Scary Cities: The Urban as Protagonist / Antagonist in Horror Films

The Georgetown ‘Exorcist Steps’

It’s October, which means only two things: Halloween, and horror films.

Within the genre of horror, cities play an active role as settings, characters, and themes. In William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ (1973), Georgetown, Washington (DC) is the setting of a demonic possession. But the city takes on a greater role, as Friedkin’s demon pulses through its Catholic infrastructures (the Jesuit namesake university, churches), and the infamous stairwell which animates the film’s visceral defenestration-finale (spoiler).

In Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (1968) it is New York City which serves as the backdrop of demonic activity, but, more importantly, a specific building: The Dakota, an exclusive Victorian apartment building. In the film, The Dakota casts dark shadows over not only Central Park, but the lives of the characters living within it, including Rosemary (Mia Farrow). Famous residents of The Dakota have included John Lennon and the actress Lauren Bacall. John Lennon’s assassination in 1980 was, some have suggested, to do with the demonic vortex The Dakota represents.

The Dakota, Central Park West, New York

‘Candyman’, first released in 1992 (Bernard Rose) and re-made in 2021 (Nia DaCosta), may be the most urban of urban horror films in the way it directly engages with themes of urban semiotics, racial injustice, housing injustice, neighborhood development, displacement and change, and place-identity. The original film was set in the notorious Cabrini Green public housing estate in Chicago’s African-American West Side; the remake (2021) is set in a now-redeveloped Cabrini Green, which has been demolished and redeveloped into a row-house neighborhood. In Candyman, historical racial / spatial injustice comes raging into the present through the murderous monster ‘Candyman’, conjured by saying the name once, twice, thrice, into the mirror. Gentrification and development are dangerous. Very dangerous.

Cities have always been scary. Georg Simmel (1976[1903]) wrote of the anxiety and dread of electrified, fast-paced, industrial urban modernity, the “…intensification of nervous stimulation which results from the swift and uninterrupted change of outer and inner stimuli.” The modern city, for Simmel, was a nervous place, an anxious place, a spooky place. Picking up on the idea of the spectral, or the haunted, Walter Benjamin (1927-1940) denoted the capitalist, commodified city as a “phantasmagoria”, likening the experience of drifting through Parisian shopping-scapes to watching a parade of ghosts (Cohen, 1989:90), a sort of troubling dream, a half-waking nightmare.

The urban nightmare, or phantasmagoric-experience ,is a common motif in horror films. In John Carpenter’s ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ slasher series (1980s), sleep itself is death, when the monster Freddy Krueger comes to terrorize. Staying alive, in these films, means not sleeping. Staying awake to avoid Freddy slowly leads to a perpetual half-sleep, a hazy dream-state, where the city’s sunshine is filtered in a menacing, hallucinagenic sepia.

Perhaps most troubling within urban horror is the role of the suburb, which takes a primary role across the genre as a space of alienation, loneliness, vulnerability. It is in the suburb that horror is able to be rendered so familiar, so close to home, and so terrifying. In 2018’s ‘Hereditary’ (Ari Aster), a family is terrorized by demonic possession in an un-named, affluent suburb: scenes take place in shopping center parking lots, pleasant-looking schools, and architect-designed log-mansions. These symbols of safety, security and class-comfort are ripped away as a satanic cult destroys a family from the inside-out.

House from ‘The Grudge’ (Japan)

While these examples have been North American films, it would seem there are cross-cultural convergences. ‘The Grudge’, for example, a Japanese horror franchise first released in 2002 as ‘Ju-On: The Grudge’ (Takashi Shimizu) and subsequently remade in Hollywood-style (2004 and 2020), has a decidedly suburban-slant to it. The house of horror is not a Tokyo high-rise, but a low-slung suburban home surrounded by dark forest. Similarly, in Bong Joon-ho’s 2019 ‘Parasite’, (sort of a horror film, sort of not), a suburban mansion contains horrific secrets, in an oasis within high-density Seoul.

Cities, to conclude, induce screams.

References:

Benjamin, Walter. [1927–1940] 1999a. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cohen, M. (1989). Walter Benjamin’s Phantasmagoria. New German Critique, 48, 87–107. https://doi.org/10.2307/488234

Simmel, Georg (1976[1903]) The Metropolis and Mental Life: The Sociology of Georg Simmel‘ New York: Free Press.

