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Art in Motion

From taking a punch in the face to shipping boxes cross-country, process is central to the work of Abraham Ferraro

by Erin Pihlaja on March 27, 2013

Abraham Ferraro with his installation at the Fulton Street Gallery. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

“I have used approximately 4,768.75 feet, which is 511 feet short of one mile or 15.89 football-field lengths, of tape, and this is just since December 2012. It’s safe to say that I have used twice that in the total run of the Directions piece in the last two years. Two miles of two-inch tape, inches at a time,” says Abraham Ferraro of his current art installation at the Fulton Street Gallery in Troy (which has labeled the exhibit This Way).

The work sprawls across the span of the gallery and is composed of 56 separate pieces of reclaimed cardboard, foam, and packing labels. Designed to be mailed “as is” through the United States Postal Service, most of the pieces that make up the total work have traveled a total of 1,347 miles in the United States. The first mailable piece he created logged 6,836 miles from an art center in Scotland and back.

Ferraro, Metroland’s Best Performance Artist in 2012, has gained notoriety as an unpredictable and dynamic performance artist whose works have included enclosing himself in a box of sheet rock before busting out to complete a wall-climbing obstacle course (Art Course 101), an indoor rock-climbing wall built on a continuous vertical track scaled by Ferraro, whose movements yielded line drawings (Stationary Climber), and his inaugural performance piece: The Knock Out Artist, a boxing ring that housed an easel and eventual abstract painting, ultimately created by brushes fixed to the arm of a mechanical boxing glove. The brush would strike the canvas as the glove pummeled Ferraro in the face.

Directions, which Ferraro has developed over two years, departs from his other works in that it is primarily a sculpturally engineered installation work, but it still contains elements of performance. The piece’s components fit together with adapters that allow Ferraro some flexibility for each space he shows in, and the piece itself is covered, literally, with labels that both practically designate how the structure should be put together and play with the idea of commands and instructions that can’t, or shouldn’t, be followed. Viewers must walk under and around the sculpture to get to access it.

Part of Ferraro's sculpture. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

At some points, white stickers with black letters indicate which series a sculpture should be attached to; bright red and green arrows point in multiple directions at once; and address labels from actual shipping destinations all share the surface of the work to create something that is visually interesting while at the same time providing an actual documentation or diary of the work and its transformation. “The labels were a breakthrough,” says Ferraro. “Now there is color. But I’m very careful of the labels I pick. I’m not trying to play any jokes on [postal workers]. I have a threshold that I’m trying to keep as honest as possible.”

The stickers, signifiers of a language to the people who deliver the works, read “fragile,” or “rush,” but none indicate that there are any potentially hazardous materials, or danger inside.

“I love thinking about these little moments that these pieces go through,” says Ferraro. “I love working with the postal service—their response is an honest one. They take it as face value and don’t immediately accept it as art. I like to think it actually changes their perception of what they do every day—the potential of what they do every day and the potential that there is in every box they deliver.”

He says that the people who deliver the pieces seem to enjoy seeing the completed work, but some don’t expect to be a part of an art process while on the job. “Some are kind of caught off guard,” he says. “One day, there were 15 pieces delivered here, and people were taking pictures. The delivery guy was like, ‘What is going on?’ Then he seemed to get it, thankfully.”

Another postal employee embraced the idea beyond Ferraro’s expectations. “His name was Bob, and he actually signed and dated one of the pieces,” Ferraro explains. “At first I was taken aback, but he realized he was a contributor—I taped over it to protect it.”

When the installation was at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, where it won Best in Show, Ferraro says that the gallery told him that “the people from the post office have been coming in here so excited. They told the gallery that they put it together wrong.” He laughs and adds, “So they were playing with pieces in the post office”—a thought that makes him very happy.

Ferraro has been showing his work for more than 15 years. He received his MFA in Sculpture from the University at Albany, where, he says, “grad school burst my bubble in a lot of ways” and he struggled until he discovered the art of performance. “That whole process,” he adds, “completely changed everything for me. It was a really freeing moment.”

Ferraro installs his piece in the Troy gallery. Photo by Erin Pihlaja.

He currently teaches sculpture at the College of Saint Rose, where he is also employed as a sculpture technician. He says that his work is a “commentary on being an artist, the process, and making the art itself. These are observations on what it’s like to being an artist, and to deal with getting pieces from A to B; the toll it takes on you.” He recounts showing The Knock Out Artist a few years ago at a day festival in Rochester. “There were 12,000 people there. I took 50 punches in the face and that was the easy part. At the end of night, packing up, I sliced my hand open. I’m standing there bleeding, but nobody sees that part of it.”

Ferraro also says that his work is “not about materials, but about the idea.” Those materials have varied through the years. Early works were heavy, as Ferraro says, “these other pieces literally weigh a ton” and while he appreciates working in various mediums, he says that, “cardboard and foam have become favorites.”

It’s hard to guess what Ferraro will tackle in future projects. While he is very form-based and precise in his work, he also takes risks—often of the physical variety. “A lot of people still question my sanity,” he concedes, as he contemplates what his future will bring next.

The artist’s reception for This Way at the Fulton Street Gallery (408 Fulton St., Troy) will coincide with Troy Night Out tomorrow (Friday, March 29) from 5 to 9 PM. The show will be on view through April 11.