Last night I might have spoken a bit too fast when I said that Paris was finally sunny. Though I have not felt any raindrops today, the sky has been decidedly grey and the few rays of sunlight that have managed to come through had to fight a hardy battle to push through the fluffy layer of clouds.
It might seem a bit off-topic to insist on commenting on the weather when, really, this post is meant to concentrate on what I discovered when I visited the 6B, an art center in the parisian suburb of Saint Denis but, I swear, there is a link.
You see, during my conversation with Julien Beller, the founder and director of the space, a lot of time was spent talking about the way the 6B is becoming and increasingly strong influence in the city of Saint Denis, as well as the cultural scene of the Paris area. “Ça rayonne” was the expression that kept being repeated: it shines.
The use of that word is not a manifestation of its founder’s arrogance; the verb “rayonner,” to shine, is actually the given term used in French to describe the repercussions of one entity’s energy on others. When used to talk about the 6B, that verb takes on an even stronger signification.
This space was not created to be the CoolHipArtsy place for Paris. Beller found the location, worked out a deal with the owner to rent a small part of the building then called up his friends to see who would want to be part of the project. It was just born out of a simple desire to work together. As Beller says,
I really couldn’t have cared less about speaking to people who lived in Paris itself. I didn’t come here thinking, ‘We need a new spot, it needs to be bringing in a ton of people, all the parigots [Paris-only minded people] have to be here as well as famous artists…’ I just wanted a space that had meaning and fulfilled the community’s needs. Turns out a lot of Paris people came and found a second wind because they had room to work, they met new people… Since we opened a lot of people have ended up moving to Saint Denis, but others still just come here to work, sometimes after a commute of an hour and 30 minutes.
That genuine and organic gathering of like-minded people really does turn the 6B into a bright spot in the neighbourhood. The walls of the pathway along the water that leads you to the center is covered in colourful graffiti and the little signs pointing the way, thus reassuring you that you’re not just walking to a dead end–before seeing the building, I could just see a lock on the canal in the distance, convincing me I’d gone the wrong way–are in fun, pastel colored paint and written in a soft, round-lettered font.
You truly get a sense of how unique the place is when you actually enter inside the gates and are face to face with the Fabrique à Rêves (or Dream Factory), a large outdoor installation made to host concerts, performances, and playful activities of all kinds. This is where you’ll see the residents getting lunch on warm, sunny days as well as the sheep of the sheep barn and the guerilla vegetable patches!
The 6B also shines a new light on an area often dismissed because it still carries the burden of a violent, drug-filled past and the feeling that its population, often of humble or immigrant background, was never made to feel like they belonged. With his constant desire to integrate the many and to fill the gaps in the resources offered by cities, Julien Beller and his crew managed, through their work at the 6B, to ignite a new fire in the area by giving it a place where homegrown culture could grown and radiate far beyond the borders it was once confined in.
For more info, visit www.6b.org.
With NYU always boasting about how many study abroad sites it has, it’s somewhat ironic that Citywide’s programming has stayed so New York-centric. However, the reason why the show is expanding to France a bit for the summer has nothing to do with study abroad. I’m just one of those lucky people who get to call Paris home and since I’m here for the next three months, I want to ensure I’m doing something fun.
Here are some pictures I took during Saturday’s Paris edition of European Museum Night, when museums, galleries and cultural centers opened their doors until the late night hours for people to rediscover permanent collections and admire some special exhibits for the evening.
For a little more on exactly what I did, you can listen below:
The Rodin Museum and its jardins à la française:
The line at the Louvre:
On to the Museum of Public Assistance:
More from Paris later!
Filed under: Art, Literature, Theater | Tags: calypso, Lucas Green, paul rome, roarke menzies, the bushwick starr
While I wish I could give this show the original write-up it deserves, I regret that school has sapped all my time away. Alas! Fortunately my interview with Paul Rome and Roarke Menzies, two original artists living and working in Brooklyn speaks for itself. It is evident from the way they speak about it that their new collaboration comes from deep thought and deep emotion. From talking to them, they got me excited for the deep thought and emotion I will feel as an audience member when they stage their performance of Calypso from May 9th to May 12th at The Bushwick Starr (207 Starr st.).
