Wednesday, August 09, 2006

The Defenestration building in San Francisco

While in San Francisco I was walking around SOMA one day and stumbled upon this building with furniture sticking out of it from every window and from the bricks themselves. (It's at 6th & Howard) The building is empty and there is a sign on it that says it's for sale. There is also a plaque that indicates that an artist, Brian Goggin made an installation out of the building and was supported by the Rockerfeller Foundation, among others. . It's called "the defenestration." Defenestration means to throw something or someone out of a window.

Here is the artist statement from the website:

"By orchestrating everyday materials, via assemblage and juxtaposition, I create works that make the improbable appear plausible. The resulting pieces, in effect, take on an identity, a personal history, until they seem complete and believable. Apparent animations evolve which are at once dream-like yet familiar, unleashing a hidden life in commonplace objects."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Albany Landfill

The Albany Landfill (June 2006), a short photo essay
I first visited the Albany landfill in July 2004. Someone who worked at the Long Haul Infoshop in Berkeley mentioned it as one of the most inspiring public spaces they had ever seen. We visited the area during the making of the documentary and ended up using some footage in the final version of the project.
Although when we first encountered the landfill we were under the impression that the magnificant pieces of art found throughout the space had been created by anonymous artists who found inspiration in the freedom allowed by the isolation of the area, we later found out that there was a larger history to the landfill that we did not know.
In fact, the land had first become occupied by homeless people who were pushed out of Emryville in the 1980s. Some of these people took to living here and building semi-permanent dwellings and other structures. Some of them were the ones that began constructing art out of the trash that was there. With time other artists came along and began constructing pieces. At some point (in the 90s) the homeless people who had been living on the Albany Bulb/Landfill were evicted, although some of the art remains intact. We were unable to include this information in the documentary because we did not find out this more detailed version of the history until we were in Syracuse, New York, during the tour. Don Mitchell, a cultural geographer at Syracuse University informed us of the hidden history of this place.

In the documentary, we feature the albany landfill at the end, as a way to contrast the possibilities and limitations of outdoor public spaces with indoor ones, like infoshops. On the one hand, in an outdoor public space like this, it seems that certain social groups are less likely to dominate the space. It can have a feeling of being more genuinely open. At the same time, it is subject to city control. But the thing about the landfill is that it seems so unrestricted. The art is not censored or painted over or taken down. At least not so far. We've been hearing for over a year that the landfill is in threat of being demolished for commercial development. We aren't sure where this stands right now. I'm glad that I got a chance to see it again, if nothing else.
me and stirling at the landfill (june 2006)

All of the following were taken june 2006:

Pictures from previous visits: (much of this artwork is no longer around)

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one of my favorite pieces, now gone. (summer 2004.)

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there were a few of these concrete slabs with stencils of well-known activists. The other one I remember is Malcom X. Notice that Goldman was given a mustache by a later visitor to the landfill. I am pretty sure that these are still around, and have been at least since 2004. (summer 2005)

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i don't think this is here anymore, but maybe i just didn't see it this time. (summer 2005)

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summer 2005.

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The famous "castle." It's been heavily graffitied over since I last saw it in March 2006. (july 2006)

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july 2006. There are several panels of these paintings by the same artist that line a path along the waterway. Some of them have been heavily altered by affects of weathering since I first saw them in 2004.

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another of my favorites. this was taken in summer 2004 and is no longer around.

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summer 2004. this huge gate with statues was made entirely out of some sort of foam material. it isn't around as far as i could tell.

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This is the center where everything opens out and there is a continually rotating array of trash sculpture. This was taken in july 2005.

Also, an entire documentary was made about the landfill. It's called Bums' Paradise. The website can be found here: I haven't seen it yet but am interested in doing so.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Farmers Thrown off Land at the South Central Farm

Well, it seems like the end of the fight for the Los Angeles South Central Urban Farm might be over soon.

Here is the latest from the Los Angeles Daily News:

The end for South Central Farm?

Not legal challenges, not folk singers' entreaties, not even a last-minute infusion of $10 million could save the South Central Farm.

Sheriff's deputies moved in before dawn Tuesday to evict the farmers from the 14-acre plot, a rare swath of green in the otherwise industrial belt between Alameda Street and Long Beach Avenue. Seeking to prolong the multiyear land dispute, protesters chained themselves to pipes inside.

Actress Daryl Hannah, environmental activist John Quigley and a few other demonstrators secured themselves above the fray in a walnut tree. Supporters poured in, chanting and waving signs, as county Sheriff's Department deputies and Los Angeles Police Department officers bearing clubs and shotguns surrounded protesters, making arrests.

