There’s something about a hometown that you just can’t shake. So when 24-year-old artist Greg Mahoney reflects on his own place of origin by saying, “You carry the fact that you’re from Brockton everywhere, and you can’t get away from it — it defines the way you look at life,” I know exactly what he means. I’m from Brockton too, a graduate of its public-school system who spent my formative years in a municipality known for shoe manufacturing, heavyweight boxers, high-school football, and crime. “You’re from Brockton?” people always say with surprise, even though I’ve always been secretly convinced they could smell the whiff of the city on me immediately — a deeply ingrained scent that can’t be washed away, like family cooking or chronic halitosis.
Mahoney has been exploring the indelibility of his birthplace for the past three years. While studying animation at Harvard, the young auteur and sculptor started shooting an experimental feature-length film called Saints of the Old City that cast Brockton’s landscape of rusty façades, decaying storefronts, and “epic industrial buildings” in a starring role among a loose narrative of Kafkaesque characters, such as the Green Figure (a man in a green suit) and the Climber (a spiky-shoed character who’s never grounded). “It’s like a sewer. Or an abandoned subway tunnel,” he explained last Monday night, looking out at a corroded building from a second-floor window of the Outpost Gallery Brockton, a former ballroom and society hall where Mahoney has a personal studio. “There’re people out there who find this stuff to be opportunity. It’s not just urban blight.”
That’s essentially the unifying perspective of Outpost, an artists’ collective of young, mostly Brockton-reared creators Mahoney founded last August after his 2005 graduation. Headquartered downtown, a couple blocks away from where Mahoney attended elementary school, Outpost used this vacant building as a space for performances, installations, and other site-specific pieces for its debut exhibition last winter. But plans for Exhibition 2 were squashed when the city inspector read an article about Outpost in the Brockton Enterprise and quickly came over to determine the premises weren’t up to assembly-space code. Exhibition 2 was postponed indefinitely.
So Mahoney and his collaborators have since decided that Outpost will be nomadic. (Outpost collaborator Mike Mellor says Mahoney “openly admits to a lifelong hobo fantasy.”) “No place can exactly sustain us for any length of time,” says Mahoney as snow falls on a row of television screens behind him. “We’ll have a workshop somewhere, a secret hideaway.” But their exhibition space will be the entire city: a vacant-lot installation publicized by word-of-mouth; a film screening in an abandoned building; other urban-wasteland ideas they can’t disclose. Says Mahoney, “Brockton’s enormous when you think about it as an art gallery.”
The City of Champions is incrementally undergoing a “revitalization” to counter its reputation as a violence-prone run-down hole: Minor League Baseball stadium, new courthouse, even a high-rise development called “Lofts at SoCo” that’s trying to market its namesake as a compound of “So Cool” and “So Convenient.” So, since Mahoney first started shooting Saints, many of the locations he’s used have already vanished. “To recognize that these places are kind of doomed . . . I felt the need to document them. And not document them the way an outsider would see them, but document them the way I see them.” This isn’t simply urban exploration; this is a very personal project.
One of the places he’s documented is a factory that burned down more than a decade ago, which Mahoney says “was my favorite place on earth for a long time.” Driving me to this overgrown pit-like enclave, Mahoney leads as we creep through a layer of trees, broken glass crunching underfoot, into a clearing of charred-wood smokestacks. It’s quiet, but for the low sounds of a child yammering in the distance. We ascend a pile of corroded metal. It sort of feels like we’re in a cyber-punk world, until we spot the few homeless people living inside the flame-eaten building. We pass an idle army of shopping carts and Mahoney picks a rusted metal object from near an unhinged door. He’s also a metal sculptor — it’s likely this relic will become a piece of one of his works. “This city is like a quarry for me right now: I’m just chipping rocks out to use.”
“I really feel like what makes Brockton unique is that it can support a brand-new baseball team, a brand-new courthouse, slum neighborhoods, built-up suburban neighborhoods in the sort of Edward Scissorhands kind of style, really old almost-mansions, raw forest, farmland, places like this,” says Mahoney on the way back to his van. “I just think, ‘Where else am I going to have this opportunity?’”
On the Web
Outpost Gallery: www.outpostgallery.com