The artist Pat Falco was born and raised in Boston, and he hasn’t left.
That’s reflected in the Boston-centric nature of his art, which tackles issues like income inequality, gentrification and racism in context of real estate development and the cost of living in his hometown.
But now he’s bringing his work across Massachusetts to North Adams, where his new show, “Antiquitacky,” opens this month at Installation Space at 49 Eagle St.
The show finds Falco collaborating with Boston-based artist and designer Tatiana Klusak to create a space similar to some of his best-known works in Boston. But this work is aimed directly at the Berkshires: The installation will take the form of a fake antiques store.
“I’ve been collecting random stuff forever and altering it, and Tatiana’s work is somewhere in that way,” Falco said. “I usually collect knickknacks or weird 3-D objects and then paint over them, and then try and paint them back to what they were — really bad versions of what they recently were, which is often just already a bad thing.”
Falco said he and Klusak are looking to transform the space into one that examines the boundaries between art and antiques. Their hope is that the space is not immediately recognizable as an art gallery, as he believes that would change the dynamic between the visitor and the work.
“I’ve done a couple of other projects like that, and people engaged with work very differently when they didn’t know it’s art or that it’s supposed to be a gallery,” Falco said.
Falco’s mother grew up in Pittsfield, and he has relatives in North Adams, and he said this has made him aware of how art can change a community. This has been on his mind, he said, as he’s been working with Klusak on the installation.
Reflecting on what’s real
Falco’s interest in immersive installations that mess with reality began in 2016 with “Campaign Headquarters,” which was set up in Boston’s Faneuil Hall. Casually recognizable as the typical campaign office that pops up in every election cycles, Falco’s space was filled with items and slogans meant to pierce the hypocrisy of American elections and call into question the role of capitalism in our political system.
Falco said he was excited to create this kind of work along Boston’s famed Freedom Trail, both for the irony and for the audience. Faneuil Hall and the Freedom Trail typically are seen as tourist destinations that the locals shun.
“All of a sudden this work is mostly engaging with tourists and people from all over the world who come to Boston to go on this specific trail and learn about this specific thing,” he said. “And it was during the presidential election. And Boston’s kind of a bubble, but all of a sudden this work was interacting with a lot of people from all over the country with lots of different opinions, which is kind of cool.”
Soon the installation attracted the attention of city officials, which took it to a whole other level for Falco.
“I don’t know if it trickled up or something, but we were able to get a lot of press,” Falco said. “And then the mayor at the time, the director of housing stability and three city councilors came to the opening. People from the Boston Redevelopment Authority started coming in, and everyone told their bosses or something.”
His work suddenly became influential in a way he hadn’t anticipated.
“I’ve met with so many people who write policy in the city,” Falco said. “I had minimal confidence in the information I was presenting, but they were engaging with it and saying, no, this is right. It was some really nice conversations and dialogue, which I think was the goal, but maybe I didn’t expect it to actually happen.”
Falco said he learned that art installations in such spaces work like an intervention, drawing people inside but challenging them on what they encounter and even disrupting the way people interact with the space itself. It brings them on a journey of realization about what they are facing.
After “Campaign Headquarters,” Falco followed up with the “Luxury Waters” project in 2017, in collaboration with Boaz Sender. This work offered plans for an imaginary new tower of luxury condos that would be built in the water of Boston’s Fort Point Channel. The 62-story high-rise would feature “affordable” living spaces below the water line as well as luxury spaces rising above the city.
Falco created a Web site for the project, as well as an actual showroom, which offered models of the project as well as subversive material that performed the duty of political intervention.
“The original goal was to have this fake thing, and then we would be engaging with people who thought it was real, just trying to learn who these people are that are buying these units,” Falco said. “But then you realize there’s not actually that many people buying and occupying these kinds of units.”
Once again, the work depended on viewers not being quite sure, at least at the outset, what was real.
“Some people definitely walked in not knowing,” Falco said. “I think they just walked in and then stared and then felt weird and left. Ideally, they also saw the information that spoke to the income gap and racial divides. We interacted with some real estate people, and they get a little defensive.”
The online presence of “Luxury Waters” managed to raise more ire than the physical space of the project’s supposed sales office.
“Online, people thought it was real, so we got so many like negative comments and hate mail, which is funny because they’re angry about whatever we’re discussing,” Falco said.
Those that did “get it” appreciated it, but there was a level to the work that they perceived as artistic satire when it was decidedly not. Falco had lifted the Web site itself and the actual marketing language from a real high-rise development. What many people believed was a spot-on spoof was actually just the real thing recontextualized into art.
“Everyone was like, ‘This is just so funny, and it’s obviously a more extreme version of the real thing,’” Falco said. “And we’re like, ‘No, we just literally went with the language they use in a different context.’ You could see how stupid it is.”
Falco currently is working on a different version of that project for a show at City Hall Plaza in Boston that will offer an entirely new venue for his interventional spaces: a technology fair. He said the show will take the form of a presentation by a whole new development company, in order to fit the context of the venue better, but it will address the issues that Falco has previously embraced in his work.
Engaging through art
In the past, Falco had begun to notice the encroaching gentrification in his own neighborhood in South Boston in the form of new condominiums. As a younger person, Falco opted for disruption, often tagging the buildings and related signs. But as he pursued art more, he decided that behavior wasn’t really helpful — and that the best method was to engage through art, though without immersing himself in the art world.
“Being from Boston I tend to think of myself as a Bostonian first and then an artist,” Falco said, “because I feel like artists are generally maybe not on the good side in a lot of these conversations that need movements. It is good to be aware of what your actions might lead to.”
As part of that process, he decided it wasn’t enough to address the issue of gentrification but to dive into the causes of it. As Falco described it, there were larger, sprawling issues — especially racism — that weren’t being openly talked about in the city.
“It’s a very visible thing,” Falco said. “People don’t want to talk about it, because everyone thinks Boston’s a very liberal city, but it has this visible real and recent history of super racism through policy and also people, and that’s affected the segregation, and that’s affected income inequality.
“I feel like if it’s more visible, maybe more people will talk about it. It’s not just me. There are a lot of people doing that and for any person, it will at some point break through. I mean, it’s also not just Boston, it’s national — every city, and not even just cities.”
Originally published at hillcountryobserver.com.