Cities Under Stress: Urban Discourses of Crisis, Resilience, Resistance, and Renewal

Cities Under Stress: Urban Discourses of Crisis, Resilience, Resistance, and Renewal The Third International Conference of the Association for Literary Urban Studies (ALUS) University of California, Santa Barbara on 17–19 February 2022.
Deadline for submissions: September 1
Conference website: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/hlc-n/2022-conference/

Keynote speakers:

Caroline Levine (Department of English, Cornell U)
Sara Meerow (School of Geographical Science & Urban Planning, Arizona State U)

We invite proposals for contributions at the third international conference of ALUS, scheduled to take place at the University of California, Santa Barbara on 17–19 February 2022. Following earlier successful meetings in Tampere, Finland (2017) and Limerick, Ireland (2019), and sessions at the Modern Language Association Convention (MLA) in both 2020 and 2021, ALUS now organizes its first event in North America.

This conference explores the theme of crisis and response as conveyed in cultural representations of urbanity. We welcome contributions that take up any aspect of or perspective on urban crisis and response, working on any period or genre of literature, from any linguistic tradition. Proposals are invited for individual 20-minute papers or multi-paper panels that in some way work with the theme of urban crisis and response.

The 2020-21 pandemic has led to widespread speculation about how cities will change over the decades to come in response to the vulnerabilities of urban populations exposed by the virus. Other recent events have foregrounded the various roles that cities play as sites of political contestation and social conflict. These include the recent unrest over structural inequalities and police violence (in the USA and around the world), debates over public symbols of cultural memory (as in Bristol, UK), protests against gentrification (as in Berlin), and anti-inequality or pro-democracy demonstrations (as in Santiago, Hong Kong and Cairo). Meanwhile, the nexus of existential threats associated with climate change has lent even greater urgency to the question of how cities must evolve, and whether they can do so in ways that promote more sustainable, equitable, and socially cohesive modes of existence.

Of course, these are hardly the first events to have made cities face the possibility of profound and irrevocable change, nor is this the first time that fears of contagion, violence, and other threats have been concentrated on cities. Only in dialogue with the many profound changes of earlier historical moments can the present moment become explicable, a process in which the humanities have a crucial role to play. Papers concerning literary representations of numerous other crisis moments in the cities of the past are therefore warmly welcomed for this conference.

The triumphalist tone that much urban theory took on at the end of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first is being heard less. Now, it seems, is a time for recognition of profound uncertainty, a time for learning from the numerous crises cities have overcome in the past. In particular, it is a time for awareness of the particular challenges facing peripheral cities, shrinking cities, and cities in the Global South. And yet, as the United Nations’ New Urban Agenda of 2017 asserts, “If well-planned and well-managed, urbanization can be a powerful tool for sustainable development for both developing and developed countries.” Recognizing the central role that cities have played in human history in the past, for better and for worse, and stressing the apparent inevitability of increasing urban growth in the foreseeable future, the UN document expresses optimism about the future of cities, provided that they can be made “inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.”

Many of the watchwords of the UN document–resilience, efficiency, development, consumption, sustainability–are themselves subject to critique, raising larger questions about how the proper goals of urban development should be defined and what principles should guide city planners and city dwellers in an era of proliferating challenges. What clues does the past offer? Do the kinds of representations found in literary texts offer any special insights? How do specific literary forms, including those found in poetry, drama and both prose fiction and nonfictional prose genres mediate and contest the notion of resilience? These are the questions we hope to address in 2022.

Areas you might choose to focus on include:

  • –  theoretical and fictional discourses of urban resilience;
  • –  urban resilience and genre: speculative fiction; creative nonfiction including life writing,travel writing, essay and reportage;
  • –  environmental change including the current climate emergency and its possible impacts incultural representations;
  • –  identities including queer, feminist, and intersectional literary urban studies;
  • –  cities of the Global South, postcolonial literary urban studies and related decolonizingperspectives;
  • –  networks of larger and smaller cities, including global measures of alpha, beta and gamma-level urban regions and representations of secondary and tertiary cities;
  • –  literary representations of city subsections and divisions including but not confined to

o downtowns in crisis,
o exurbs,
o gentrifyingzones,
o informalsettlements,
o industrialzones,or
o portsandotherfrontierpoints;