"This is the end, my friend," said Tezozomoc, one of the farmers' representatives, quoting a line from Jim Morrison. "But we don't know yet. This is just another chapter."

A chapter in the struggle that dates back to the mid-1990s, one involving celebrities and community activists, political pressure and complex land deals. Developer Ralph Horowitz bought the site two decades ago, lost it to the city through eminent domain, then bought it back for the price the city paid him. In the interim, the sizable site became used by more than 350 families to farm peppers, cilantro, squash and indigenous herbs.

But after Horowitz regained the property with the intent to transform the rows of corn and cactus into a commercial project, the farmers sat on tenuous ground. They fired off 61 claims to block development, all rejected by the court, and requested a temporary restraining order, also turned down.

They enlisted the help of high-profile supporters such as Hannah, folk music icon Joan Baez, musician Ben Harper and his wife, actress Laura Dern.

And they relentlessly lobbied Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to use his clout to keep the site open. Through various sources, his office was able to wrangle $6 million in donations, well short of the $16.3 million Horowitz originally requested to sell the site.

Last week, the Annenberg Foundation announced a surprise offer of $10 million in cash and an agreement to finance the remaining $6 million.

But Horowitz, reportedly furious about being cast as the villain by farm supporters, rejected the offer and demanded the farmers removal. At 5 a.m. Tuesday, 65 helmeted deputies of the Sheriff's Department's Civil Management Unit moved in, with the LAPD and Los Angeles Fire Department assisting.

Authorities cut through the chain-link fence around the farm and extricated the demonstrators who'd locked themselves inside. Then came an earthmover to level off the ground for a fire engine. The truck pulled inside and extended its ladder, eventually plucking the remaining protesters from the tree shortly after noon.

The LAPD arrested 27 people on suspicion of failing to disperse, and sheriff's deputies arrested an additional 17, including Hannah, on suspicion of failing to obey a court order and obstructing a peace officer.

The scene was chaotic, but largely peaceful. There were demonstrators accusing the authorities of breaking apart the community. Then there were counterdemonstrators accusing the farmers of breaking apart the community. Then came the guitar players, then the drummers.

Armed with an ear-splitting whistle and a pot she banged with a rock, farmer Andrea Rodriguez angrily defended the site she's come to rely on.

"We want to go back to Mother Earth, get nutrition for our families," she said in Spanish. "We will struggle. We won't go. We are all together and we will not leave. We're just farmers, we don't have money, but we're still important."

Repeated attempts to reach Horowitz at his office were unsuccessful, though he told The Associated Press that he found the farmers to be ungrateful and wanted his land back. Though Dan Stormer, an attorney for the farmers, said they'll have one more day in court in July to try to claim ownership of the land, Horowitz has already said he will not sell to the farmers or their supporters.

A few hours after the evictions, Villaraigosa spoke with Horowitz on the telephone and reiterated his support for the Annenberg Foundation's $16 million offer.

But Horowitz said the property was worth even more money, Villaraigosa told reporters later. Horowitz also told the mayor he felt personally vilified by the farmers and wouldn't sell until he evicted every single person from the land.

"I told him that from my vantage point, this is a more than fair offer. This is an opportunity for us to have an urban garden in the city that wants to be the greenest big city in America," Villaraigosa said. "And he said, well, that was nice but he wasn't accepting."

While running for mayor, Villaraigosa pledged to help save the farm and, once in office, assigned Deputy Mayor Larry Frank to seek private donations to help the farmers buy the land from Horowitz.

But the price was a moving target, the mayor said, going from about an estimated $6 million to $10 million to $12 million to the final price tag of $16 million.

The mayor and allies had a hard time raising funds to buy the land because many potential donors felt the land wasn't worth the price.

"I understand a businessman's need to invest and make a profit. I also have a high respect for and will defend property rights," Villaraigosa said. "But I also believe that we are called upon by a sense of community and civic duty to do the just and right thing. I had hoped that the landowner would have heeded that call."

Friday, June 09, 2006

The Tour is Over... but the blog will live

Hello to all of our readers. Our tour is over. We had a great time traversing the country, looking at each region/city/neighborhood with questions of the politics of place at the forefront of our minds.

We saw the same patterns of gentrification/revitalization of urban areas everywhere that we went, being played out in slightly different ways depending on the place. We saw public housing being torn down to make room for supposedly "mixed income live/work spaces." (starting in the mid- 500,000s) We saw banners lining the downtowns "live! work! play!" We saw parts of the country that were more neglected and in states of decay than we had thought possible in this country and were shocked at how obviously race and class played into these scenarios. We saw how easily history and public memory can be erased when physical places are destroyed and replaced with something new.

