Jersey City Artist Sees Jersey City From the Outside

The view from Jersey City found object-artist Anne Percoco’s apartment window — of the swamp and trash-strewn Meadowlands – may not be scenic the way living by Central Park can be, but its benefit is more to the point. The Meadowlands, she says, is the ultimate “junkspace.” And although she has yet to “explore it properly” – though how easily can 30.4-square miles of marshland be explored? – for an artist whose work consists of accumulated objects formerly known as trash, it’s a veritable treasure trove.

“Peripheral places are often overlooked, untended, and thus host to numerous extraordinary possibilities,” said Percoco, adding, they are the places where “artifacts accumulate and history is most visible.”

Junkspace is a word she’s borrowed from architect Rem Koolhaas, who writes the neologism is “what coagulates while modernization is in progress, its fallout.”

“The streets in my neighborhood are definitely part of junkspace,” says Percoco. “Trash accumulates and weeds grow to be four feet tall.” These periphery areas of the city, often cited as having the most crime on top of the most discarded items, come in sharp contrast to parts of the city where development is still actively discussed, such as along the so-called Wall Street West, which continues to grow seemingly unabated (though, in fact, with plenty of tax abatements).

How one turns these junkspaces’ flotsam into meaningful art, with objects that reflect 21st century living, is on display in Percoco’s latest solo show, The Life Instinct, at Brooklyn’s NUTUREart gallery. The show, which opened in late April and will run until May 29th, is a solo exhibit of work that, in the words of the studio, celebrates “makeshift solutions, survival instincts, and the reuse of discarded material.”

This apt description, while applicable to the entirety of her show, resonates strongest with Percoco’s largest sculpture on display: a hut consisting of the empty frame of an old television set, venetian blinds as part of a roof, twigs and twine, ropes and styrofoam, and that can be entered and sat in. It is too pertinent not to refer back to Koolhaas when he writes, “the built… product of modernization is not modern architecture but Junkspace.” A full list of found objects in her sculpture include: three chairs, a bike rack, styrofoam, cardboard, string, tape, woven reeds, tree branches, cloth, the top of a garbage can, egg cartons, paper, plastic bags, CDs, and cushions .

“I picked up the majority of the materials off the street en route between home (near Journal Square) and work (in Manhattan),” she said. She also got some of the objects from places like freecycle.com, a website that, as the name suggests, is a free place to recycle just about anything. Other things she picked up at Materials For the Arts, like the fuzzy gray thread, which spider-webs over the whole structure.

“I also cannibalized a few old sculptures, although those were originally made from found materials, too. The only things I bought were string and tape,” she said. It’s an efficient project, insofar as Percoco uses “’almost everything” she collects.

In fact,there was the unintended result of the few leftover items she had. “At the last minute, I also decided to turn the debris from the installation into a separate sculpture, swept [it] into a pile along with the gallery’s broom,” she explained. “I find it impossible to mentally separate the art object, the process of its making, and its by-products.”

The objects in her art that are found in peripheries – e.g. cities, art scenes, galleries – is, not incidentally, where Percoco says she often finds herself, even at home. “I’m an outsider when it comes to the Jersey City art scene,” she says. “Most of my friends from graduate school (Rutgers, Mason Gross School of the Arts) ended up moving to Brooklyn.”

But while she laments not knowing the community of artists as well as she’d like, she does know how to walk Jersey City’s streets in a way some residents here may not – with fresh eyes to the ground. Certainly she’s not alone: unsurprisingly, Jersey City, like New York, has a healthy found-object scene, including artists Maggie Ens, a former 111 First St. resident, Dennis Whittinghill and Brooke Hansson of Damaged Wear, John Fathom, and the list goes on.

“The relationship between me and my surroundings is one of the driving forces behind my practice,” she added. “Until recently, Bushwick [where NURTUREart is located] was part of the periphery. Peripheral places are often overlooked, untended, and thus host to numerous extraordinary possibilities.”

Not only are found objects used as art, they’re also now part of craft in Jersey City. Stores such as Kanibal Homes re-purpose junk as moderately priced home décor. Percoco says she is unsurprised by the allure, but where her art is concerned, the process is just as important as the final product.

“When you buy from a vintage boutique, you don’t get that thrill of the hunt, and you don’t get to see the object in its original context. It almost seems too easy, but I guess that’s what you’re paying for,” she said. That not everyone is an artist — with the space for found objects, no less — certainly also plays into the allure.

Using found objects allows her to both “minimize harm to the environment or to laborers with my art practice,” as well as incorporating “the histories of the objects I’m using into my work.”

“I think these are similar to reasons why people buy vintage clothes and furnishings. More and more, people feel a sense of responsibility for how their possessions came into their hands. Also, an object that seems to have a history can be beautiful in itself.”

Matt Hunger

is a former staff writer for the Jersey City Independent.