Wang Bing’s Projection Sheds Light on Bush Terminal’s Industrial History

A still from Wang Bing's Crude Oil

Chinese documentarian Wang Bing made a name for himself with Tie Xi Qu: West of the Tracks, the nine hour chronicle of the demise of an industrial district in northeast China. Crude Oil, which follows a 14-hour workday of crude-oil extraction the Gobi desert of Inner Mongolia, runs 14.

From November 4-8, Light Industry, an alternative art space in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is screening Crude Oil in its entirety each day from 9am until 11pm.

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The film refuses to abbreviate, and the length makes it feel true while verging on abstraction. A twenty minute shot of a worker monitoring a whirring oil rig mesmerizes in its monotony. The play of a shadow on the whirring machinery conjures Muybridge or early cinema, and the orange-clad men begin to seem like passive projectionists.

Light Industry makes an apt venue for this blurring of art and hard, dirty reality. A big, spare room at the end of a sterile hallway, the art space takes up just a corner of a warehouse on Brooklyn’s once-thriving Bush Terminal. At the turn of the 20th century, Irving T. Bush erected buildings, and laid rail. Bush revolutionized the waterfront in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and industry itself. He offered an economy of scale, providing access to an infrastructure previously out of reach for smaller manufacturers. And they thrived. At its peak in the mid-1900s, Bush Terminal occupied 200 acres, moving goods from factory floors to the hulls of massive cargo ships with speed and efficiency.

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As manufacturing has moved abroad, industrial Brooklyn has become a relic—garment factories that had crossed the water from Manhattan’s Fashion District have hop-scotched the Pacific. Trains stopped running as massive machines choked to a halt. The buildings on the narrow strip of land between the upper New York Bay and the the Gowanus expressway now stand largely empty, their facades of rusted steel and old brick crumbling.

This, too, is the west side of the tracks.

It’s a cycle seen throughout New York City–as industry leaves, artists come. Brooklyn’s artists have transformed warehouses and factory into work spaces. Those places have also become art. Photographs of the repetitive patterns and patina of old manufacturing spaces appear on gallery walls and in online portfolios.

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But if you come and go from Wang Bing’s showing just at nightfall, you’ll see old-style industry hasn’t entirely left Brooklyn. At 6pm Monday through Friday, a factory whistle blows two floors below Light Industry. With that sound, forty workers at Popular Clothing Inc. call it quits. After an busy day piecing together men’s pants and boys’ shirts, they pack their bags, pick up and head home.

Light Industry is located at 220 36th Street at 3rd Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Crude Oil will show November 7th & 8th from 9am until 11pm. On Saturday at 4pm, Coal Money (Tong Dao) will be screened. On Sunday beginning Light Industry will show West of the Tracks from 12pm–9pm.

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