Calypso, written by Rome with music by Menzies and performed by both, weaves a narrative of modern romance in New York City evoking the classic myths in Homer’s The Odyssey and The Aeneid by Virgil, which have endured as Western Culture consistently finds itself confronting the same preoccupations they address. The ‘literary performance’ distills the art of oral story-telling in the way these ancient myths originally proliferated with the modern adaptations to the art we now see in popular story-based radio broadcasts like This American Life. Rome and Menzies present the rare opportunity for audiences to sit together and react together to live drama in a space that is designed to facilitate a quality listening experience without the awareness of the outside world. It stands apart from traditional appeal as the two performers present an extremely aesthetic that gives room for the spectator to imagine a drama in the most subjective way possible. If you love listening to stories on the radio, or podcasts, or having someone close read to you, imagine an environment that allows you to completely dive into and get absorbed by the story you’re hearing. Imagine also the added energy of the people around you sharing the same experience and the people on stage focused into delivering that experience in the best way possible. It’s a real treat.
Also, if you are interested in “The You Trilogy” which they mention in our conversation, you can listen to it here. I highly recommend it and it might just tell you what you have in store for you at Calypso.
May 9-12, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Tickets: $10 in advance; $15 at the door
The Bushwick Starr
207 Starr Street (btwn Wyckoff and Irving)
L Train to Jefferson Ave.
May 9-12, 2012 at 8:00 PM
Tickets: $10 in advance; $15 at the door
The Bushwick Starr
207 Starr Street (btwn Wyckoff and Irving)
L Train to Jefferson Ave.
Filed under: Activism, Art, Life!, Literature, New York City, Opinion, Theater | Tags: bushwick, Flako, Lucas Green, Modesto Jimenez, Oye para mi querido brooklyn, starr
Gentrification from the perspective of a recent Bushwick resident-
Gentrification is a subject usually approached with the utmost trepidation. The discussion is ambiguous and laden with guilt prone to implicate anyone who walks through the minefield this conversation is. It’s hard to fault anyone involved-
-Who can blame the gentrification for trying to find a cheap place to live? Who can blame them for trying to open up businesses in the area in order to make a living?
-Who can blame the people who grew up in the area for feeling resentful as they watch their culture slip away, their rent and grocery bills skyrocket, the physical features of their neighborhood morph into something new?
-Who can blame the city government for sending more police to a neighborhood with high crime rates?
-Who can blame the business owners and the real estate owners for charging higher prices as a more moneyed population enters their realm? (…lots of people probably, still a grey area though)
Each of these groups have righteous reasons to perform the actions I just enumerated and are some of the more broad and most recognizable features of gentrification. We may also suspect that each of these groups have more dubious agendas. However, it is unproductive and possibly damaging to the question of gentrification to project any agenda (especially the suspicious ones) to categories of people because they are formed by individuals with unique motivations in life and moral values.
Still, we can identify trends and attempt to understand its causes and effects in order to learn our own personal role and, from there, consider what can be done and avoided to minimize the negative effects and capitalize on the positive potential gentrifiers like me can bring to a community.
Low rent attracts the “gentrification,” in part formed by non-natives looking for the cheapest place to live that still has a connection to the larger city they came to work and exist in. These might include college-grads, students, young professionals, artists who can’t afford to live in Manhattan. They make the neighborhood a hip and exciting destination for artists and musicians who are followed by chic coffee shops and brunch cafés, pop-up galleries and yoga studios, which come with people who have money. At least, this is what I gather as a member of the gentrification who (like almost everyone else in the same boat) has trouble feeling comfortable with it. This blog post is written from that general perspective. I love the artistic environment Bushwick, my home for now, provides and its potential for something even greater. First though, the problems this exciting art scene brings with it are very real, but, based on conversations with individuals such as Modesto “Flako” Jimenez, they are not insurmountable and will only prove to be truly damaging if the complexity of gentrification continues to prevent us from addressing it. There is little I can say about rising living costs except that I am grateful to have an affordable place to call home. I can also attempt to contribute to the economy of the community by buying my goods and groceries at local stores rather than carting them in on the L train. There is however a powerful social dynamic which each person living in the community has a place in regardless of choice.
A quick glance at Bushwick’s history informs that, like most any neighborhood in New York, its majority population has at various times been composed of several different ethnicities. Italian, African-American, Mexican, Caribbean. The relatively small area has indeed been gentrified several times. While there is certainly a racial element to the current gentrification, characterizing the issue as “white” people coming in and taking over an “hispanic” neighborhood is only partially true in this case and does nothing really other than contribute to the Us&Them mentality that slows down progress and creates barriers between people that don’t need to be there. We (any member of the community) see who people who dress and speak in unrelatable ways and we prescribe them as ‘the other.’ Whenever these barriers grow up, two things can happen. For some the other becomes invisible. People pass each other on the street without making eye contact, goods are exchanged at the bodega, but not words. The alternative is that the other is seen, but as a threat. Eye contact occurs, but it is intimidating or suspicious. This is the more unfortunate scenario because it involves a certain volatility. Sooner or later contact has to be made between people who co-exist, if we address these issues, this contact could be one of acceptance and appreciation and not intimidation or dominance.