We saw people talking about the importance of place everywhere we went. We saw clear regional differences that do still exist in this country, despite the image of homogeneity that some people might have. There is a clear division between east and west coast, between coast and no coast, between the urban east coasters and the rest of the country.

We saw grassroots urban food production and the attempt to make cities greener and more sustainable in every city. We saw temporary and (semi)permanent physical spaces that encouraged critical thought/discussion and the opportunity for non-commercial, non-city-sponsored activities to occur. We saw art taking back sidewalks, abandoned buildings, and corporate billboards. Everywhere we went, we met people who were actively engaged in critiquing the dominant society and working on projects to create compassion and sustainability now.

We screened the film almost 30 times and only had to cancel one screening, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, when no one showed up to Internationalist Books. Getting in the car wreck on our way back from Lawrence, Kansas put a big damper on the way that we ended the trip. I spent about 2 weeks in bed recovering from a concusion and with back pain. I feel pretty much better now, although not 100%.

We had talked about continuing the blog as a forum for us to put up our thoughts about place politics in our daily lives. I am in San Francisco for the summer and might have some things to say about being here. Courtney will be in Denver, teaching kids at a summer camp and hopefully she will chime in sometimes too. Also, we have plans to make a revised (and better quality, technically speaking) shorter version of the documentary to be broadcast on Freespeech TV. We will be working on that in August, so if you are interested in finding out more about this project please get in touch with us.

Thanks, Liz

Update: LA's South Central Urban Farm

This article about the South Central Urban Farm appeared in today's New York Times. To learn about the battle against eviction that is going on, or to donate money so that the land the farm is on can be saved, you can go to their website:
Also, some of the people who are camping out on the farm in order to stop the eviction have set up a blog documenting their efforts here:
Hollywood Stars Shine Down on Protest to Preserve an Urban Farm
Published: June 9, 2006
Daryl Hannah and John Quigley spoke from a walnut tree last month.
Children gawked. Grown-ups gawked. And several television camera crews gawked, their lenses pointed upward to capture her every move.
"Hi guys," Ms. Hannah called down cheerfully from a narrow plank wedged among the limbs.

Ms. Hannah, who has played an android, a mermaid and a 50-foot woman in the movies, was pulling a stunt, but not for the pictures. She was trying to save a farm, in this case the South Central Farm. Schools in Los Angeles are deteriorating. Gang warfare has increased in some areas. Many people can scarcely afford homes.

But for a certain set of celebrity environmental activists, it is the farm, and the threat of a developer's bulldozer clearing away the cactuses, corn, squash, medicinal herbs and other plantings of mostly Latino squatters on a nearly 14-acre verdant area surrounded by a patchwork of warehouses, that commands their intervention.

For the past few years the scene here, in an area the city now officially calls South Los Angeles, has played out as one of those intermittent urban dramas not quite at the forefront of the public (read: media) consciousness but not quite fading away either.

This time the celebrity-tinged vigil might pay off with a Hollywood ending. The Annenberg Foundation on Wednesday pledged an unspecified sum — the developer had asked for about $16 million — to the Trust for Public Land, a conservation group, to buy the land and preserve it.

"The monetary issue is now off the table," Dan Stormer, a lawyer for the farm, said Wednesday night after getting word, setting off cheers and song among the farmers.
Cut. Wrap.

Well, hold on. The developer who owns the land, Ralph Horowitz, has not sent word on whether he will accept the deal. He did not answer telephone messages on Thursday.

A cliffhanger.

Ms. Hannah said the cause has drawn so much star power because more is at stake than the fate of what organizers call "the largest urban farm in the country." The farm, she said, has come to symbolize a lost way of life, a joining of community against the urban tide.

"It represents possibility on so many different levels," she said, descending the tree to terra firma, where Joan Baez has strummed the guitar, Danny Glover has walked among the crops and Ed Begley Jr., Martin Sheen and others have taken their turns before the cameras.
"It's great for community," Ms. Hannah added, the howl and clanging of nearby trains breaking the idyllic air. "And one thing responsible for the breakdown of society is a lack of community."

It's also a bitter fight over real estate that shows even the bleakest stretches here are not spared. The farm emerged after the 1992 riots when the city, which had bought the land from a developer six years before, leased it to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank and allowed the farmers, who organizers say now number some 350, to move in and grow crops.

