February 15, 2002

Exhibit Enlivens 'Abandoned Space'

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A temporary architectural installation entitled “Abandoned Space” is drawing attention to the history of the unique urban environment of downtown Ithaca. Mirrors reflect the various architectural details and textures that fill the alleyway west of Ithaca City Hall on Green Street.

The exhibit is the work of Deina Luberts grad and Alexandre Champagne grad, both landscape architecture, and consists of a series of large Plexiglass-shielded square mirrors which hang from the catwalk of a second story fire-escape.

“We’re trying to facilitate the creation of meaningful spaces,” said Luberts, who had been planning this project with Champagne since the fall of 2000.

“This is not a dead space. This is not something you can ignore. It’s warm and alive. You can reach out and touch it,” said Champagne.

The two graduate students each received grants from the Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA), which provides funding for as many as 30 public projects annually, according to Prof. Paula Horrigan, landscape architecture, who advised designers involved in the project.

“I had never entered into the alleyway or paid any attention to the space until Deina and Alex made an intervention,” said Horrigan. “They amplified the experience. There was a warmth to it, like a feeling of return, that was quite enjoyable. I felt like I was in Amsterdam again,” Horrigan added.

The opening night welcomed more than 50 visitors into the space last Friday night. Unlike previous sculptural installations on the Commons, “Abandoned Space” places an emphasis on the location rather than the aesthetic object.

“What we did has no value outside of this unique place,” said Champagne. “What do you discover in the morning when you look in a mirror? Your face. What we did was a reflection. It says to people, ‘Discover where you are, where you live,'” Champagne added.

Since the Tompkins County Library opened last year, the area has become very active and there are more pedestrians and visitors around City Hall, according to Luberts.

“It’s been a little-known space that people have come to enjoy and discover over the years. It’s nice to be able to participate in some of the history of the aesthetic and architectural features,” said Prof. Charlie Schlough, applied economics and management, who owns the building which forms the west wall of the alley.

The original deed of the property declared in 1898 that access to the alleyway was preserved for teams of horses and wagons to make deliveries to a butcher shop and what was then The Jamieson and McKinney Company, which constructed heating systems for the University during the late nineteenth century, according to schlough.

“There are a lot for different perspectives to consider,” said Schlough. “There used to openings under the sidewalk with iron-covered chutes for coal to be dumped into the basement [for heating] that were closed in the 1970s,” he added.

Artists and film students from Ithaca College have been attracted to the location since Schlough acquired the place in the early 1980s. Its theatricality lies in the numerous levels of catwalks and grate bridges criss-crossing through the alleyway.

“One of the significant components [of the installation] is that it shows the registration of change over time. As the city goes through the process of renovations and facelifts there is a tendency to want to keep it clean. Here, there is an accumulation of different objects and you see the weathering of doorways, the cracks forming in the sidewalks and the rusting of metal,” said Luberts.

Graffiti appears and disappears, liquor bottles come and go, a sleeping bag is there one day, gone the next according to Champagne.

“If you visit the space you see things move around the site. It is a place where inanimate objects become animate,” said Luberts.

“We were so intrigued by this space and we wanted people to engage the city. I hope people just don’t look at the mirrors. When you look and spend time downtown you can find a lot of interesting places,” said Luberts.

The installation will be lit in the evenings until Friday, Feb. 22, when it will be removed.

Archived article by Dan Webb