I just can’t reconcile that scenario.
I’m simplifying a portion of one of the problems in order to start working toward a solution. This isn’t to say that the problem is in fact simple, just that we can start resolving it if we work hard to figure out what it is. It might take a while, even if we all determine to be understanding and welcoming to each other. I’ll close my part with something that happened to me weeks ago that I can’t stop thinking about. I was walking out of the bodega after grabbing some beer and some popcorn (probably) and I nearly bump into a man coming into the store. Instinctively I said “permiso” as I passed him. I sometimes try to use Spanish in the deli both for practice and out of consideration. But I was taken aback when I heard a nearby woman ask the man, “why did you let him speak to you like that?”
I felt terrible. Then the man said “Noooooooo, he was being respectful.” I’m still confused about that and still worried about offending the people who live around me who I have no reason to offend. It seems that, though we may sometimes treat one another like we’re invisible, nobody ever is.
These thoughts and feelings have been developing inside me since I moved to Bushwick almost two years ago. For the past few weeks I’ve focused a couple Citywide episodes on the neighborhood because of the amazing work that takes place there and its astonishing diversity. I didn’t really consider the meeting point of arts in the neighborhood and gentrification until i saw this video-
This is a visual rendering of Modesto “Flako” Jimenez’s poem “Bushwick, Brooklyn” from his new book of autobiographical poetry ¡Oye! Para mi querido Brooklyn or Listen! For my Dear Brooklyn. It is a lyrical collection of experiences in English and Spanish he had growing up as an immigrant in Bushwick and what he saw change after he spent a short time a way. For the release of his book two weeks ago, Flako and some of his fellow artists arranged a reading as “an ode to Bushwick in all its richness, a night of music, theater, film, and art on the themes of immigration, gentrification and survival..” at the Bushwick Starr. It took me off guard in a really good way. That night longtime Bushwick residents and more recent residents performed on that stage both in English and Spanish for a crowd composed both people who grew up in Bushwick and people who had moved there. Everyone laughed at the same time, shared the same silence, ate and drank the same dishes together afterward and celebrated what they had shared together. It was just happy.
Flako later met me in Maria Hernandez Park and gave me his impression on the change taking place in his home. Flako moved into the neighborhood at a very young age and grew up in a much grittier Bushwick than exists today. He grew up on a deeply rooted gang culture, when drugs brought the danger of violence, disease, addiction, and police officers. He saw many of his peers and classmates falling into this dangerous lifestyle as a means of survival. Flako may have been destined for the same, but he says that a school teacher named Steven Haff, who operates Still Waters in a Storm, singled him out and introduced him to a world of literature and theater. Flako found a passion that took him to university in Vermont where he found a world that looked nothing like the one he had always lived in. By the time he came back to Bushwick a little over ten years ago he was shocked to see that the undergraduate culture he’d become accustomed to in Vermont had found its way into his own neighborhood.
After seeing his performance and talking to him for nearly an hour, I started to get an idea of some of the things he had noticed. That the fear people have of others in this neighborhood comes from very surface differences. And that if we can find common ground in the arts the way Modesto was able to facilitate at the Bushwick Starr, maybe the fear can start to fade and a strong community begin to develop. We can be thankful to people like Modesto and the people who operate the Bushwick Starr that they are raising interest for arts in the community that can be shared by everyone. We can also be grateful to organizations like Still Waters in a Storm and El Puente that inspire children to appreciate the arts, to discover the world and their own potential along with it. You can help.
Please let me know if I’m off base.
This is my conversation with Modesto “Flako” Jimenez. Hear him tell his story in his own words. They’re much more interesting than my words-
Filed under: Art, Film, Music, New York City | Tags: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Lady Jaye, Lucas Green, Marie Losier, Psychic TV, PTV3, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye
A career in the creative arts sounds like paradise to most people. Very few of us alive today would say no to the life of a career rock star or bulletproof film actor. Lives which come free from accountability to any hierarchy or authority. At the very same time, just as few people would begrudge the gift of virtuosity in any art. Prodigious skill in and passion for a form of personal expression has the power to distill just about all exterior needs both social and physical. These are life-styles we dream of living because of the amount of freedom they entail. The person who is fluent in his craft and idolized for it seems to have the best of the world, unhampered by responsibility to anybody but himself.
