Ilya Smirnov‘s Mechanics Alley, running December 18, 2015, to January 31, 2016, is a single in-depth study of a place. Produced, exhibited and available for download from Bari art space 63rd-77th STEPS’ website, the online installation details, scours, smells, draws, photographs, films, collects, understands and captions an alley in New York that has not been included on any map since 1905. It was partly blocked by the Manhattan Bridge, which now arches over it, leaving it partly forgotten.
There are a couple of elements to the work. Principally an online book, which is a 606 page pdf and consists of chapters like “drawings that belong to roof 1″, “roof 1” and “documents (unearthed at the site)”. Captions work with images in a way that is remarkably clear, deadpan and magical all at the same time. Pen drawings fill in the gaps that holes in mouldy newspapers have made. It feels like a work thats not trying too hard. It is full of imagination but is just presenting what is already there in the alley. On the right hand side of one spread is a scanned-in image of a still shiny silver knife (despite its slight rust) and on the left is a page made out of kitchen roll. Perhaps the kitchen roll was used by Smirnov to carry the objects in the”Tools” chapter away from Mechanics Alley.
Smirnov adds a special thanks to Jon Lucas, Emma McMillan and Anna Teterkina on the 63rd-77thSTEPS website, as well as a video to accompany the Mechanics Alley project. The camera starts by delving into a dark gap in the ground before moving up to film, with a shaky hand, the Manhattan Bridge above whose streetlights almost glare. The camera is almost completely out of focus. Somewhere in the 606 pages of the online book it notes that one of the roofs –the second one –is “elevated in relation to roof 1 and 3″. Perhaps Smirnov is filming from ‘the second roof’, wherever that is. We are told things in terms of individual details rather than with the aid of whole pictures.
A song starts to play over the scenes of the detritus in the video. It is, according to Shazam, ‘Three Sisters Who are not Sisters’, the first scene of an opera made in three parts. You can’t find this music anywhere else on the internet, which makes perfect sense when you are watching this person go through the nondescript ‘stuff’ thats half lying in the cold uninterrupted powdered snow. They find a key before there is a shot of some hair moving around against the inside of a car window. All of this–the place and the work –feels made to write about, especially with it being in the snow and during the night.
Smirnov has made documentation that suits being documented. The artist has edited the larger online pdf work into a 16-page version titled ‘Hammer Edition‘, especially for aqnb. The images take up more space on the screen and are in a different order. In the original pdf a black and white image of a woman sitting with her arms folded, looking to the viewer shares a spread with a mirror-image of herself. In the condensed ‘Hammer Edition’ she shares the screen space with a blurry scan of what looks like a painting of a burning building underneath a full moon. **