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Industrial Strength Sights

Bethlehem Steel Works.A factory closing is a sad affair: breadwinners are left reeling, communities go shrinking, and the sight of an empty architectural behemoth hovering over the landscape reminds us daily of the less lovely side of capitalism. With the increasing pace of company restructuring, outsourcing, and just plain “don’t slam the door on your way out”-ing, the gumption that transforms obsolete industrial sites into cheerful tourist attractions is more important than ever.

Art and abandoned factories are a perfect match. The predictable choice has been to turn inactive derelicts into sprawling museums capable of housing the most massive of sculptures and most puzzling of installations (see MASS MoCA and Dia: Beacon). A related approach is to subdivide them into a beehive-like complex of art studios and bestow a plainspoken generic name on the whole shebang — Pittsburgh’s Mattress Factory and Alexandria’s Torpedo Factory come to mind.

But there are more innovative approaches to aesthetic factory recycling. 5Pointz (“The Institute of Higher Burnin’”) in Long Island City, NY is the world’s “premier graffitti mecca”: a 200,000 square foot factory completely covered with layers of eye-popping aerosol creations. It even has a curator named Jonathan Cohen (“Meres One”) who plans to do some fund-raising and eventually turn it into an official grant-gettin’ museum. For now, you can see it from the elevated 7 train.

Mindfield.Billy Tripp’s MindField in Brownsville, Tennessee is a gigantic steel sculpture that looks a bit like an electrical transformer. It incorporates a spherical water tower from a defunct factory into its design– dismantled and transported to the site by the artist himself. The twisty towers incorporate a tribute to his parents and pithy sayings such as “I support gay rights tho personally I like girls.” It is the largest work of art in Tennessee and still growing.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania has elaborate plans for renovating parts of the old Bethlehem Works, but for now you’ll have to be satisfied with a slots casino built on one end of the huge rusting property.

But if you prefer the beauty of nature, as opposed to the man-made self-conscious inspiration of “art,” just leave your factory alone and it may eventually turn it into a daytripper destination without any help at all. In warm weather, crowds gather nightly at the Hubbell Memorial Chimney in Northville, NY to witness the arrival of hundreds of chimney swifts . The birds fly 7,000 miles from the Amazon jungle and show up on May 6th each year to take up residence in the old factory chimney.

To the delight of bird and human alike, celebratory fried dough is often served. [Post by Anne D. Bernstein]

Sections: Trends 1 Comment »

One Response to “Industrial Strength Sights”

  1. Doug Babin Says:
    July 8th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Hmmm, sounds to me like Detroit should look into doing something like this…

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