Daniel Kessel


Do you want to see art and activism through the lens of a Bushwick visual artist? Phil Buehler takes on institutional racism, religious freedom, and feminism in his work “American Trilogy,” a trio of walk-in panoramic images now showing at the Spring/Break art show at a gallery in Times Square.

Each panorama allows viewers to step inside and immerse themselves in a pivotal space from recent American history: Ferguson, Missouri; Arlington, Virginia; and Washington, D.C.

The project began after the 2014 shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown when Phil visited Ferguson, compelled to experience the town for himself outside of any media narrative. “On the line where Michael Brown fell were hundreds of stuffed animals, flowers, and notes…a makeshift memorial,” Phil said. “My first thought was that this young man, really just a boy, was loved.”

Instead of “Michael,” as Phil usually read in the news, friends and family had spray painted the name “Mike” on the street. Locals told Phil they felt that national news outlets had misrepresented their story, focusing on rioters and burning buildings instead of their community and solidarity. Standing in Ferguson, surrounded by an outpouring of real love and raw grief, Phil wanted to express these feelings in his art.

“Ferguson,” Phil’s first walk-in panorama, showed in Bushwick Open Studios in 2015. That’s when Phil imagined a trilogy of panoramas, all relevant to current events, all reframing the familiar conversations and allowing people to experience places they might not otherwise visit and develop their own feelings and conclusions.

“Arlington” takes root in the famous national cemetery to explore religious freedom and military sacrifice, inspired by the Muslim Gold Star parents of Captain Khan, who entered the news cycle in 2016 after their public exchanges with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“Washington” documents the passion, optimism, and feminist demonstration of peaceful protest at the Women’s March on Washington on January 21, 2017.

What’s unique about Phil’s panoramas? “Photographers usually impose a perspective or point of view through the act of framing,” he said. “But for a panorama, you only choose the location and there is no framing. I think of it as letting the viewer frame it themselves, freeing them to make their own connections that both reflect their own values and experiences where this becomes a new experience they can absorb.”

We are living in unprecedented times. Sometimes, it helps to travel outside frames that are most familiar to us, the narratives we are spoonfed. Step into the panoramas of “American Trilogy” and you just might walk out with a different perspective about a person, place, or cause you thought you knew all about.

“American Trilogy,” curated by Larry Walczak / eyewash projects, is showing at Spring/Break Art Show , 4 Times Square, 22nd Floor, March 1 through March 6, 12 to 6 p.m. 

Featured image courtesy of Christian Neidan.