  • –  sites associated with mass transportation and other urban mobilities;
  • –  representations of plague, epidemic and disease in any historical or national context;
  • –  urban planning texts and other not explicitly literary texts read using literary studiesmethodologies;
  • –  resilience as comprehended in urban poetry or drama;
  • –  accounts of displacement and acts of resistance to it including squatting and rent protests.Please send an abstract of your proposed talk (max. 250 words) and a 50-word bio indicating your affiliation and any other key points to alus-sb-2022@frit.ucsb.edu by 1 September 2021. You may also direct any questions about the conference to this address or individually to the conference organizers.

Conference Organizers

Jason Finch, Åbo Akademi University
Liam Lanigan, Governor’s State University
Eric Prieto, University of California Santa Barbara

ALUS: https://blogs.helsinki.fi/hlc-n/

Community Land Trusts and the Arts: A Path to Permanency

Hilltop, Tacoma, the site of a new urban CLT by Forterra. Photo by Jon Armstrong.

In 1969, New Communities was established in the state of Georgia as the largest single tract of Black-owned farmland in the United States. This was achieved through the community land trust (CLT), boldly put forth by Charles Sherrod, a black pecan farmer, and other civil-rights activists after a fact-finding trip to Israel in 1968 sponsored by the National Sharecropper’s Fund. Particularly drawn to moshavim shitufim, a system of land ownership in which large, cooperatively owned farm fields were surrounded by small, private homesteads, the committee brought their notes from the newly established Jewish state to their troubled home in the U.S. They had their model for change.

Worldwide, land is a fraught commodity. Land sees violence, greed, domination, and gross devastation. Land cannot fight back, and so it is the humans upon it who see their battles waged. New Communities managed to establish its six-thousand-acre cooperative not through the promise of a $1 million grant from then- President Lyndon Johnson’s Office of Economic Opportunity, which never materialized, but through loans and community-based fundraising. Truly owned by the people, the CLT delivered on its purpose whereby land is held in a community trust and the buildings upon it privately owned by CLT members, allowing families to build wealth and inherit equity over generations. By insulating the land from market speculation, the homes remain permanently affordable.

New Communities sustained its purpose for many years, giving Black farmers the independence to live and work on the land that had historically enslaved them. Then, a devastating drought persisted through the mid-1980’s. As soon as federal relief was again required in the state of Georgia, this time in the form of the United States Department of Agriculture, white farmers (who today hold 98% of farm income in the U.S.) and the agency itself rerouted the funds to white farms. New Communities went into foreclosure in 1985 and was razed to the ground by the white farmer who purchased the land.

The story of New Communities encapsulates the paradox of the American dream: wealth and opportunity can be won, but only by the settlers; subscribing to ideals that applaud the status quo and marginalize anyone audacious enough to challenge it. Few understand this better than working artists in the U.S., and particularly artists of color, who have seen their jobs, their spaces, and their value to society debated as topics of partisan policy through various federal, state, and local programs. Art is highbrow; art is middlebrow. Art is elitist; art is indecent. Art builds intelligence; art is superfluous. As the culture wars maneuver their way through the economic underpinning of the U.S., artists are left to invent social safety nets – formal and informal – to ensure their work continues in society.

In thinking about the New Communities CLT as a mechanism by which Black farmers were able to acquire agency and build equity in their work, how might a CLT achieve the same purpose for working BIPOC artists for the long haul? And when it comes to community, how might cities better support the original intent of the CLT with an artist-led model that binds the arts to upward mobility and community preservation?

What is owed

Like the history that defines “land” in the U.S., the idea of “community” is fraught in American consciousness. With individualism the driving model for success and prosperity, and a fierce competitive spirit that keeps wealth inaccessible at the highest rungs, community is often formed in isolated ideological pockets. There are few models of community that achieve a real sense of equity, diversity, and balance – instead we see confirmation bias creep in and sow distrust between cities’ invisible divides.