Unfortunately, the likelihood of achieving either of these lifestyles is little to none and crossover between the two is so low as to be negligible. As such, modern society acculturates the individual to disregard the dream of true freedom by projecting images of truly free lifestyles only in the unattainable glory of the rich and the famous. Freedom becomes redefined on a baser level. The level at which freedom comes to be conceptualized with age is far far lower than the one presented at birth. It only takes a little bit of living to come to think that freedom is something that has to be earned rather than something everybody actually has all the time.
Personally, I know I am embittered in this paradigm. I would love to go about free-wheeling all over the place just as much as the best and worst of us, but a part of me feels certain that this is an unsustainable fantasy– that I must work for someone, and, so doing, earn the right to strategically fulfill my desires. If I were stopped on the street and asked what I could hope for that would improve my life in a realistic way, I (in my impending post-graduate ongoing fugue) would expound on the dream of getting a job doing something I love and that represents my soul like making movies or talking about them. Earning money making freelance videos or editorials appears the ideal lifestyle for me because I can keep afloat, have fun, and express myself in the way I am naturally inclined to.
This is an enormous problem for me and the rest of the world.
We all looks for ways to stay alive as long as possible while being the people we wish to be, performing the actions we wish to incite, producing the entities we wish to exist. And we fight for it in each our own way. The problem is that the fulfilling these drives, the catharsis of self-discovery and the true actualization of personal affixations gets confused with what we can produce and contribute to everyone else. For a lot of people, it is unsatisfying to act and behave naturally without the approval of others. For them it is almost impossible to achieve self-discovery and definitely impossible to achieve transcendence (either over the self or the system).
Consider then Genesis Breyer P-Orridge of Throbbing Gristle, Psychic TV, PTV3, and the new documentary “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye” (screening in New York now at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas). Genesis’s life is not contingent on opportunity or production, although (s)he is extremely prolific in a multitude of media. Rather, the life of Genesis is contingent on living and the confrontations life itself proposes such as identity, inspiration, experimentation, and (most powerfully) love.
By most standards, breaking boundaries and experimenting entails a person inducing a new creation, product, or idea which may or may not illuminate new ontological possibilities. Genesis in this respect accomplished much in the realms of music, video, and performance, but (s)he also conducted a major experiment exploring what it is just to be a human being and what it is to love another. This is manifested in the mutual devotion of Genesis and Lady Jaye who each felt so strongly for one another that they both underwent surgery to be more alike.
These two people weren’t trying to create something new for the rest of the world to try and appreciate. That would be a participation in a feedback system which places an intrinsic barrier on a person’s freedom. Rather, these two people were trying to be something new in order to fulfill their love for one another. They weren’t performing an experiment on the capacity of the human being to produce, they were performing an experiment on the capacity of the human being to fully exist.
Lady Jaye Breyer died in 2007, but Genesis Breyer P-Orridge continues living with the part of Lady Jaye (s)he had absorbed before Lady Jaye passed away. Both as individuals accomplished a great deal of art in their life time, but their greatest achievement is their love which no one else in this world will share, but which nonetheless makes the world a much better place. This is what needs to be talked about.
A new movie was recently released about the love of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Lady Jaye. It is called The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye and it is currently playing at Chelsea Clearview Cinemas in
New York City as well as many other places around the world. The film features interviews and archival footage of PTV3, Genesis, Lady Jaye, and their experiences touring and performing along the globe. The style and composition of the film itself is in line with the aesthetic and ideology embodied by this love story making its occasional moments of incoherency worthy of appreciation.Here is the interview I conducted with the director of the film, Marie Losier (a remarkable and ingenuitive film artist herself), as well as Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in person. Listen and hear us discuss how it was making this film in such dramatic and personal times along with an emotional first-hand account by Genesis of the stories (s)he experienced in the span of time the film covers. God it’s beautiful.
This is the interview-
If you don’t feel like listening to the interview, listen to this song by Psychic TV. You’ll like it-
This is the trailer-
Filed under: Art, Literature, Music, New York City, Projects, Theater | Tags: Lucas Green, Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., Mykki Blanco
Underground art in the little town of New York City has a natural propensity to become mainstream art for the big old World. There are two very important reasons for this. The first lies in the intrinsic material make-up of the city. Anyone who lives and works in this city has almost immediate access to the majority of what man-kind can make or could ever make. In this way the city itself is a canvas as well as a bottomless trove of resources and materials. The city harmonizes beautifully with artists because almost any landscape, any tool, any surface, and (most importantly) any person can be found here. This is the second reason. Though I am reluctant to bring humanity down to the mathematical model we can apply to the physical world, it might help in this sense. In addition to every combination of artificial creations, New York City also houses nearly every permutation of the nature of individual human beings that has existed to this point and whose constant interaction perpetually produces new interests and new goals for the individual. Here we find all the billions of combinations of interests, levels of ambition, ethnicity, gender, will, identification, and pure brilliance. There are countless other factors into the emotional/physical/intellectual composition of a human being and most of them haven’t been placed together thus far. But people have a strong proclivity for detecting corresponding elements in others and it is this tendency which leads to the greatest work, expression, and fulfillment. It is what motivates us to know people and also to know about the world. This is why New York City is one of the greatest places to produce art today; because these things happen. Any person with an idea they want to see manifested, if they have enough will, can go to New York City and find nearly everything they need to make it happen and nearly all the people who will dig it enough to help.
