Sarah Nicholls

2020 Brain Washing from Phone Towers Informational Pamphlets Series
Artistic Discipline: Visual Arts
Category: Brooklyn Arts Fund
Grant Year: 2020
Location: Sunset Park

Sarah Nicholls’ studio practice revolves around the history and ecology of New York, as well as broader topics of climate change and urbanization, as a way of investigating and documenting issues related to ecological and political equity. She identifies primarily as a printmaker, but also makes large-scale drawn maps on paper, and organizes events including walking tours and workshops. She considers her art practice as a form of communication which builds community. The work that she makes requires attention, and she approaches craft as a method for slowing down time.

In the coming year, as part of Nicholls’ ongoing publishing series, she will produce three new pamphlets on the subject of mapmaking, centered on the Brooklyn waterfront. She will use these publications to talk about the evolving nature of our waterfront, future challenges facing waterfront neighborhoods in an era of rising seas, and the history of specific places. One pamphlet will be about Sunset Park, the Bush Terminal Piers Park and the Brooklyn Army Terminal; one will be centered on Coney Island Creek and Calvert Vaux Park; and one will be on Canarsie Pier and the former amusement park complex in Canarsie. The theme of mapmaking will be used as a tool to frame these subjects. These places will be a starting point to think about the different functions of maps: as narrative, as memory, and as place making tool. Mapping is a different way of telling a story; the story she is interested in telling is one that layers historical waterways, industrial pollutants, and climate change on a landscape that is transforming.

Each will be a limited edition publication distributed in an edition of 200, which will combine text and image using the obsolete technology of relief printing and letterpress, reflecting in their form the history of publishing and mass communication. Letterpress is the printing technology of movable metal type invented by the Chinese around 1040 AD, popularized in the West by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439. Pamphlets were the earliest form of journalism, the precursors to the printed newspaper. Each pamphlet will result in an easily digested portable publication which can be shared among a chosen group of people.

In conjunction with these pamphlets, Nicholls will organize three neighborhood walks in each place discussed. These walks will be held in public parks and city streets, in collaboration with local audience members, where they will talk about the history and ecology of each neighborhood. Nicholls will be working with poet Amanda Deutch and naturalist Bradley Klein, who are subscribers and readers of the series, to bring these events to the public.

Recent pamphlet publications have often focused on the natural environment in urban areas, the history of Brooklyn, and the changing climate. Beginning in 2010, Nicholls sent free pamphlets as a surprise to an evolving mailing list of friends, acquaintances, and strangers as a way of building community. In 2015, she began taking subscriptions, and each subscriber, in addition to receiving the complete series themselves, has the opportunity to nominate someone else to receive the year’s pamphlets as a gift. This has helped Nicholls to widen the circle of possible recipients.

This project will allow Nicholls to partner with members of the mailing list, to expand public events to include collaborators, and bring the project to new audiences in the process.