Most are Mexican and Central American immigrants who raise the crops, divided into plots by mazelike fencing, for food. Some of them, the LA Weekly has reported, left for other community gardens over complaints of browbeating from the farm leadership, which the leadership has denied.

Josefina Medina has grown fava beans, flowers, nopales — a kind of cactus pear — and other plants for more than five years, hoping to instill in her children and grandchildren a sense of nature and the agrarian culture of her native Puebla, Mexico.

"Smog is at a very high level here and many children suffer from asthma," Ms. Medina said at a candlelight vigil at the farm. "This farm cleans the air while teaching our children about their roots, that our ancestors grew these kinds of plants."

In 2003, Mr. Horowitz, the original owner, exercised his right — after legal maneuvering with the city — to buy the land back. Since then, he has battled with the farmers and their lawyers to get them off the land. Local news accounts in the past year have quoted him as planning a warehouse there.

Things came to a peak in late May when an option for the Trust for Public Land to buy the property expired, with the group having raised only about half of the $16 million purchase price. That intensified hand-wringing among city officials, advocates for the farmers and representatives of nonprofit organizations, who reached out to Mr. Horowitz to negotiate further.

To put public pressure on preserving the farm, organizers enlisted celebrities, including Julia Butterfly Hill, an environmental activist known for sitting in a redwood for two years in the late 1990's to protest clear-cutting.

Ms. Hill climbed the walnut tree and set up camp and called a friend, Ms. Hannah, who pledged to stay on the farm, sometimes in the tree, sometimes in a tent, until its future was secure. Other recent visitors included Mimi Kennedy of the television series "Dharma & Greg" and Alicia Silverstone from the movie "Clueless." Leonardo DiCaprio sent a letter of support from a movie set in Africa.

"It's very exciting," Ms. Hannah said of the newest turn in the story, "but we are keeping our fingers crossed."

Friday, May 26, 2006

photos of the crash

Here are a few photos of the car taken the day after the wreck, when we went to the towing place to collect the rest of our stuff that was still in the car.

notice the windshield caving in. that's where my head slammed into during the rollover.

notice the way that the roof is smashed in on the right hand side.

Notice that the glass from the two windows on the right is completely gone. It was completely gone from the back windshield as well.

All of the wheels looked like this. Sorry for the blurriness of the photo.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Crash on the Highway

when we were spinning around in the car and i realized that there really wasn't a thing i could do to correct the situation, i'd already over corrected--maybe a metaphor for my life--so i closed my eyes as we hurdled toward a reflective post and into the ditch. we hit the ground and the car immediatly flopped over onto the roof. we were upside down and i just froze. if liz hadn't made moves to get out of the car as fast as she had i suppose i would have stayed there, shocked, until fear overwhelmed me to get out.

i unbuckled my seat belt and opened the driver's door--the only door still able to open. i crawled out over the crumbled glass and stood up to walk around to the passenger side to help liz out, as if there were just child locks on the door or something. when i got around to the other side of the car i realized the gravity of the situation. it was entirely smashed into the ground and the windsheild was dangling into the passenger area. i started calling liz's name frantically--i hadn't seen that she had crawled out right after me and made her way up to the highway. i ran around to the car and looked in to see how i could help her, but she was gone. i spun around to find her in the surrounding night lit up by the head lights that were still on and the orange blinking construction sign just up the highway.

a van stopped after we ran up to the guard rail to flag them down. two older men, one 80 and one about 50, ran to us and yelled to see if we were okay. we said that we were and then they called 9-11 on their phone. the oldest man tried to call from my cell phone that i pulled from my bag after wrenching the bag from the back seat of the car. he couldn't figure out how to turn it on and i was so shook up i didn't really know how to show him.

as they were calling i went back to the smoking car, leaned in through the driver's side to put it in park and turn it off. i shut off the head lights and everything about the asthetics of the situation changed. it was now quiet and dark. the only noticable light left was the blinking orange of the road work sign. liz was sitting down against the guard rail, shaking. when i walked over to her i stopped right abover her. she said: we shouldn't have driven home at night. i replied: the worst thing that could happen did and we're okay. but we weren't okay. we had just been too close to violently dying.

the silence of the scene was broken by sirens. i don't think i've ever taken so much comfort in that sound. as what had happened was recorded by authorities and we were checked out the meaning of the wreck became heavy on my mind, more real. i could walk around, i was pacing, and liz was stationary next to the guard rail. the paramedics came twice to make sure she was okay and so after the second round of examination she made her way into the sheriff's car to be out of the cold and into some quiet. her head wouldn't stop spinning.

