Mary Zompetti is a newcomer to Memorial Auditorium, but the photographer is already developing an unusual relationship with the old building. The Grand Isle resident has directed Burlington City Arts' Community Darkroom and Digital Media Lab for 12 years from a basement office in the BCA Center on Church Street. But this summer she relocated to Memorial — just a few months before its tenants will have to vacate the 1927 building due to structural issues.
All the more reason to start taking pictures. Zompetti is known for her site-specific photographic projects and installations. For Memorial Auditorium, she has been posting images on Instagram that showcase the building's worn features: wooden folding chairs lining the auditorium's balconies, bronze plaques that honor Burlington's casualties of war, chalkboards bearing chicken-scratch musical notations in the green rooms behind the stage.
Zompetti finds unexpected beauty in the aging structure, and she has an eye for abstraction: One image features paint peeling from a wall. But her documenting days are numbered. BCA's clay and print studios and administrative offices, along with the Burlington Generator maker space and the youth club 242 Main, will move out by the end of the year.
Generator is relocating to a Sears Lane space leased from Champlain College. BCA's classrooms and offices will move into new quarters in the former Farrell Vending at 405 Pine Street. (Future plans for 242 Main are still evolving.) Until she has to leave, too, Zompetti plans to keep memorializing Memorial. Seven Days interviewed the artist about her project.
SEVEN DAYS: Why did you start photographing the building?
MARY ZOMPETTI: As I began working in the office at Memorial this summer, I started to notice the crumbling beauty of the space, from the creaking wooden chairs in the auditorium to the peeling teal paint in the hallways to the way the light moves through the space. Photographing helps me see, notice and understand space differently and more intimately. There are many, many details I never would have noticed if I wasn't making photographs.
SD: Are you working in digital, film or both?
MZ: Right now, this is solely an Instagram project — all of the images are taken with my iPhone and are edited and posted in the moment. [It's] a different way of working for me. It's been a great way to make the images immediately available and to gather community feedback. The project seems to be gaining momentum and it may evolve into a large-format film series in the coming months. But, for now, I am enjoying the immediacy of this project as a counter to the rest of my studio practice.
click to enlarge
photo by matthew thorsen
SD: What has been the reaction to these photographs?
MZ: People often share their specific memories of Memorial when I post, and I enjoy hearing people's stories. There is a collective sense of nostalgia for Memorial in our community, and I think everyone is waiting to see what will become of the building.
SD: What's it like, as a photographer, to have people react so strongly to your images on social media?
MZ: As an artist, it's great to have people react positively to the work — I didn't expect this project to gain such traction, and I'm happy that the images are meaningful to people.
SD: What are your thoughts on leaving? How do you feel about the new space?
MZ: I've definitely developed an attachment to both Memorial and the photo labs I've managed at the BCA Center. Our studio programs have evolved and served many people over time, and many professional and personal relationships have grown and thrived in those spaces. I see this move as a positive next step in our evolution.
As for the new space, I am very excited about it. It's been a fun challenge to design and plan a new darkroom and digital lab that will better serve the evolving needs in our community. It's also exciting to know that those new labs will be just down the hall from all of the other BCA studios.