Outsider art: See a surreal trailer park in Red Hook

Southern blood: Willie Stewart and Brent Stewart — no relation — flank a pickup truck that is part of their art installation at Red Hook’s Pioneer Works through July 29.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

You’re just going to have to see it.

Two Tennessee-born artists have created a surreal trailer park as part of an art installation inside a giant Red Hook warehouse. “Grand Ole Opera,” now on display at Pioneer Works, features two art-filled trailers, a liquor-slinging biker bar, and a host of noise, rock, and metal bands playing concerts inside a re-purposed Christian revival tent. The installation uses Southern cliches and elements of the artists’ unique childhoods to discuss life in a little-regarded American sub-culture, said artist Willie Stewart, who was born into a matriarchal biker gang 30 miles outside of Nashville.

“My work is basically a reflecting pool of my life, how I grew up. I had no male influence because all the men were in prison my entire life. If you see the works themselves — they are indicative of growing up in this weird shack that my family still lives in to this day,” said Stewart, who now lives in Connecticut. “The works I make are deeply genre-based, but deeply rooted in personal trauma to see if I can create a connection with me and other people — create a platform to just learn, or think, or discuss the South or growing up in a sub-culture.”

Willie Stewart and collaborator Brent Stewart — who are not related — purchased two trailers on Craigslist and filled them with their art. Inside one trailer is a display of ouija boards, along with looping video works that include a computer-generated flame burning in front of a family photograph, and clips from werewolf and vampire movies. It all helps to evoke the world he grew up in, said Willie Stewart.

“You walk into this space and then you see this trailer park, which is indicative of where I grew up, but where imagination was created for me to move outside of that world and create something utterly important,” he said. “My mother had a ouija board, I just remember we weren’t allowed to play with it. And the idea of magic and who believes it and who doesn’t believe in it.”

The dramatic space creates a surreal backdrop for the bands that will play during the exhibit’s run, said the show’s curator.

See it: The artists’ installation includes two trailers, a truck, a bar, and a Christian revival tent over a stage where bands will play.
Photo by Caleb Caldwell

“It’s creating almost a cinematic landscape when you enter,” said Gabriel Florenz. “I always wanted to make an installation that was a performance set — what if we turned the entire installation into a concert venue?”

The exhibit will host eight concerts during its run, featuring Angel Deradoorian, Lightning Bolt, Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, and Suicide Slide, among others. The bands are an audio extension of the visual art, said Florenz.

“The music series is completely part of the installation,” he said. “We really thought of, let’s focus on metal noise music, punk, and rock which are dissident types of music.”

The installation is an overwhelming mish-mash of noise, imagery, and emotions — but that’s the point, said Stewart.

“The trailers, the bar, and then all the artwork is just going, videos are just looping, you come and go on your own terms. When the installation is most activated, everything is happening, that full collision — I think that’s what creates this narrative arc,” he said. “What I love about it, it is confusing, it’s not something you see every day, it’s new.”

“Grand Ole Opera” at Pioneer Works (159 Pioneer St. between Conover and Van Brunt Streets in Red Hook, www.pioneerworks.org). Exhibit open through July 30, Wed–Sat, noon–6 pm. Free. Concerts at various times, $15–$25.

Christmas colors: A Christian revival tent floats above the stage, which has a burning sun projected onto its back wall.
Willie Stewart

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.

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