BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Soon after architect Dennis Maher arrived in
Buffalo in 2002, he took jobs tearing down abandoned homes and
other vacant structures to supplement his income as a University at
Buffalo adjunct instructor. His experience on demolition crews
ended up fueling his art practice: Fascinated by the politics of
demolition and shocked by the quantity of waste that resulted from
deconstruction, Maher began harvesting scraps from decaying homes
and fusing the debris into large-scale sculptures.
Years later, one outcome of Maher's labors is a pair of
noteworthy exhibitions: An installation at Buffalo's Burchfield
Penney Art Center, and a solo show at the Black & White Gallery
/ Project Space in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Maher was an
artist-in-residence this summer.
Both displays include a major sculpture constructed from
discarded materials, along with photographic collages that depict
amalgamations of refuse in forms suggestive of new landscapes. Each
exhibition is part of Maher's "Undone-Redone City," an ongoing
project that explores demolition, renovation and restoration
through assembling the remains of obliterated places.
His creations have an explosive quality, with wood paneling,
broken doors and linoleum tiles bursting forth, in chaotic layers,
from some undefined epicenter. In his Burchfield presentation, part
of the multi-venue Beyond/In Western New York 2010 exhibition, the
central sculpture hangs from the ceiling, an industrial-hued
Goliath strung up with steel chains. A partly constructed room lies
at the piece's core.
Maher, now a clinical assistant professor of architecture at UB,
says he hopes his work inspires people to think about how
demolition affects an urban landscape.
While Western New York has made strides in recent years toward
developing a successful, university-driven biotechnology sector,
Buffalo is still struggling with the fallout of industrial decline.
Chief among problems: As manufacturing jobs evaporated, the local
population fell, leaving the city with thousands of vacant
properties. Other Rust Belt cities have experienced similar
problems, and Maher says the issues his work addresses apply not
only to Buffalo, but to the entire Rust Belt region.
"The City of Buffalo clearly is a part of my work in a very
direct way. At the same time, what I've created is relevant to many
cities. It could be Syracuse, Youngstown or Detroit," Maher says.
"I'm formulating a practice that combines art, architecture and
civic activism. Demolition is a form of cultural erasure. I'm
interested in what that does to the urban fabric and to
While Maher no longer works on demolition crews, he continues to
secure materials through contacts he made as a deconstruction
worker. He raids the dumpsters of building sites and keeps in touch
with salvage yards.
His studios over the years have included an abandoned industrial
building on Buffalo's Main Street; an empty mansion in the city;
and a storage space on the city's East Side. Recently, Maher has
acquired two houses previously slated for demolition in the city,
and has begun to transform them using found objects and discarded
materials. In a short article titled "The Demolition Artist," Hadas
Steiner, a UB architectural historian and associate professor of
architecture, remarks that Maher's working quarters are "compatible
with the desolation he theoretically investigates."
Maher's sculptures comment on loss, waste and ruin, raising
questions about the way a city erases visible manifestations of
poverty. But he says his creations also speak of potential. Through
his art, debris destined for the landfill takes on a new life.
Urban transformations are cyclical, and the chance to regenerate is
an opportunity that shrinking environments present.
"I'm interested in places, spaces, environments that are always
on the verge of becoming," he says. "A place is never finished. I
want to close the gap between the undone and the remade."
The New York State Council on the Arts is supporting Maher's
"Undone-Redone City" with an independent projects grant. For
information on Maher's current exhibitions, including exhibition
dates, visit the Burchfield Penney online at http://www.burchfieldpenney.org,
and the Black & White Gallery / Project Space online at http://www.blackandwhiteartgallery.com/exhibitions.html.
For more information about Maher and his work, visit his website at
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