TOM GIEBEL's solo exhibition of photographs, XYLEM AND PHLOEM, was on display at the SOAPBOX GALLERY in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn through November 25th, 2010. (Directions)
As an urban explorer and artist, I look beyond the traditional landmarks and tourist-friendly facades of the city, pushing deeper into the transitional zones where the residential landscape merges with the industrial.
What I find there is not only visually compelling, but also speaks to me of a uniquely Brooklyn character. I see an environment where the old and new exist side-by-side, often in the same building.
Specific examples of this coexistence can be seen clinging to the outside of many older buildings like climbing vines: the network of pipes, tubes and valves that make up the city's circulatory system. These conduits channel the electricity, water and gas that fuel our lives, and then carry away the waste and bleed off the exhaust.
Younger cities and newer buildings might hide this infrastructure discretely behind fences, or secret it away completely inside walls, as if somehow embarrassed to reveal these bodily functions to the world.
Here, though, we not only let these pathways exist on the outside skin, we also draw attention to them with intricate configurations and bright colors. Instead of being merely practical and functional, they become whimsical installations. Almost as if there was an artist behind every engineer.
Most people walk right by these artifacts day after day, never pausing to wonder what purpose they fulfill. Perhaps the fanciful colors serve as camouflage, preventing the pipes from becoming an eyesore.
To me these features are fascinating works of unintentional art, and the added elegance suggests natural organic forms. Instead of tubes and pipes I see vines, roots and branches. Instead of valves and faucets I see blooms and mushroom caps. I think of these features as the city's xylem and phloem, mimicking the elegant yet practical forms in the biological kingdom.