Of course it’s important to stress the “nearly” because there is a third reason that people either like to hide or to forget. One way or another it tends to get obscured. Inspiration. New York has a lot of it, but only because the city attracts it. It is the most essential cause for any artistic environment that has ever developed. It cannot be quantified, predicted, or contrived. It can only be harnessed.
This week, Citywide featured Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. (aka Mykki Blanco). Mykki is a person who creates art taking full advantage of what I just said makes New York City a great place for artists. Mykki possesses the faculties to channel inspiration in a very pure way and then express it with fervor. In the interview, Mykki tells me about growing up knowing who he was and that he was different from others and not caring. He’s had the very unique opportunity for most of his life to be honest with his family and peers and therefore be honest with others in his artistic expression.
At this point I should be describing Mykki’s body of work, but,as he brings up in the interview, it’s not something you can define as a body because it takes extremely varied forms. In fact, I’m not even sure if I should be using male or female pronouns to refer to Mykki since he performs dressed either as a man or a woman. That’s sort of the idea though. I can’t think even of a reason to assign a title to Mykki’s gender, which for most people is a basic factor of identity. Similarly, you can’t say that Mykki is a writer, rapper, singer, visual artist, poet, stylist, or actor. He’s all of those and especially a performer.
Mykki became known after publishing a book of poetry under the name of Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. entitled From the Silence of Marcel Duchamp to the Noise of Boys. He also performs his/her poetry and raps under the name of Mykki Blanco. His work takes many more forms and is continuing to grow in the arenas of music and video.
This is what I mean about him taking advantage of New York City’s resources. It’s very hard to take part in so many different forms of expression, but the city facilitates it for those who are motivated. It’s inspiration that makes it possible though. Mykki is also lucky to be working a community of people who get it.
The interview has him talking about his development as in artist, entering the New York art world and observing it’s changes, and the experiences of producing art in New York. It’s really good!
This is a sample of Mykki’s rapping:
But you should also listen to the interview-
Filed under: Art, New York City, Projects | Tags: Animus, astor place, cable ties, Collective, environment impact, Flaming Cactus, Lucas Green
The first incarnation of The Flaming Cactus installation appeared in Astor Place at the beginning of August. Seeing it for the first time, you don’t really know what to make of it, only that it seems glad. It’s a piece of art that doesn’t necessarily produce complex emotions (you either love it or you hate it), but it does make you stop and think. The piece is made up of several of Astor Place’s very own lampposts curtained with thousands of multi-colored cable ties. What’s perplexing is the astounding simplicity of how a clever use of vibrant sympathies can inspire any emotion at all.
Overall, the installation is a cheerful expression that causes passer-by to lift their heads, if just for a second, and see something bright and colorful in place of steely-gray. Though a great deal of plastic is used in the installation, the fact that it reaches thousands of people each day should be enough to justify it considering the other items plastic is wasted on, even if only 1/10 of those people are effected. Regardless, after investigating further into the arts collective that erected The Flaming Cactus, I discovered they had done so in a way so as to minimize the environment impact. Each zip-tie is indeed still usable and currently remains in joyful stasis as art, rather than languishing in packaging.
Of course the installation in Astor Place has been up for about half a year now, but I wanted to find out more about the people who invest their time into making art like this and how they go about showing it to the public. I found The Animus Arts Collective. They’re a group of variously skilled DIY manufacturers of large scale sculpture. Previous work has included enormous glowing trees, a massive wooden mobius strip, and others which also generally involve a factor of spectator participation. Images of these are available on their website. Animus seems to have a special drive that makes them so prolific and so able to gather participation from every direction. It’s probably because of this that they are able to push forward on such ambitious work so often.
I wanted to get closer to the process of Animus Arts Collective. Soon after I contacted them for an interview, I discovered they had another iteration of The Flaming Cactus springing up in Tribeca. I followed them around interviewing them over a couple of weekends as we strung some 30,000 zip-ties together and strung them around lamp posts. Listen to the interview if you want to learn more about how it was done.