The dying art of printing daily newspapers has vanished from New Haven—but, for one weekend at least, art found its way back into the pressroom with a fresh perspective on old mechanical ghosts.
That happened this weekend as 140 artists descended on the vast empty industrial space at 40 Sargent Dr. where where the New Haven Register’s presses finally ceased running in March. The artists transformed it into a site-specific art exhibition extravaganza.
It was Artspace’s third and culminating weekend of Citywide Open Studios. The first weekend featured visits to individual artists’ studios; the second weekend drew visitors to the great hive of artists buzzing away at Erector Square. This final weekend was an invitation to use an alternative space for site-specific installations: the vacated space of the printing plant of the New Haven Register, which now gets produced daily by the Hartford Courant’s presses.
As you walked in from the parking lot, dressed-up vending boxes with new lettering smiled like the teeth of tricked-up pumpkins.
Artspace’s Helen Kauder said the notion of using the Register and former Gant Shirt Factory building came to her from reading an Independent article. The article described the Register’s corporate owners’ efforts to secure a zoning change for their now defunct Long Wharf plant so that a sale might be more easily made of the vacant property.
She said transforming the space to artists’ use for a weekend might garner the kind of attention, as art often does, to enhance the commercial attractiveness of the cavernous plant.
Whether or not that happen, the exhibition elicited another reaction: It was hard not to feel that many of the art works were a fond requiem not only for the print Register but for the entire medium.
Giada Crispiel created trees with broccoli-like foliage fashioned entirely from scissored Register issues of months past. Proclaimed a visitor from Branford, Marilyn Catasus: “There’s an endangered species, a forest of newspapers.”
All Is Not Lost
Beside the entrance Ian Applegate and Colin Burke had turned two former Reg delivery trucks into installations that celebrated the tactile beauty of now obsolete VCRs—and in the case of Burke the techniques of camera obscura, which gave rise to photography in the early 19th century.
Applegate, aka “Space Pilot Lego DJ from Outer Space,” installed no fewer than eight VCRs into the Reg truck as well as a Hitachi oscilloscope V-152 that measured amped-up sound.
Applegate bemoaned the lack of physical quality in new media, which focuses on transforming visual and audio, “everything into streamlined file formats.”
After she approvingly toured the Space DJ’s truck, a Milford visitor Beth Royer remarked, “My husband is an audiophile. I love not quite dead technology.”
A Prayer By The Honor Boxes
To Marc DeWitt, a corner of the former room where the huge rolls of Reg paper were stored had already become not only haunted but a tad holy.
The Yale sophomore, who said he also goes by his Hindu spiritual name Acharya, was seated on a rug beside a cozy and redolent enclosure that artist J.P. Culligan had created by assembling ten blue vending machines. The machines’ sides read, “Shore Line Newspapers. Best local news, sports events, classifieds.”
In the center was a small white pad that appeared to be a kind of prayer rug set squarely and neatly before dozens of aromatic burning candles.
DeWitt said he was praying. One couldn’t blame him, for the space did look like a surviving chapel with a blaze of memorial candles in the now abandoned Church of the print Register. He called the installation a site of “unintended holiness.”
Artist Culligan said he bought every scent that Yankee Candles offered and lit them all at once so that the sniffer will take in what he termed a “sublime, divine” aroma.
Lying on the floor in front of the candles where DeWitt was sitting, a list began with Apple Cider and ended with Witch’s Brew. Those weren’t deceased folks but the listing of all available flavors from the Yankee Candle site.
Originally the lit candles were destined for a closet space in the Reg building. But there was a fire sprinkler right above. So the curators wisely decided to move Culligan down to the corner where the paper roll room meets the room holding the Reg’s giant press.
“It’s open to interpretation,” said Culligan.
Nearby architect and photographer Laura Boyer had hung up her pictures on a long white board that stretched 25 yards. It formed a kind of fence in front of the now silent immense blue printing presses.
Boyer’s photos showed iconic New Haven buildings like Macy’s and the Coliseum before and during their demolitions. Now they were showing in an empty former industrial space probably headed for demolition itself.
“Is decay part of order?” a passing viewer Jim Quish asked Boyer.
“Yes,” she replied. ” And it makes way for new things.”