This has only been encouraged by federal policies, which through the guise of the newly formed Federal Housing Administration in the 1930’s took great pains to provide opportunities for home and land ownership to white citizens while actively shutting out Black citizens in the same neighborhoods based on racist criteria, passed along to the banks as official record used by mortgage lenders. White families were steered away from Black neighborhoods and Black people were denied mortgages in “red grade” areas, leading to severe racial segregation in cities and an impossible situation for Black families, incapable of building wealth through home ownership. The ramifications define redlining and affect future generations to this day.

In response to these intractable structures, CLTs have been somewhat in vogue since the formation of New Communities in the Civil Rights-era of the late 1960’s. There are over 200 CLTs in the U.S. today, each with the goal of providing low-income families with affordable housing by protecting land from market pressures and rising property values. This, at least, is the intent.

The commonsense outcomes of the CLT – affordable housing, protected land, long-term sustainability, community benefit – conflict with the reality on the ground. An in-depth piece in Jacobin from writer and advocate Olivia R. Williams speaks to the persistent phenomenon within the modern CLT. Power structures inevitably manifest between owner and member, giver and receiver. Precisely because CLTs are such a “holy grail” model, they have been co-opted by the boards that direct them for self-serving interests including efficiency in mass-producing affordable housing developments with little community-backed input. Williams reiterates the point that “the CLT model (as it is typically implemented) is not financially self-sustaining.” Again: this is the point. A CLT is not meant to profit for itself, but for the homeowners who comprise the organization’s membership. But this is antithetical to American capitalism, and so the CLT has been commoditized away from the community itself into “more capable” hands.

Precarious permanency

If this sounds familiar, it is because the arts find themselves in a similar situation as modern-day organizations of goodwill. The mission is never enough. It must be supported, hard-won, through vicious battles of grantwriting, policymaking, and financiering, often in competition against neighborly arts organizations with their own righteous, community-based goals. There is apparently not enough money to go around, or else the tax base is highly restricted beyond basic infrastructure, with wealthy patrons in cities acting in precarious self-interest: a co-opting of working-class support systems. Trust in the community has faltered.

None of this is sustainable for the future of the arts and inequity will only increase if CLTs operate out of sync with community interests. In these extraordinary times, it is inevitable that a land grab will result from the failures of the housing market, with banks and investors pilfering what has been lost to local communities and overwhelmingly benefitting white homeowners more than Black communities – fueling the already enormous racial wealth gap and encouraging further gentrification. American cities find themselves in a crucial moment where change and innovation may rise from the ashes or the status quo may remain.

Is an arts-based CLT the answer? And if not, is there a hybrid model by which artists and arts organizations may benefit from the full potential and original intent of the community land trust? Combining the incentives and democratic structures of cooperatives, trade unions, and CLTs, a collaborative movement might take place to acquire land and cede it to BIPOC artist communities, planting a seed for future equity and agency in the post-COVID era. This must be treated as an investment and a moral obligation by city leaders, giving access to land and buildings that would otherwise be sold to the highest bidder.

The arts take place in communities. It is this sense of place that is both the biggest strength and threat to the arts and artists. Once a place is made attractive through its cultural value, the very land beneath it becomes a commodity and is seized by those in power. To ensure an equitable future for the arts, repeated history must be disrupted. This can be achieved through the original intent of CLTs, incumbent upon local communities to take up the mantle of justice and equality.

Arts in Place: Thoughts on Being

There is a stretch of I-90 in Eastern Washington that could make you forget the pandemic. From Cle Elum to Spokane the highway unfolds like a hallucination, two hundred miles of lonesome sky. You feel lopsided thinking of all the country eastward. You feel stranded as you move.

We are all hunkered down somewhere, and that somewhere has become a burden. Fleeing Seattle for the first time in August 2020, I felt crazed by the escape. Destination: Libby, Montana, and I wondered what destination meant anymore. If our sense of place is tied to the possibilities on the ground – to move freely, to be opportunistic, to stay awhile, to change our minds – then place has become exposed in the pandemic, possibilities stripped and vulnerabilities laid bare.

And no place is more vulnerable than our urban strongholds. From New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between, cultural citizens have woken to the realities of lockdown and thought, “what am I even doing here?” To justify cost of living, you need to have a life. Speaking for myself in Seattle, the shuttering of the arts and culture economy eats me alive. I need these places like water. I need the white noise of strangers, the flashing of the lights before curtain, the vaulted ceilings looming with benevolence.

