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Natacha Mankowski Brings Out What Goes On Inside the Brooklyn Navy Yard

Each season, we offer a special opportunity for photographers to explore the Brooklyn Navy Yard with us. Our next Seasonal Photography Tour is taking place this Sunday, April 19 at 11am, departing from the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, and visiting sites including the Naval Hospital Campus, one of the Yard’s working dry docks, and other working waterfront sites.

Our judge for this season’s photo contest is one of BLDG 92’s 2015 Visiting Artists. Natacha Mankowski is an architect and painter who has had a long fascination with the Yard and what goes on behind its gates. She used it as the inspiration for an ambitious urban planning proposal, and as part of this year’s project, she is examining creative ways to turn the Yard inside out – to showcase its inner workings and history to the public, through her art. We’ll let Natacha explain it herself:

Natacha, where are you from originally, and when did you first encounter the Brooklyn Navy Yard?

NM: I come from Paris, and I now work and live in Berlin. I am an architect and painter. 

It was in 2010. At the time, I was working for the artist Vito Acconci. Every morning, I use to pass by along Flushing Avenue on my way to work. This was the first time I discovered the Yard. I was fascinated. How could a space be in the middle of the city, and almost totally absent from the public mind? It was, to me, an island in the middle of New York City.

At that time, I was still a student in Architecture at the Ecole Spéciale in Paris. Captivated by the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I decided to take it on as the subject for my thesis project. I started to develop a rehabilitation project: a public “passerelle” that would link the surrounding streets of the Yard to the waterfront. It would create public activities and run across the yard without interrupting the intense work going on in the Yard. [Read more about the project here.]

Repurposing Dry Dock #2 for public recreation in Natacha Mankowski's "Navy Yard Project"
Repurposing Dry Dock #2 for public recreation in Natacha Mankowski’s “Navy Yard Project”

With the invaluable help of BLDG 92, and then-director Daniella Romano, I was able to learn more about the Yard and develop the project. In the following years, this rehabilitation project was presented to Adrian Benepe, former Commissioner of the NYC Department of Parks and Recreation, and also to the French Architectural Academy, where it was awarded the Tony Garnier Prize for Best Project in Architecture and Urban Planning in 2011.

What inspired you to apply to be a BLDG 92 Visiting Artist?

NM: Today, as a painter and architect, my practice is turned toward the representation of space in painting. In that sense, my interest for the Brooklyn Navy Yard has not diminished. It is a fabulous space that concentrates an immense historical richness and spacial complexity. On the other hand, it stays mostly protected and closed off from the public. As an artist, I feel responsible – or at least engaged – to reveal a specific side of it to the public.

I would like people to enter that “island” a bit more – experience the day-to-day rhythm of the Yard, being able to see it evolve.

Natacha Mankowski, "Space #6," oil on canvas.
Natacha Mankowski, “Space #6,” oil on canvas.

What are you working on now?

NM: I am currently working on a project involving the historical and the actual, present-day face of the Yard. I am developing a series of large-scale paintings that will depict the inaccessible spaces of the Navy Yard to the public. For some months now, I have been working with Aileen Chumard [Director of the Exhibits & Programs at BLDG 92], and Dennis Riley [Brooklyn Navy Yard Archivist] in the archives of the Yard and, as well as in the field, to collect plans, photographs and sketches of the various spaces of the Yard.

I am now entering into the production phase of the project, in collaboration with the Watermill Center. I am currently producing a series of five oil paintings, which will be part of a larger architectural display that will combine sounds and objects, as a “virtual tour” of the Navy Yard. The final installation will be open to the public on the 25th of April at the Watermill Center in Southampton, Long Island.

As a consequence of this project, I ended up creating a vast library of data and photographs coming both from the archives and the actual Navy Yard. It is still at the research level, but I would like to share it and open it to the public soon.

Do you have any advice for the photographers visiting the Yard later this month?

NM: Less is more.

BLDG 92 Brooklyn Navy Yard Center logo

Turnstile Tours offers the Seasonal Photography Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard four times throughout the year. The next tour of the 2015 season will be Sunday, April 19 at 11am. Get more information here, and advance ticket purchase is highly recommended. We also offer our Past, Present & Future Tour of the Brooklyn Navy Yard every weekend 2-4pm, and other special themed tours of The Yard. All tours are offered in partnership with and begin at the Brooklyn Navy Yard Center at BLDG 92, which offers free admission to three floors of exhibitions on the Yard’s past and present and a host of great special events and programs.