i walked around picking up our lives from the ground, dust still settling back into it. there were so many buttons everywhere. little dots of color amidst bright fabrics, bottles of gifts, books, clothes, packs, food, tapes, money, and little drops of blood from liz's cut hand.

the sheriff drove us to a the super 8 of hayes, KS after i packed our stuff into the back seat of the car and it was towed off to five star auto repair. the sheriff was nice, but quiet. i'm sure he'd had to do this a million times. liz told him every place we'd been and how we were just five hours from home. we took baths when we got up to the room. liz first. me second. i smoked a cigarette as i layed in the water and tried not to sob. we layed in bed both trying to sleep a little, but i could hear liz jerk around and i was jerking into being awake ever so often too. the only thing i could see when i closed my eyes was the car spinning and in my imanginations of it i tried to figure a way to fix it.

A Horrible Car Wreck- The end of our Tour

We had a great screening and time in Columbia, MO and Lawrence, KS. We were really excited to get home to Denver though, so we decided to drive through the night from Lawrence to Denver (an 8 to 9 hour drive). We haven't really been driving at night for the entire tour and I hate driving at night, but we were both really awake and figured we wouldn't be able to really sleep on Thursday night anyway. So, right after the screening, we packed up and got back onto I-70 heading west. Everything went fine for a couple of hours.

Hays, Kansas
We stopped to get gas here. Courtney got coffee and I got a red bull. We were just pulling onto the highway and picking up speed. The next thing I knew Courtney was screaming and the car was swerving uncontrollably. I had no idea what was going on, I thought that maybe the car just lost control completely. Then we did a couple of 360s. The whole time I wasn't panicked, I was just wondering "When is the car going to stop moving and please don't let the crash be too bad." The car kept spinning out of control for a few more seconds and then we were off the road and smashed into a grassy ditch and the car flipped over and it was upside down and so were we.

I remember hitting my head really hard into the front windshield. Redbull on my jeans. Realizing that there was no way I was going to be able to get out my side of the car because it was smashed into the ground. Trying to undo a seatbelt while upside down. Courtney frantically asking me if I could get out. I undid the belt and got out her side of the car and there was smoke everywhere and I told her that we had to get away from the car. My main thought was that maybe the car was going to explode so we just had to get away from it. We ran along the side of the highway and waved down someone immediately. Some older white men in a white van. I saw a lot of blood on my hand but I had no idea where I was bleeding - nothing really hurt. I realized that my hand was cut up. Courtney got in the car and turned it off (it was still running). We got our purses and miraculously my cell phone was right outside the wreckage. I saw the smashed red bull can. It was crumpled.

Courtney told me that a deer was standing in the road and she had tried to swerve to avoid it and lost control. She barely even moved the steering wheel. We were in a rollover car wreck. I didn't see my life flash before my eyes, or a white light, or have any epiphanies. The cops and the ambulance came. The paramedics cleaned my hand and bandaged it and asked if I wanted to go to the hospital. I said no and they left. Right after they left my neck started hurting and my head and I felt like I couldn't do anything except lay down. I think my body was in a state of shock. I was shaking uncontrollably as Courtney and the cop started getting all of our belongings (our lives, three months) out of the car. All of our stuff was ok. I tried to sit up and everything was spinning out of control. The cops called the ambulance back and they looked at my head and neck and asked me some questions and they said they thought I would be ok but really sore. I didn't go to the hospital again. Which I'm really happy about because I didn't need to and the bills would have been horrible. I sat in the cop car and watched them get all of our stuff.

While sitting in the cop car I looked down and noticed that a lot of my hair was falling out and realized that I had cut my head on the windshield. I called a few people but then my phone went dead. The tow truck flipped the car and most of our stuff was put back into the car. They took it away. The cop dropped us off at a Super 8 Motel. My back hurt a lot. I took some baths and it felt better.

Courtney's mom came and got us the next day at about noon. We went to the auto shop and saw how smashed up the car was. It was literally totalled beyond any hope of repair. It was even more shocking seeing the car the next day and knowing that we were able to just get up and walk away from an accident like that. We are really lucky not to be dead right now. There was a black van in the garage that had gotten into a wreck in the same place on the highway that we did about a week prior. The towguy said that one of the people in that wreck didn't live.

We were five hours away from home. We've been gone three months and not gotten into an accident. What a way to finish this trip. I'm glad that we are both alive.

I have some pictures of the car that I might upload when I get the chance.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

The Phoenicia Diner in Upstate New York

New York, or "the city" as they call it

NEW YORK : a story of few pictures, because we were doing too much and having too much fun - and there are enough pictures of it already out there in the world anyway.