This was my state of mind rolling into Western Montana: desperation. Thirst. In August 2020, rural America was on the cusp of pandemic devastation. It was still a removed threat, a far-away problem ravaging dense city centers. The plains, for now, were exempt. The dissonance between my liberal lockdown training – wear a mask, shelter in place, practice social distancing – and the roaming expanse of the Bitterroot Valley presented as a broken synapsis. Six feet an irrelevant distance on miles of earth. Inviting a sunburn as a memento. Standing alone in the street at dusk. These were heightened moments of cultural citizenship, reinvented engagements for a pandemic mind.

Stevensville, Montana, August 2020

I am bullish on the idea that the arts need place, and that place is not virtual. The speed at which arts organizations adapted to online performances, galleries, and galas is astonishing, admirable, and for me: questionable. I don’t question the organizations, but the system in which they operate. That there was no safety net in place, that only ten years had passed since the last crushing blow from the recession, that jumping onto the cloud was the only option for sustainability, feels like systemic failure in the arts economy. The arts have never been given the same grace we extract from them: to find center. That the arts had to pivot on a dime and follow the same “digital transformation” demanded by our despot workplaces conflicts with the power of the arts to impact you where you stand, serendipitous and of the world.

Imagine, almost a year into the pandemic and its impacts, that we had allowed the arts to go dark. That as cultural citizens we had demanded an indefinite hiatus backed by economic safety nets: universal basic income, an arts corps, legacy funds at the ready. Rather than bleeding reserves and ruthlessly competing for limited relief, organizations could have been told: take a break. Come back stronger. Invite a sunburn, stand alone in the street at dusk.

Instead we demanded an ill-fit adaptation; the whole of a symphony compressed into an aspect ratio. And while I hear the argument that virtual arts experiences are more accessible – to geographies, to abilities, to socioeconomic standing – I disagree that this is a long-term solution. Our burden of place in the pandemic is a burden of technology. It has become our only option, another monopolized platform. As soon as we find ourselves physically in cultural places again, a collective denouncement of the virtual experience will follow. Cost of living – really living – will inevitably outweigh the cost of a Zoom subscription.

Consider Wild Space Dance Company in Milwaukee, a small collective in a mid-size Midwestern city (and my hometown) with an arts scene that thrives under Chicago’s shadow. Wild Space unknowingly put on the last live dance performance in the city before pandemic lockdowns. In July, the company launched Parking Lot Dances, with artistic director Deb Loewen quoted to believe “Uploading to Zoom wasn’t an option.” Wild Space has held steadfast, performing ephemeral feats on Milwaukee’s asphalt with backdrops of the Hoan Bridge, the Milwaukee River, and the city skyline the only staging they require. Limited audiences re-enter the world from the safety of their cars, temporarily lifted beyond their screens to the ground in front of them.

There is a lesson here that we resist: place is not a given. It is defined by the temporal events that embody it, the movement of people and ideas through it. A stretch of I-90 comes to life only because I needed it to; needed to find place in nothing at all.

Introducing Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune — two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies blog!

I am excited to introduce two new writers for the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies Blog: Jonathan Banfill and Danielle McClune!

Jonathan Banfill is Assistant Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Champlain College in Burlington, Vermont. He holds a PhD in Comparative and International Education from UCLA and his research focuses on interdisciplinary and experiential pedagogies for engaging with global cities. From 2016-2019 he was a teacher and researcher at the UCLA Urban Humanities Initiative, helping to lead study programs that compared contemporary urban life in Los Angeles, Tokyo, Mexico City, and Shanghai.

Caption: Outside Roberto Bolaño’s teenage home in Mexico City. 

Danielle McClune is a Master’s degree candidate in Arts Leadership at Seattle University and Senior Communications Manager at Microsoft. A Wisconsin native, she earned a B.A. in Creative Writing and spent six years as an arts critic in Milwaukee before moving to Seattle in 2015. Her graduate research has focused on economic equity in the arts focused on community wealth building through reparative, cooperative financial models. She has spoken at the EMERGE Conference in Minsk, Belarus for Eastern European startups on the importance of humane design in tech, as well as the Association of Arts Administration Educators (AAAE) Conference on the realities of arts economy and the wealth gap in Seattle. She misses a good Midwestern thunderstorm.

