Observatory is an event series at Proteus Gowanus established in February 2009 by a group of artists and bloggers attracted to the interdisciplinary nature of Proteus Gowanus, bringing their own explorations of the realms where art and science, history and curiosity, magic and nature overlap. Observatory presents programming inspired by the 18th century notion of “rational amusement” and hosts screenings and lectures.
Proteus Gowanus is work-in-progress, encouraging the protean flow of new ideas and collaborations that expand on its themes and activities. Since its inception in 2005, Proteus has created or absorbed eight Projects-in-Residence, located in spaces adjacent to the central gallery. Some of these projects grew directly from our yearlong exhibitions, while other initiatives were invited to join based on their shared love of books, their wide-ranging intellectual curiosity, and their desire to engage the general community in inclusive interdisciplinary explorations. collection of curiosities, books, artworks, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts relating to medical museums, anatomical art, collectors and collecting, cabinets of curiosity, the history of medicine, death and society, natural history, arcane media, and curiosity and curiosities broadly considered. Exploration, by artists and non-artists alike, is at the heart of Proteus Gowanus’s way of thinking and working. PG is an interdisciplinary collaborative located near Brooklyn’s Gowanus Canal, but it also takes its name from Proteus, the Greek god of the sea, who could readily change his form.
Morbid Anatomy, a series founded by Joanna Ebenstein, which seek to explore the interstices of art and medicine, death and culture. The lecture part of this series welcomes a mix of museum professionals, professors, rogue scholars, artists and autodidacts to give illustrated talks on arcana ranging from taxidermy to European medical collections, dissection and masturbation, to antique horror theatre, Santa Muerte to the Victorian love affair with death.
It’s also part of a broader artistic renaissance that has transformed the area around the Gowanus Canal from a toxic wasteland to a budding home for urban pioneers: Observatory shares a home with other eclectic groups, including the Museum of Matches and Proteus Gowanus.
The idea for Observatory grew out of two earlier exhibits curated by Ebenstein and artist James Walsh; “Arcane Media,” one of the projects, showed off antiquated methods of capturing images on film. After the success of those shows, they gathered together like-minded partners to form Observatory. The group’s mandate is to be a home for “kindred geeks,” says cocurator Pam Grossman. Each of Observatory’s members curates one show per year that features their own work, or that of artists with a similar archaic bent.
I attended the lecture ghoulishly titled, “Women Who Bite, Chastity Belts, Castration Anxiety and Feminism,” the perfect pre-Valentines day pick me up! Kara Bachmann led the fascinating workshop-chastity belts (and their development), male castration anxiety, vengeful goddesses, the femme fatale, Amazon warriors, and “vagina dentata.” These subjects were explored in all their frightening, savage, erotic and often humorous incarnations. The first feminist icon leading to the advent of agrarian civilization witnessing women’s power gradually devalued by a growing patriarchy. Both Western and Eastern cultures have folklore and art history attesting to the leitmotif of the strong, fierce, and aggressively sexual woman rising against oppressive male authority.
If the macabre fascinates, titillates, or just peeks curiosity, Proetus Gowanus, primarily the Morbid Anatomy series, is the perfect Thursday night.