CHANTAL CALATO 

UNSEEN

UNSEEN is a multimedia art installation that examines the mutilation of our environment and in turn ourselves. This installation is deeply personal for me. At only 41 years old, my brother Joe was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that eats away at your bones. Joe lives on a block in Niagara Falls that sits on the edge of Love Canal in a neighborhood where house after house is filled with families dealing with life-threatening cancers and diseases. More than 40 years after this neighborhood was destroyed by toxic waste from Love Canal, people from the Niagara region continue to suffer from the chemicals of Niagara’s industrial legacy. 

For the installation, I interviewed 18 people from the dozens of contaminated areas of Niagara County. I wanted to fill this space at the Burchfield Penney Art Center with a soundscape of their interwoven voices and dark personal stories at the heart of UNSEEN. UNSEEN is a spoken-word canon that brings into sharp focus the sights and smells that people experienced while living on this toxic land as they share the physical and emotional burden of their environment. Their stories span more than 40 years from the 1960s to the present day. Each voice describes how they have been affected by toxins inside their own homes, and as you listen they reveal a haunting similarity in their experiences throughout time. An unsettling constant in all of their stories is the relationship of their home to their surrounding environment and how the barrier between the two is broken. 

Rooted in the middle of this vast, dimly lit space in the museum, a typical 1920’s bungalow house is brought into focus by a glow of light. On close inspection, you will notice the house is made from soil presented on top of a soil plinth. 

This house is a home. It’s also an investment and a prison. It’s the place where people live out there lives - eat, play, talk, watch TV, read -- it’s the one place and where people should feel safe and in control. With UNSEEN, I look beyond the beauty of what the world sees when they think of Niagara Falls and into the decaying underbelly to bring into the light the stories of those who live in the shadows of this regions long industrial history. 

- Calato


I don’t think we’ve been told the truth about whats going on down the road.
— Nancy Kulack, Unseen Interviewee

Above: Behind the scenes interview footage with Mario Passero for the UNSEEN soundscape.

 

A BIT OF DIRTY HISTORY

There are nearly 800 hazardous waste sites in Western New York*

 

For over a century Niagara Falls drew in businessmen, creatives and scientific visionaries from around the world. In the late 19th century widespread hydro-electricity was invented there spawning industrial development in the Western New York region well before the rest of the world. Manufacturing including chemical companies flooded the area lining the Niagara River with factories bringing jobs and financial prosperity. 

During WWII the government secretly utilized the industry in Niagara Falls to develop the Manhattan Project. A process kept so hidden that even the factory workers didn’t know what they were working on or the danger of the materials they were handling including the enrichment of uranium and plutonium. And for decades the government denied that this happened at all. 

The aftermath of this industrial boom left Western New York in an intense decline. If you drive around the region it was impossible to miss the rustbelt character of abandoned factories, overgrown empty lots and houses with boarded up windows. But it is what’s invisible to the eye that has cast a long dark shadow over the region and the people who live there. Legacy waste from a myriad of chemical companies like Hooker Chemical and Olin-Mathieson Chemical along with the radioactive by-products of the Manhattan Project were dumped openly all over the region with no care for the repercussions to the environment and the future generations to live there. Companies like the recently closed Tonawanda Coke shut down and walked away leaving the community responsible for their toxic mess. And radioactive waste continues to be discovered all over Niagara County, most recently during construction work at Niagara Falls State Park. 

And as if that’s not enough there are companies like CECOS International and CWM,  that continue taking in extremely dangerous materials and dumping them adjacent to homes, schools and farms. Erie, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties contain 174 federal or state ‘‘Superfund’’ hazardous waste sites, 43 marked as ‘‘significant threats’’ to public health. Western New York is overburdened with waste.


*Mapping Waste: Setting the Stage to Clean-Up Niagara


Then they told us don’t eat the tomatoes.
— Ursula Zimmerman, Unseen Interviewee

Above: Calato in her NYC studio.


Thank you to all of you who shared your Story

Nora Sturtevant Bouvier

Barb Calato

Joe Calato

Joseph Calato

Kim Carella

David Ellsworth

Carmen Hamilton

Nancy Duffy Hanover

Patrick A. Jensen

Luella Puccetti Kenny 

Nancy Kulack 

Cynthia Mikula

Betty O’Brien

Meaghann O’Brien

Kathleen Pagkos

Mario Passero

Michael Zimmerman 

Ursula Zimmerman


BIO

Chantal Calato (b. 1982) is an American artist raised in Niagara Falls, New York near the infamously toxic Love Canal. Much of her art has been rooted in personal experience and research. Niagara Falls has become her muse, with a focus on exploring it’s underbelly the long covered up parts of the city.

Calato’s multi-disciplinary practice is informed by a background in photography which she studied at the University at Buffalo, and an MFA in Stage Design that she received at Northwestern University. She has lived in Brazil, Chicago, and London, and now lives and works in NYC with a satellite studio in Niagara Falls. Calato has created her own mini universe working as a painter, sculptor, photographer, and installation artist. Her work has been in venues including Trimania, Buffalo Museum of Science, Artpark and the Grain Silos for City of Night in Buffalo. She designed massive warehouse parties and outdoor spectacles for Chicago’s Redmond Theatre in the parks on michigan lake and her hand engineered and built costumes were worn at the official White House Halloween Party in D.C.  “Unseen” will be her first solo museum show at the Burchfield Penney Art Center in Buffalo, New York.


COLLABORATORS


UNSEEN is funded by the Global Warming Art Project grant Ben Perrone

and the ‘Environment Maze’ project donors; administered by Arts Services Initiative of WNY.