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Artist brings eyes, vision to Greenport, aims to spotlight longtime families in new exhibit

A Flanders artist whose “Eyes on Riverhead” exhibit drew visitors to downtown Main Street last year is focusing her eyes and vision on Greenport.

Andrea Cote spoke to the Greenport village board at Monday’s work session to discuss her proposal for “A Port of Views,” a site specific exhibition planned for Mitchell Park next year, that would run from Memorial Day through the Maritime Festival, and include activities at Floyd Memorial Library.

“The project relates to the history of Greenport. Viewers are invited to see it through the lenses of people who have lived here forever,” Cote said.

The exhibition, which is not a permanent installation, was inspired by the camera obscura — a darkened box with a convex lens that projects an internal image onto an inside screen — and will face the port and Shelter Island, Cote said.

Describing her idea to the board, Cote said the exhibit would include a six-foot  circle constructed out of concete with the design of a compass and text outside relating to Greenport’s history and memories. At the center would be the village’s logo of a ship, she said.

And, at the southernmost portion of the compass, right where the design faces the port, would be a standing wheel, five feet across in the center, that would be “reminiscent of a film reel or a captain’s wheel,” Cote said. When turned, the centerpiece would have spokes, a pair of eyes, and  a negative, and “when looking through it, you will see the landscape through the people’s eyes that are imprinted on the plexiglass,” Cote said. 

The eyes, in negative, representing different generations, will rotate inside the wheel of the sculpture. The eyes will be printed digitally on transparent plexiglass such that the viewer will be gazing through the pupils at the landscape beyond.

“There will be 16 pairs of eyes from four families who have lived in Greenport for generations,” Cote said, adding that she welcomed suggestions from the board on what familes to spotlight. 

A series of videos will also be filmed, with a QR code on the sculpture that viewers can tap into with their smart phones, giving them the ability to access the videos, memories, photos and stories of Greenport in days gone by.

Greenport Mayor David Nyce said he’d speak to Gail Horton, president of the Stirling Historical Society, about possible families to feature.

Cote said she’d secured a $2,500 grant from the New York State Council on the Arts and was seeking an in-kind donation from the village.

Inspired by the camera obscura, Cote said she planned a series of workshops with children on how to create pinhole cameras. The goal, Cote said, is to delve into Greenport’s history and emphasize the beauty of the landscape, giving participants the chance to stand where their predecessors once stood.

Last year, Cote’s “Eyes on Riverhead” featured videotaped oral histories with longtime residents and business owners, including Anthony Meras of Star Confectionary, Cote said.

“Eyes On Main Street” was a community-based public art project for downtown Riverhead that aimed to “promote an awareness of the rich and varied spaces and stories of Riverhead’s citizens, drawing upon an oral histories with a visual twist. This project is an integral part of Main Street’s cultural revitalization, directly involving local citizens in creating a summer-long installation and online archive of evocative video portraits presenting the diversity and unique memories of our community,” according to Cote’s website. 

A multimedia project, it consisted of a website and posters placed in empty windows along Main Street with QR codes, which, when scanned with a smartphone, took the viewer directly to the video of the person whose eyes were depicted on the blindfold. There was also a window installation of 100 blindfolds printed with eyes of residents, workers and visitors, created with the public at the 2013 Community Mosaic Festival and other events. 

The interviews – which included talks with Riverhead locals including Pat Snyder of the East End Arts Council, Bob Spiotto of The Suffolk Theater, Maryanne McElroy, a business owner, teacher, and choir director, and others — were filled with rich memories. The exhibit generated media buzz and Cote said she hopes to recreate the momentum and capture Greenport’s rich history, creating portraits of the families who have long featured prominently on the village canvas.