EAF15 Artist Profile: Aaron Suggs
Having spent the past ten years living in Brooklyn, New York and growing up along the Mississippi River in Memphis, Tennessee, Aaron Suggs has always lived near water. This proximity to water inspired the sculptural series, (Untitled) Dinghy, 2011-15. Suggs’s EAF15 project Untitled (Dazzle Dinghy) expands this series with a sailboat, built entirely by hand, and patterned with a collage comprised exclusively of images sourced from Socrates Sculpture Park. Throughout the course of his residency, Suggs photographed the park and its surrounding area then arranged the imagery in Photoshop to create a fractured reflection of the site, the city’s skyline, and the water. The sculpture will be installed in various locations throughout the park and along the East River shoreline, multiplying and complicating the park’s sightlines and landscape. This is the fourth installment in Suggs’ floating watercraft series. In past iterations, Suggs built a monochromatic white boat, a fully transparent boat, and a trompe l’oeil camouflage boat, a series that, when installed, acts to mimic, mask and reflect its surroundings.
Suggs draws inspiration for the patterning in Untitled (Dazzle Dinghy) from the disruptive camouflage techniques used on naval ships most dramatically during WWI. The technique was developed during the early 1900s by artist Norman Wilkinson and was intended to hide the direction, distance, and speed of a target. Alternating bands of black and white were painted on ships to disorient an enemy’s targeting devices. For Untitled (Dazzle Dinghy), Suggs has patterned onto the surface of the boat images of the park in order to, as he says, “invite the viewer to find their own position in the landscape woven into a familiar but mysterious object.” Incorporating imagery from the park directly into his piece, Suggs upsets the viewer’s optical experience. Onlookers simultaneously view both the park and a boat that incorporates the park into its design.
“Socrates is situated on a really special part of the East River,” Suggs says. “Being a tidal estuary, the current ebbs south to the Battery and floods north to the Long Island Sound. Hallets Cove, on the park’s shoreline, is full of eddies that flow in the opposite direction of the current. At certain times the surface of the water moves in several different directions and the effect is visually mesmerizing.” Currents from the East River, Harlem River and Long Island Sound converge just north of the park in Hell Gate, a narrow tidal strait that separates Astoria, Queens from Randall’s Island. The name Hell Gate comes from the Dutch phrase, Hellegat, a common toponym for a waterway. The whirlpool of converging currents has challenged navigators for centuries, helping to perpetuate the mispronunciation of Hell’s Gate and inspiring countless stories and myths.
Although Suggs’ artwork is seaworthy and capable of holding passengers, the boat is presented at a distance, hung inside the park’s open-air studio, to be contemplated rather than boarded. “The imagery becomes the object, rather than just an image on top of the object,” Suggs says of his piece. By using digitally printed fabric that is embedded with resin across the boat’s surface, Socrates becomes a vital component of the work itself.