As we drove in...

going over the bridge

entering brooklyn

There were no signs to warn us, and they gave us a $45 ticket plus this hideous sticker on the car window that had to be scraped off with a razor blade and soapy hot water!

Katie's amazing backyard/garden area.

Katie's apartment, from the outside

Katie's apartment from the inside.

Unfortunately there aren't any more photos-- or they are on my disposable (gasp!) camera. There are no pictures of Coney Island, or Central Park, or Neal's apartment, or all the amazing food we ate (Korean, Indian, pizza, Greek), or Eli, or Jonny the librarian student, or walking around alphabet city, or going to les enfants terribles (an overpriced french bar/cafe in chinatown) or of all the great espresso we drank.


The Virginian countryside and self-portrait

Charlottesville, VA: Screening at Better Than TV

We were late to a screening for the first time. We didn't count on such bad traffic driving from Baltimore to Charlottesville. I guess we kind of forgot about the way that Washington D.C. makes traffic a nightmare for hundreds of miles in every direction. So we got into town at around 7:20 when the screening was supposed to begin at 7pm. Oops. No one really seemed to mind though. There was a good amount of people there (around 15).

The infoshop is called Better Than TV and it is located under the historic Jefferson Theater. It is a nice infoshop. They have a lot of space to work with and it has a very open, airy feel to it. It was interesting because it is located on a really successful pedestrian mall right in the middle of downtown charlottesville. They can afford the space because there is a darkroom that is a separate project that pays part of the rent, and also because there are some vendors on the mall that rent space from them and store their equipment there at night. It's a good location.

While the documentary played, Courtney and I walked around the pedestrian mall for a few minutes before deciding to purchase overpriced meager salads and eating on the patio/mall. We listened to college students talk about their plans for the summer then went back to Better Than TV for a Q & A session. After that we went to a nice teahouse and listened to old time music.

We ended up staying with a really nice woman named Julia who works at Better Than TV. While we were driving to her house we noticed a huge smoke cloud, smelled smoke, and then saw firetrucks racing in the direction of her house. We kept driving and the closer we got, the closer the smoke and fire trucks were. It turned out that there was a church on fire literally a couple of blocks from where she lived. We dropped the car off at her house and then walked down to watch the fire with the rest of the neighborhood (see my post about the Cortland, NY fire a few weeks ago). Everyone was out watching the smoke and talking. It was a real neighborhood gathering. Julia, who just recently moved to the neighborhood, actually ended up being able to met several neighbors who she hadn't known before. Word got passed around that it was the church (it had been uncertain what was burning). No one seemed to suspect foul play. The church had only recently been built in the last few years. Luckily no one had been inside when the fire started.

We went out to breakfast at this place called the Bluegrass Grill in the morning with Julia and two other people who work at Better Than TV. I got really pulpy orange juice. Then we drove Julia to work and headed to Richmond, VA.

Richmond, Virginia
I had a brief sojourn in Richmond about 3 years ago, when I moved in with my friends Davin and Neal for a couple of months. While I was there, we didn't really know anyone and mostly just hung out with each other, but got to see all kinds of amazing things. Richmond is a beautiful city with a lot of nice places to just hang out at. There were a few things that I thought Courtney should see, mostly: Hollywood Cemetary, Belle Isle, the 4th St. Cafe, Harrison St. Cafe, 17.5 coffeeshop, Carytown, the Byrd Theater, and The Farmer's market area.

the 17.5 coffeeshop was one of the best coffeeshops ever. It is on one side of the farmer's market square area (which historically, was the market for slave trading) and is very narrow and had a great upstairs with books. It was just a very calm, peaceful place with a great atmosphere and amazing espresso. We decided that the first thing we wanted to do was go get an espresso and then go from there. We walked up and saw the "for rent" sign and my heart sank. Who knows how long it had been gone, but it seemed like the whole area was more "developed" than it had been last time I was there. There were definitely more people around and more shops in the storefronts that had been mostly empty before. At the end of the block was a really fancy looking wine/coffee gourmet bistro place. They had free wifi so we decided to just go in there and get coffee and use the internet.

The "Revitalization" of Richmond? Live, Work, Play?

