James Boorstein trained first as a cabinet maker, then as a sculptor – learning to carve wood and stone, weld, cast bronze, use resins and other materials. He took classes in NY and CA, but shunned grad school to dive into making.
In the later 1970s he moved into a raw ground floor loft in NYC to see how the art world worked. Perhaps his craft background led him to decide that he didn’t want to try to earn his living making art. He worked as a plumber in order to understand how liquids and gases move and are used – that seemed more relevant than learning to draw from life.
Boorstein made work in the form of photographs, performance, paintings, and sculpture often obscuring the trace of his hand. He showed some work at the Allan Stone gallery and at the Hudson River Museum – but not much. It was during these years, as his observational skills expanded, that he slowly began to write. That the completed pages took up no space and were not delicate or fragile was a significant draw.
In 1991 Boorstein walked around the perimeter of his home island of Manhattan, with one foot nearly in the water. He documented the journey with a few photos and an audio tape. The collected information grew into an essay, then a book length manuscript exploring not only the actual shore line but the history of the island – a history of place based on its defining edge.
In 2000 the Institute of Contemporary Art commissioned him to create an installation in Boston’s Olmstead park system. The following year a plane sped past his Soho studio, seconds before it disappeared into the North Tower – his writing work moved to chronicling visible changes that unfolded in the city and across America in a text entitled “delayering.”
The Video Picture (VP) work is rooted in super 8 footage from the 1980s – the moon’s bobbing reflection on the Hudson River and fireflies darting about in the early summer darkness of Vermont. In 2007 Boorstein borrowed a friend’s digital camera, noticed the movie camera icon on the setting dial and since then has captured more than a thousand moments, in the form of 30 second VPs. Each one is cataloged under categories like: light, wind, water and human activity.