The second-floor studio at Flanders artist Andrea Cote’s home is filled with eyes.
They hang from the space’s slanted white walls, are scattered on tables and stored in laptop files. Printed on silk screens and in photographs, the eyes are the essence of an ongoing art project called “A Port of Views,” on display at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport through Feb. 7. A larger, outdoor display is planned for later this year.
In the library’s gallery space, Cote has placed a three-dimensional glass and wooden structure resembling a captain’s wheel that contains photographic negatives of eyes and features a cut-out window. Viewers are invited to spin the wheel and look through the eyes that appear in the window. What they see — a panoramic photo of Mitchell Park on the wall behind the wheel — gives the sense of seeing Greenport through another’s eyes.
The piece was inspired by the camera obscura at Mitchell Park in Greenport, she said. Her captain’s wheel will be on display in the park later this year.
Peering through a prototype of the wheel in her studio recently, Cote explained the idea behind the entire project.
“My own question was, how do you create a public art project that brings you into some kind of a private experience?” she said.
The exhibit focuses on images of 16 pairs of eyes, taken from photographs of members (both living and dead) of Greenport’s Horton, Tasker, Costello, White and Watkins families. In addition to the captain’s wheel, the display features screen prints incorporating eyes, both drawn and photographed, and painted items such as a compass from an old Greenport map that Cote found in Village Hall, cherry blossom branches and the Greenport shoreline.
“In doing the project I realized this is a very historic town. My impression is that there’s a strong concentration in Greenport; people have really stayed there,” she said, noting that the oldest set of eyes depicted in the show belonged to Arthur Middleton Tasker, who lived from 1880 to 1938.
After locating living members of the featured families, Cote often spent entire days with them, learning the intricacies of their family histories.
“I’d hear about someone that was really great or would add more diversity to the project,” she said. “In the end, I’m always happy with who I meet and who ends up in the project.”
Returning to her laptop after giving a tour of the remaining prints in her studio, Cote eagerly showed off the project’s website which contains updates and short video clips about the featured families and the village’s history. A longer video will be screened at the library Saturday, Feb. 7.
In the meantime, Cote is selling prints in order to raise money for this summer’s expanded display at Mitchell Park. They’re available at here.
“I want the town and the people to own the project,” she said. “Rather than people just donating money and me giving them a little token, like ‘Oh here, you get a postcard,’ you get to buy a piece of art and that piece of art then supports the project, because there’s still going to be more expenses as the project gets installed [this summer].”
Given the prevalence of today’s technology, Cote believes there’s much value in having communities be the showcase for large, multimedia-driven works of art. Her current display at the library includes Quick Response (QR) codes that allow the audience to watch videos about featured families on their smartphones.
“The videos kind of correspond to the sculpture so you learn more about these people who have been in Greenport for a long time,” she said. “They kind of tell the history of Greenport through their stories.”
In the summer and fall of 2013, Cote also created a related interactive art piece in Riverhead called “Eyes on Main Street,” for which she interviewed and photographed people with close ties to downtown Riverhead and its history.
When it came time to choose where to display “A Port of Views,” Cote had multiple options — but her first choice was Floyd Memorial Library.
“I wanted it to be at the library because the second person I met was [assistant library director] Poppy Johnson … she was on board from the start and she knew that I was going to want to show the project publicly,” Cote said.
“The library is the center of the town,” she added.
Johnson said she was excited to host the project.
“I think it’s a way of focusing on our past and she has interesting ways of doing that so that it’s not just a dusty old thing,” Johnson said.
A $2,500 New York State on the Arts scholarship funded part of the project and required that it be shown publicly before the end of 2014.
Cote received the check in late August before having even received official word that she won the scholarship. The exciting surprise gave her only about four months to complete the project.
“A Port of Views” is on display at Floyd Memorial Library Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m.