Tucked away in the recesses of Gowanus, Brooklyn, lies a fascinating compendium of interdisciplinary collaboration in what is known as the Proteus Gowanus. Within this multifaceted art space, eight “projects-in-residence” simultaneously occupy sections of the building, thereby appealing to a wide range of visitors looking for hidden treasures and rare oddities.
One such “project-in-residence” is the Observatory; a room just off the main gallery, hosting lecture series’, exhibitions, screenings and classes with the idea of promoting the 18th century notion of “rational amusement.” Here, it is likely to witness something obscure in today’s modern times, but nonetheless sparking curiosity and even wonder.
This past Friday evening, I had the privilege of attending one such screening; Tom Stathes Cartoon Carnival #10 featuring cartoons rendered between 1910s to the 1940s. As I sat down, it felt as if I had immediately stepped back in time, with the clicking of the 16mm film reel faintly in the background as the room focused in on the black and white characters bouncing across the screen. Familiar characters such as Felix the Cat once again had the ability to capture the room’s attention, just as if we were children, but with much greater understanding of the plot line of each short picture. After every clip, the audience applauded, which felt reminiscent of vintage film screenings of years past. Tom Stathes had compiled this selection as a cartoon cryptozoologist, and you could sense the care that went into selecting each cartoon as an example of its age.
This particular screening is one of many put forth by Atlas Obscura, an online guidebook dedicated to finding “the world’s most wonderful places.” Atlas Obscura documents stumbled upon entities, encouraging travelers’ exploration of something new and exciting. At the Observatory, Atlas Obscura’s real world arm, the Obscura Society, hosts an “Atlas Obscura Speakers” series featuring many unique topics including “Finding History in Sewers” and “Speakeasy Dollhouse: Solving Murders with Diorama Crime Scenes.”
The Observatory also features other collaborations with other “projects-in-residence” such as the Morbid Anatomy Library, and Phantasmaphile. The room itself also hosts a rotating exhibition space. Currently, the room is host to the Sigils and Signs art show, which showcases art as a medium of spells and magic. The current exhibition is set to remain in the Observatory until June 17tjh, 2012.
The Proteus Gowanus space is a hidden gem within the Brooklyn landscape, offering a glimpse of unusual artifacts, genuinely thought provoking displays of artwork, and a chance to experience something from another time. Because of the compilation of many different focuses in one building, there is something novel to encounter time and time again.