The Fifth Anniversary of the Invisible Dog

The Fifth Anniversary of the Invisible Dog

Boerum Hill

When the Invisible Dog first opened five years ago, the concept of an art mecca on Bergen Street was mind boggling. Bergen Street was the home of the Cheese factory, the Ironworks, and Montessori. Now the street has beautiful housing, nightlife and the Invisible Dog.

The Invisible Dog factory building is 150 years old this year. Its renewal as an art magnet is the culmination of a plan developed by Lucien Zayan when he first stumbled upon the building in 2009. The original invisible dog product developed from leftover pieces of leather from the belt manufacturing already happening within the building, a true touch of creative genius that kept the factory running for years. Today's products are just the same. The creativity within Brooklyn has become Zayan's passion, and his connections have brought an international art scene to Bergen Street.

Invisible Dog Glass House Gallery. ©Mark D Phillips

This year also saw the opening of a new gallery space by the Invisible Dog beside the historic factory. The Glass House, a unique seasonal exhibition space, opened with the new season and will primarily feature female artists. The premiere exhibit, Cleaning It Up, christened the Invisible Dog’s new temporary gallery space. Designed by Anne Mourier, artist resident at The Invisible Dog, from reclaimed windows, this transparent time capsule combines the elements of a typical house into a single-room structure, nestled cozily and guarded safely in-between its taller neighbors.  A sculpture in and of itself, the gallery continues Mourier’s investigation of glass as a medium and its inherent metaphorical implications as a tactic of keeping viewers out while still letting them see in. This voyeuristic view of what would otherwise happen behind closed doors allows viewers to follow Mourier as she tidies up her miscomprehension of the family model and shatters the moral lens she was raised to respect.

Last year, the Invisible Dog raised $30,000 in a kickstarter campaign. This year's campaign offers various premiums for different levels of pledges. They range from your name on their website, to VIP tickets, to a free stay in a studio apartment, to naming rights of the marvelous 100-year-old freight elevator. The kickstarter program runs through November 7, 2013 and can be accessed on TheInvisibleDog,org.

For the fiifth anniversary, the South Brooklyn Network is reprinting the original story from five years ago featuring the first exhibit, The Ant, that captivated and gave us all the unique perspective of Lucien Zayan.

A Dream becomes Reality: The Ant debuts at The Invisible Dog in the first show

A five-year-old boy in France learns a poem that captures his imagination…. An 18-meter long ant With a hat on its head That doesn't exist, that doesn't exist….  And for the next 30-years as the boy grows into a man, he asks himself "Why Not?"

On January 23, 2010, that little boy, Xavier Roux, debuted The Ant on Bergen Street for the grand opening of The Invisible Dog, a creative arts space in Cobble Hill. The sixty-foot-long sculpture made of structural steel and nylon balloons filled the gallery space, and the imagination of all.

The poem's author, Robert Desnos, wrote The Ant after his arrest by the Nazis and deportation to Auschwitz. The 18-meter length was the size of a cattle car used by the Gestapo to transport their prisoners to the concentration camps….

An 18-meter long ant With a hat on its head That doesn't exist, that doesn't exist.
An ant pulling a cart Full of penguins and ducks That doesn't exist, that doesn't exist.
An ant speaking French, Speaking Latin and Javanese, That doesn't exist, that doesn't exist.
Hey! Why not?

Xavier was captivated by the poem. He would recite the poem to his parents, never knowing the true meaning, except that the ant should exist. When he told his story to Lucien Zayan, the director of The Invisible Dog, the poem became a reality.

Lucien Zayan, director of The Invisible Dog, and Xavier Roux, creator of The Ant, with the steel framework for the legs. ©Mark D Phillips

Xavier places meaning in all of the parts of The Ant. Built on a framework of over a metric ton of steel that resembles train tracks and a hat that symbolizes the chimneys of the concentration camps, the ant's body is composed of nylon balloons that signify light.

"It is a beautiful poem that has great meaning," says Roux.
During his research, Xavier discovered the author's story from historians of the French resistance. During the Nazi occupation of Paris, Desnos published a series of essays mocking the Germans. These articles combined with his work for the French Resistance led to his arrest on February 22, 1944. Desnos was sent to first to Auschwitz, and then transferred to Buchenwald and Flossenburg before he was sent to Terezin, a concentration camp in the Czech Republic. Although the Allies liberated this camp in 1945, Desnos had contracted typhoid. He died on June 8, 1945.

The poem gained even more meaning for Roux. "Poetry is the sense of the possible," he said. "It was so important for me to create The Ant. Penguins and all languages represent globalization. We are all on the same train."

A poem written 60 years ago still has meaning today. When Xaveir Roux and Lucien Zayan met and discussed The Ant, the idea fit in with Lucien Zayan's strategy for The Invisible Dog.

The former factory building at 51 Bergen Street is a South Brooklyn hidden treasure. Situated less than half a block from Smith Street and the Bergen subway stop, the block also includes the Romantic Times. Built in the late 1800's, the 25,000 square-foot factory went through a number of businesses. By the late 1990s, the boarded-up building was another abandoned manufacturing space in Brooklyn.

In early 2009, Zayan came to Brooklyn for a three-month holiday. During his time in New York, he stumbled upon a gallery in the very front of the building. Asking questions about the building, the gallery owner allowed him to look at the raw space behind her back wall. It was love at first sight.

Zayan sought out the owner of the building, Frank DeFalco, and asked what they were doing with the building. There were no definite plans. During the conversation, DeFranco kept mentioning The Invisible Dog, once, twice and a third time.

"I finally asked, What is the invisible dog?" said Zayan.

George Zorbas, a former US Army Air Corp pilot during WW II, had purchased the building in the 1950's to manufacture belts and necklaces for Macys. In the 1970s, the company struck gold with the invisible dog, a stiff leash and collar surrounding the empty space where a dog would be. At the height of its popularity, nearly 250 workers filled the building. The story intrigued him even further.

Zayan recognized the perfect art space with a multitude of possibilities. After returning to France, he developed a plan based on his 20 years of experience in the French theater, including the Aix-en-Provence festival and Paris's renowned Théàtre de Odeon and Théàtre de la Madeleine. With the owners blessing, The Invisible Dog was born with plans to bring the building back to its original glory.

Renovations are underway throughout the building. The first floor presentation space, where The Ant will be presented, is an open room with phenomenal acoustics. The second floor is already operational with over 4,000 square feet of artist studios, designed to each artists' needs. Every studio has a window, all hand built in their original designs. The third floor is one large, open space for parties, wedding receptions, and meetings. The open elevator shaft has been painted by italian artist, Giuseppe Stampone with the Divine Comedy of Dante in old style script, with Hell, Purgatory and Heaven marking each of the floors.

In the basement of the building, a storage area has been created for all the items found inside the abandoned building. The owners never threw anything away. Miles of material used in belt making line shelves, a couple thousand invisible dogs sit inside barrels around the room.

When Zayan commissioned Brooklyn artists Steven and William Ladd to create a chandelier for the first floor space, the artists discovered and used nearly 10,000 belt buckles found in the building for its construction.

When The Ant debuted on January 23rd, The Invisible Dog came back to life.


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