The Socrates Annual 2023 exhibition reflects on transformation by reviving undesirable objects


The Socrates Annual 2023 exhibition reflects on transformation by reviving undesirable objects

Desire Lines on display at The Socrates Annual 2023 in Long Island City, Queens. (Alexa Hoyer)

In a park overlooking the East River in Queens, a collection of five sculptural projects invites visitors to view the revival of discarded objects. The Socrates Annual 2023 exhibition, marks the culmination of the Socrates Sculpture Park’s annual fellowship program. What used to be a landfill, the city-owned park is now an outdoor venue and park space used for public art and community engagement. The transformative nature of the venue inspired the theme of “transformation” for the annual fellowship program, which results in a display at the park.

Curated by curator and director of exhibitions Kaitlin Garcia-Maestas, with support from the director of Studio & Fabrication at Socrates Sculpture Park, Chris Zirbes, the exhibition presents five displays of art that honor Indigenous histories, riff on the connection between architectural creations and humanity, and repurpose discarded objects and materials.

The 2023 fellows, a cohort comprising Rhode Island School of Design graduates Ashley Harris and Ndivhuho Rasengani, New York–based sculptor Bat-Ami Rivlin, the 2023 Devra Freelander recipient Kate Rusek, Iraqi American artist Maryam Turkey, and conceptual artist Stefania Urist, were selected through a competitive open-call application process and awarded them with funding, access to the park’s outdoor studio, and production support to realize their projects.

Five sculptures composed of concrete bases, steel sheets and circular glass bulbs at their center, overlooking the river.
Dwell within the Light sculpture by Ashley Harris and Ndivhuho Rasengani (Alexa Hoyer)

Each project imagines the theme in various ways, reflecting on “diverse stages of growth, change, and renewal while also invoking a keen understanding of how visitors use this space,” according to a press release. The project’s construction includes recycled and repurposed found materials, transforming and giving a new life to discarded or undesirable objects. The projects were fabricated over the summer, on-site at the park’s studio, and now compel viewers to rethink and value the past intertwined in the materials and landscape.

Dwell within the Light, a collection of five glass and concrete sculptures, is Harris and Rasengani’s take on “transformation.” The sculptures trace the park’s history, and acknowledge its ancestral origins to the Lanepe, Carnarsie, and Matinecock People. The pieces feature concrete bases with impressions of elements like native grasses, collected leaves from the park, and rope. On the concrete bases, sheets of steel stand vertically with a circular piece of glass at its center. The use of found materials materializes human interaction with the site’s natural forces. It tells the narrative history of the park as a landfill-turned-art-venue site.

Untitled (12 tubs) and Deconstructed on view at the Socrates Sculpture Park (Alexa Hoyer)

Untitled (12 tubs) is a sculptural gesture by Rivlin, composed of steel and twelve suspended bathtubs constructed in a circular arch that creates a small and intimate space. The suspended tubs allow viewers to experience the interior and exterior of the object and its space. The piece alludes to the tub as a unit of measures that systematizes the human form.

Drawing inspiration from the artist’s upbringing in Baghdad, Iraq, Deconstructed is Turkey’s celebration of a timeless narrative that celebrates the connection between architectural creations and humanity. The project features three geometric, puzzle-like stucco structures, punctured with square holes and reclaimed wood perforating the structures that evoke a sense of playfulness.

Rusek, takes inspiration from clusters of fungi in her Imagined Fungal Emergence sculpture. She forms an immersive tapestry of reclaimed aluminum blind clusters, each drawing strength from its neighboring clusters. In reference to man-made and naturally formed architectural structures, the sculpture forms an organic structure with an archway that imagines a future of regenerative potential. The sculpture’s materials are mostly sourced from New York City waste.

Image of an organic looking aluminium sculture in a park overlooking the river, with people sitting around the sculpture.
Imagined Fungal Experience by Kate Rusek at thee Socrates Sculpture Park (Byron Guinanzaca)

Desire Lines is Urist’s exploration of human-defined borders and species migration. The project features hand woven fences made up of phragmite: a European reed grass present on North American wetlands that, suppresses native flora and imposes monocultures, while also absorbing emissions, cleansing waterways, enhancing storm resilience, and serving as a carbon sink. The fences are positioned in the shape of New York’s waterway map, prompting viewers to consider the authority of determining habitats.

With the culmination of the 2023 fellows, The Socrates Annual Fellowship has announced the open-call proposals for the 2024 fellowship program with a new prompt “Invasive Species.”  The 2024 fellowship expands to include more early-career artists, with ten projects and two cohorts. The application is now open.

The 2023 iteration is on view from through March 24, 2024.