.”
The program is free and open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 25th and runs till 10:30pm. To reserve tickets visit tornspacetheater.com.blog comments powered by Disqus
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