Danielle McClune in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle

Over the next few months, the three of us will write about urban cultural studies topics including pedagogy, land use, and the arts.

Course on: New York City And Comics: Examining The ‘Special Relationship’

Cover illustration: Ron Frenz and Josef Rubinstein,  New York, New York  by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb (1985) TSR Role Playing Game booklet

Cover illustration: Ron Frenz and Josef Rubinstein, New York, New York by Kate Novak and Jeff Grubb (1985) TSR Role Playing Game booklet

It is often said that New York and the comic book share a unique relationship. It is less often said what that relationship is, exactly — beyond the use of the city as setting in text, or headquarters for the industry, historically. In this course, we look critically at the so-called “New York–comics relationship”: what it meant that the city was so often chosen as the backdrop for story, and how that pattern helped shape new, popular understandings of space, place, and belonging, using the particular narrative forms and rhetoric of the medium.

Nothing in a comic is there accidentally. It is always the result of artistic choice. No story about New York speaks to the same experience of the city, either. And no setting captures every part of it. All of this means something, framing particular, chosen images and ideas. By looking at a variety of comics set in NYC, and different themes — from superheroes and romance and crime to 9/11 and future visions of utopia and dystopia — this course offers both an overview of major tendencies in this genre of comic, and tools for understanding it.

As such, it explores how the so-called New York–comics relationship is created anew every time a creator or creative team decides to make the city its setting. And why New York is so often chosen, against other cities in the US. The course will focus on how New York City is represented, what parts of it are shown, and who in it. It also considers how structural factors, such as differing genre, format, audience, or creator, have produced sometimes wildly contrasting interpretations of the very same places, and, even, ideas.

REGISTER HERE:

https://www.gothamcenter.org/courses/course-1-65ml5

–Martin Lund is Assistant Professor in Religious Studies at Malmö University in Sweden, a comics researcher, and a former Visiting Research Scholar at the Gotham Center for New York City History. His research mostly revolves around comics in relation to different forms of religion, identity, space and place, as well as racism and whiteness. A particular topic of interest is the representation of New York City in comics, and the rhetoric in fandom, pop culture journalism, and the Academy on the so-called “New York–comics relationship.”

CFP for “Performing Black Futures”

Photo credit: Franchesca Lamarre

PERFORMING BLACK FUTURES

Performance Studies Focus Group (PSFG) Post-Conference

Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)

Proposals due: May 1, 2020

Detroit, MI & Online

Post-Conference Dates: Sunday, August 2 – Monday, August 3, 2020

Keynote Artists: Taylor Renee Aldridge & Jennifer Harge

Curators: Jasmine Jamillah Mahmoud & Krista Miranda

Website: https://sites.google.com/view/performingblackfutures

CALL FOR PAPERS AND PERFORMANCES

“In the present project, the imagination […] plays a central role: it animates the mode of knowledge production for which this project invested in Black futures calls, and it anchors a spatiotemporal organization in which ‘queer remains’ are generative, deterritorializing forces. Thinking with and through a vibrant concept of the imagination opens onto this project’s perceptions of queer times and Black futures, and of the spatial politics that might be associated with them.” (16)

-Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures

“Black futures perpetually reroute us to the here and now.” (189)

-Malik Gaines, Black Performance on the Outskirts of the Left: A History of the Impossible

During their high school years in the 1980s, Juan Atkins, Derrick May, and Kevin Saunderson fused “notions of futurism and mechanics”[1] to develop Detroit Techno sound. On the heels of the Great Recession, Maya Stovall danced in front of Detroit’s ubiquitous liquor stories to spark conversations with residents and consciousness of the city (and its majority black residents) beyond ruin porn, emptiness, and bankruptcy discourses. In the late 2010s, Detroit-based movement artist Jennifer Harge choreographed and performed fly/drown, “a dance-folktale” that considered “the Black domestic space in the US post-Great Migration … home spaces that have been crafted by Black folks in the north after escaping white terrorism … thinking of the ways in which Black women in particular have had to organize space, or demand that the home be a site for pleasure practicing, or self-sovereignty.” [2] Over the past decade, Detroit born and raised playwright Dominique Morisseau authored and staged Detroit ‘67, Paradise Blue, and Skeleton Crew, three plays collabortively known as the Detroit Cycle that sketch the history, rebellions, foreclosures, conversations, and people of Motor City.