I picked up the free alternative weekly newspaper (called "Style") inside the restaurant and was amazed with the first story that I encountered upon opening the paper: It was about the revitalization of downtown Richmond and how "urban living" is becoming hip. They were talking in particular about how the traditionally working-class, mostly white neighborhood Oregon Hill, was now "up and coming" - i.e. in the process of being gentrified. They had a couple of stories about former suburbanites that had decided they wanted the edginess of "city-living" - so they bought a huge historic house in Oregon Hill for quite a bit of money (for that neighborhood) and renovated the whole thing. Prices on homes in the area are starting to shoot up and people who had lived there are probably being pushed out already.

It's the same story all over again, in a different city.

This process of gentrifciation, revitalization, pseudo-new urbanism- whatever you want to call it, is happening everywhere. There was also a story about a suburban couple that bought an "urban condo" with great views of the James River. The title of the story is "goodbye suburbs!"
Here are some key excerpts that I found illuminating:
"While it’s obvious Debra is meticulous, she’s also willing to take risks. And that’s just what the Youngs did when they put a contract on one of the Riverside condos sight unseen. They were the fourth set of buyers to purchase a unit in the building, and they reserved a desirable corner apartment with a view to the west on the ninth floor (there are 10 floors altogether)."

"While the coal trains going by have at times been “a wake-up experience” for Roger, he says he’s getting used to them. “The biggest difference in space for me is the lack of putzing-around areas,” he says. “You’ve got to keep things organized.”

"Where there isn’t a window, there’s a mirror reflecting a window. The sliding glass doors that lead to the balcony are open and a breeze blows in. The occasional coal train rattles by below. It’s city living in a setting unique to Richmond, with old smokestacks in the distance and kayakers maneuvering the rapids below."

It's interesting how the paper chose to interview these urban settlers about their new homes and their new urban experiences instead of interviewing someone who has lived in downtown Richmond for years about their opinion on the changes that are happening all over the city. I was trying to find out more information about the gentrifiction of Richmond and stumbled upon this website that looks very interesting:

It is one man's narrative about his time living in Oregon Hill and personal experiences and it discusses the history of the Oregon Hill neighborhood, racism, the gentrifiction process and the role of VCU (Virginia Commonwelath University) in changing the neighborhood. It is part of larger website for a group of people in support of reparations.

I also stumbled upon this interesting website/tool called Community Mapping. It can be used to figure out what parts of neighborhoods are most likely to face gentrification, and why. (i.e. what parts of the land are most desirable or valuable, who might want to use it and why). When people have this information, they might be able to actually do something about it.

"Community mapping provides equitable development practitioners with accurate and unique information, effective visual tools, and the ability to understand and share their own experience in the context of their changing environment. Community mapping is powerful because of its capacity to democratize information-both what is recorded and who has access to it. When presented well, maps have the power to convey complicated information and relationships in a straightforward, accessible manner, enabling non-experts to participate meaningfully in community planning and advocacy."

Of course, maps can be used to manipulate information in a way that takes power out of the hands of people living in neighborhoods undergoing rapid change... mapping systems are already used by developers to figure these things out.

Here is the link:

Interestingly, the people who we hung out with in charlottesville were also talking about how there is a lot of development going on in their neighborhood and how they might start a development watch group. Julia, who we stayed with was even talking about mapping out areas that have been in the process of being developed so that people could at least know what is going on.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The American Visionary Art Museum

self-portrait at the American Visionary Art Museum (outside of building)

Baltimore, MD, Red Emma's and
the American Visionary Art Museum.

We left Philadelphia and headed to Baltimore, MD, the city where our roommate Hillary went to college. We weren't really sure what to except of Baltimore. I've been there a couple times before but only in a very passing-through kind of way. We had everything set up to show the documentary at Red Emmas, a coffeeshop/bookstore/infoshop place in this really busy commercial district. (the Mount Vernon Neighborhood)

They have an amazing sign of Emma Goldman on the front of the business. It is only about a year old but it looks amazing. They did all kinds of construction themselves and fixed it up really nice. It's the kind of place where people just walking down the street will stop in for a cup of coffee and then maybe look at the information and books on sale and maybe get into a conversation. It seemed really successful, judging by the brief time that we were in the space.

The really cool thing about Red Emma's is that they were very careful about planning their business plan and have set things up so that it is a real worker-run collective and they are even able to pay themselves (the people that work there). We walked around the neighborhood a little bit while the documentary played and got in touch with Hillary's old college friend Caryn, who was nice enough to let us stay with her.

Her girlfriend Leslie and she live together and they told us about a great place to check out while we were in Baltimore, called the American Visionary Art Museum.

The building itself.
(notice the construction in the background. more lofts?)

It was the best experience I have ever had in a museum. They have all art produced by self-taught artists that the curators consider "visionary art." It was amazing.