These artists have heard, imagined, and performed Detroit’s futures. Their work asks us: How might performance frame, challenge, and expand notions of the city, black feminist and queer futures, and black futurity? The 2020 Performance Studies Focus Group at ATHE Post-Conference, “Performing Black Futures,” takes up this central question.

Our keynote artists are Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jennifer Harge. Taylor Renee Aldridge is a writer and independent curator based in Detroit, Michigan. She has organized exhibitions with the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Artist Market, Cranbrook Art Museum, and The Luminary (St. Louis). In 2015, along with art critic Jessica Lynne, she co-founded ARTS.BLACK, a journal of art criticism for Black perspectives. Her writing has appeared in Artforum, The Art Newspaper, Art21, ARTNews, Canadian Art, ContemporaryAnd, Detroit MetroTimes, Hyperallergic and SFMoMA’s Open Space. Jennifer Harge is the artistic director of Harge Dance Stories and has worked as a movement artist for over 15 years. Her approach to form combines the multiplicity of her black and queer identities with her training in postmodern dance. Her work has been recognized by various organizations and institutions across the country in the form of fellowship, performance and residency invitations, including: Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, Pulitzer Arts Foundation, Washington National Cathedral, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, University of Michigan, Duke University, and Wayne State University. She is the inaugural recipient of the 2019 Eva Yaa Asantewaa Grant for Queer Women(+) Dance Artists, as well as the 2019 Dance/USA Fellowships to Artists.

The post-conference will take place on Sunday, August 2 to Monday, August 3, 2020, in Detroit, MI at Wayne State University. The Post-Conference will include activating the space of Midtown Detroit with site-specific dance artist Biba Bell, an engagement by keynotes artists Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jennifer Harge on the evening of Sunday, August 2, and additional panels on Monday, August 3. A closing bookend to ATHE’s 2020 Conference, “Drive” this PSFG Post-Conference is in partnership with the Black Theatre Association and LGBTQ Focus Groups. This post-conference is being scheduled amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic and the curators take seriously the health and wellness of participants. As global updates continue, we will modify the Post-Conference as needed to take place virtually (through video engagement, working group feedback, and webspace), if we are unable to meet in person.

We seek proposals for academic papers, live and/or virtual performance, performance pedagogy engagements, and experimental formats. Submissions might want to consider, but are not limited to:

  • Detroit’s black history, presence, and futures (Herb Boyd, Maya Stovall)

  • black urbanism, black geographies, and plantation futures (Katherine McKittrick)

  • black aesthetic styles include theatre, techno, and ballroom culture (Marlon Bailey)

  • black experimentation and avant-gardes (Uri McMillan, Fred Moten)

  • theories of balck movement and performance (Thomas DeFrantz & Anita Gonzalez)

  • black feminist futures (Brittney C. Cooper)

  • queer presence and futures (E. Patrick Johnson, Kara Keeling, Amber Musser, Tavia Nyong’o)

  • pasts, presences, and futures of Afrofuturism (Ytasha Womack)

  • the Black Radical Imagination (Robin D. G. Kelley, Erin Christovle & Amir George)

  • blackness quotidian “choreographies of citizenship” (Aimee Meredith Cox)

  • black-led tactics and  “emergent strategy” such as “pleasure activism” (adrienne maree brown)

THE DEADLINE FOR PROPOSALS IS FRIDAY, MAY 1, 2020.

For paper and pedagogy proposals, please submit as one word or pdf document:

1) name and contact information (with email address),

2) an abstract (~300 words), and

3) a brief biography (~250 words);

4) thoughts on what your preferred virtual engagement might look like

For performance and experimental format proposals, please submit as one word or pdf document:

1) name and contact information (with email address),

2) description of performance or experimental format (~300 words),

3) a brief biography (~250 words),

4) technical requirements, duration, and thoughts on what your preferred virtual engagement might look like

and, if applicable, 5) up to six jpeg images, link to an online portfolio, or other relevant media.

Please submit proposals and any questions to post-conference curators Jasmine Mahmoud and Krista Miranda at jasminemahmoud@gmail.com and krista.miranda@gmail.com. Use the subject line “Performing Black Futures.”

We will notify all participants by May 15, 2020.

CITATIONS

[1] Adriel Thorton, “Juan Atkins, Derrick May + Kevin Saunderson in Conversation,” MOCAD, Youtube, 1 September, 2016: https://youtu.be/pt4aQEXqMRw

[2] Will Furtado, “Show Me Your Shelves! Jennifer Harge: The Home as a Site of Pleasure,” Contemporary And, 19 November 2019: https://www.contemporaryand.com/magazines/jennifer-harge-the-home-as-a-site-of-pleasure/

Call for MLA 2020 – deadline Mar. 15 – 20th/21st-century Iberian sessions

Sessions Sponsored by MLA Forum on 20th and 21st Century Spanish and Iberian Studies for MLA Convention 2021

Deadline for submission:  March 15

Producing Race for Contemporary Iberian Studies

Papers that explore how the racialization of Spaniards intersects with notions of the modern nation by examining contemporary literature, film and society. 250-word abstracts to jeffrey.coleman@marquette.edu or rosi.song@durham.ac.uk by March 15.

Using Digital Tools in 20th and 21st Century Iberian Studies

Seeking presentations of 5-8 minutes for a round table discussion on using digital tools in research and teaching about contemporary Spanish and Iberian studies. Abstract 250 words and CV to session organizer compitel@email.arizona.edu

Spatial (In)justice in the Anthropocene

Proposals dealing with gentrification, displacement, gender inequality, right to the city and other forms of spatial (in)justice examined in contemporary Spanish and Iberian visual culture. 250-word abstract  to session organizer  Monica Lopez Lerma monlopez@reed.edu

 

 

Repost – “In The Future” Postcards As Popular Urbanism

Great post at the official blog of the Urban History Association by Peter Soppelsa,

Here is the opening paragraph and the link below,

“This post focuses on a remarkable source for illustrating popular urbanism and urban imaginaries: European and American photomontage postcards from around 1900 to 1920 that visualize future cities. Cobbling together an online archive of over 400 future cities photomontages, I discovered an under-utilized body of evidence about popular urbanism. Visual and textual traces of the urban imaginaries of card makers and senders demands further study because they reveal a specific practice of placemaking through print culture. This archive suggests how urban historians can engage with media history, visual studies, and ephemeral sources…”

“In the Future” Postcards as Popular Urbanism

Diversity and Disability in Restaurant Criticism in D.C.

Last month, the Kojo Nnamdi show aired a piece on the lack of diversity in food criticism in Washington D.C and featured the following people:

Among the things discussed in the show were the differences between food critics and food writers, the lack of diversity in restaurant criticism, the democratization of restaurant reviews sparkled by the internet, why should universal design and cultural appreciation be part of a restaurant critic and/or review, and why is it important to have diversity among food critics.

The show was inspired by Laura Haye’s article in the Washington City Paper, The D.C. Region Doesn’t Have Full-Time Food Critics of Color. Why That Matters.

The conversation revolves around the benefit that diverse race and ethnicity bring to the table when evaluating a restaurant. Underlying the discussion is always present the unspoken fact that food critics are not perfect and, for that reason they can also not give a perfect evaluation of a restaurant or a dish. As objective as a critic may be, there is always going to be a filter depending on that person’s previous experiences and conceptions of particular foods and restaurants/ These conceptions are directly affected and molded by factors such as race, ethnicity, disabilities, social class, among others and it is naïve to thing that having a professional training will eliminate all those bias, especially when food critics have such different experiences at restaurants depending on, among other things, their skin color. This is specially true when critics evaluate things like service at a restaurant. I think this is a valuable discussion for any type of evaluation that involves the possibility of human bias (notice that this also applies to Machine Learning and AI evaluations based on human-generated data). Definitely a very interesting show which I fully recommend.

You can read the show notes and transcription here and listen to the piece here directly from your web browser..

You can subscribe for free to The Kojo Nnadmi Show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Himalaya, or wherever you listen to podcasts. While you are there, remember to check out our own podcast: UCS Podcasts – urbanculturalstudies, by Professor Benjamin Fraser from the University of Arizona.