A decorated tree outside the museum.

Here is what they have to say on their website:

"Visionary art as defined for the purposes of the American Visionary Art Museum refers to art produced by self-taught individuals, usually without formal training, whose works arise from an innate personal vision that revels foremost in the creative act itself." The German origin of the word "folk," or volk, suggests "of the people." The term "folk art" can be applied in the broadest sense: it's art of or by the people. At AVAM, we don't define visionary art as "folk art," or even "contemporary folk art," principally because organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts rightfully define folk art as art coming out of a specifically identifiable tradition. Folk art is "learned at the knee" and passed from generation to generation, or through established cultural community traditions, like Hopi Native Americans making Kachina dolls, sailors making macramé, and the Amish making hex signs. The "contemporary folk art" label isn't appropriate for AVAM either, since we like to show works created by self-taught artists who may have lived hundreds of years ago, alongside work that may have been created last year. The exhibition themes we choose to explore are, thus, innately timeless -with the power to inspire human beings in highly personal acts of creation. Unlike folk art, visionary art is entirely spontaneous and individualized.

The current exhibit was called "Race, Class, Gender, (doesn't equal) Character." There were so many amazing pieces by different artists, usually using found, discarded materials. The pieces were usually intensely personal and place-based. We spent three hours in there and didn't even notice the time passing. I can't rave enough about this museum.

There was also this really cool thing that was part of the permanent collection about the Baltimore-based folk art of "screen painting." There would usually be a screenpainter in each neighborhood. It began in 1913 by William Octavec. It is the phenomenon of painting window screens in order to beautify shop windows but still allow air into the building, and also to offer privacy to homes/shops. It took off and became a real tradition in Baltimore. We watched a short documentary about it. Neither of us had ever even heard about this....

The ring I got in the museum gift shop.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


We got to Philadelphia on Sunday night, leaving the splendor of New York City, (or "THE city" as the call it in New York) behind us. New York was fun. We stayed with our friend Katie, who lives in Brooklyn. We did things like go to Coney Island and Central Park and stuff ourselves with delicious food. There was no screening in New York, although we had intended to do something at Bluestockings, it just didn't work out.

On Sunday night we were supposed to have been doing a screening at the A-Space but then realized that it probably wasn't going to happen considering that Courtney hadn't gotten a response on email from the person setting it up in months (and also we weren't on their calendar on their website ). So we went to my friend Davin's apartment and walked downtown to go to Kingdom of Vegetarians, a famous vegan mockmeat Chinese restaurant. We stuffed ourselves and then walked back to her apartment.

The next day Monday, May 1, was our screening at Temple University. I had been pretty excited about doing something here because the person setting it up was this guy Juris who I contacted on the Space and Place listserv that I'm on. I had asked him a while ago if he thought that he might be able to set something up or knew of a student group that might be interested in sponsoring us. He suggested the Graduate Association of Visual Anthropologists. This was the first time on the entire trip that the people sponsoring us were officially associated with anthropology at all. The response from the people who came was definitely different in a noticable way. It was actually nice to get questions about ethnography and the way that we conducted our "fieldwork" and questions about how we incorporated theory into our documentary.

It was also nice because we got to meet this woman Courtney, a grad student in the visual anthropology department who helped do a lot of the work to help bring us to campus. She showed us around the media lab and showed us her short film that she did while in Tokyo that kind of juxtaposes the craziness of modern everyday life in Tokyo with the traditional art of caligraphy.

The discussion after the screening actually went better than I think it has in a while. People just seemed genuinly interested in our project and they had things to say, opinions to contribute, etc.

It was also nice because we got to see James from the Wooden Shoe, who we interviewed for the movie. He came to the screening and invited us to go get a beer with him afterward. It was nice to talk to him and hear about how the Wooden Shoe has changed over the course of two years and how his thoughts on the project have changed. Hopefully today we'll get a chance to stop by the wooden shoe and take a look at it for ourselves to see how it has changed.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Upstate New York and the beginning of spring

Upstate New York:
fragments of a region, as told through photos

It's a beautiful region, especially at this time of year. We spent a few days driving around Upstate New York around the Catskills, after screening the documentary at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie and Bard College in Annondale-on-Hudson.

Here are some photos:

At the historic mansion near Bard College (we don't know what it was exactly and there was no signage explaining who it belonged to).

sunset in New Paltz, NY

At an amazingly decorated mexican restaurant in Hudson, NY (supposedly the "next Hamptons").

3 doors in Hudson, New York.

a strange boarded up building with art covering it in Hudson, NY