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.

Antonio López García’s Everyday Urban Worlds (and prezi)

My new book Antonio López García’s Everyday Urban Worlds: A Philosophy of Painting is entering production with Bucknell University Press – it should be available in August 2014 (appearing on amazon at present for pre-order).

It represents rather a new form of writing for me – inspired by the meandering and philosophical style of Spanish author / civil engineer Juan Benet’s El ángel del señor abandona a Tobías (1976) where he mixes a range of disciplinary questions together, using the famed painting of the same name by Rembrandt as a point of departure.

Here I’ve devoted a chapter each to specific paintings (Gran Vía, Madrid desde Torres Blancas, and Madrid desde la torre de bomberos de Vallecas…), which I use as points of departure to fold Spanish literature, film and urban planning together with larger interdisciplinary and philosophical, geographical questions.

If you CLICK HERE you can see a ‘prezi’ that I’ve used with a lecture focusing on an excerpt of the second chapter’s Madrid desde Torres Blancas (visuals only).

UCS 007 Jefferson on Walcott’s Poetics of Caribbean Colonial Modernity (Castries / Port of Spain)

UCS 007 Jefferson on Walcott’s Poetics of Caribbean Colonial Modernity (Castries / Port of Spain) (15 September 2013)  Conversational interview inspired by scholar Ben Jefferson’s article “New Jerusalems: Derek Walcott’s poetics of the Caribbean city,” published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.2, 2014). Topics range from readings/analyses of specific excerpts of poems written by celebrated poet Walcott (Nobel Prize in Literature, 1992) to the ideas of Antonio Benítez-Rojo, Henri Lefebvre, V. S. Naipaul, North American and European city planning traditions and the relationship between rural and urban space specific to Caribbean modernity. [LINK TO ORIGINAL PUBLISHER]

006 – Madrid – Afinoguénova on Public Protests and the Prado Promenade 1760-1939 – Urban Cultural Studies Podcast

006 – Madrid – Afinoguénova on Public Protests and the Prado Promenade 1760-1939 – Urban Cultural Studies Podcasts (18 August 2013)

Conversational interview inspired by scholar Eugenia Afinoguénova’s article “Liberty at the Merry-Go-Round: Leisure, Politics, and Municipal Authority on the Paseo del Prado in Madrid, 1760-1939,” published in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Topics range from the contemporary Occupy movements and 15-M in Spain to the historical legacy of the Prado Promenade and the popular festivals known as verbenas – discussion centers on the relationship between city authority and state authority, commerce and public assembly.

004 – Theory-Parkour – Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body – Urban Cultural Studies Podcast

UCS 004 Lamb on Parkour, Architecture and the Body (12 August 2013) Conversational interview inspired by scholar Matthew Lamb’s article “Misuse of The Monument: The Art of Parkour and the Discursive Limits of a Disciplinary Architecture,” forthcoming in the Journal of Urban Cultural Studies (1.1, 2013). Pitched at a theoretical level (complementing the specific place-bound analysis of  Monument Circle in Indianapolis found in the article) discussion centers on the origins (and varieties) of parkour–an athletic engagement with the built environment (misuse through climbing, dropping, vaulting, jumping…)–and the conditioning of the body in place and as subject to architectural and urban forces.

Madrilenian Urban Painter’s Work Auctioned

Antonio-2

[I’m currently working on a book whose second chapter deals with this painting, specifically — fascinating; read the article in its original context here; but I’ve pasted it below — dated from 2008?]

Antonio Lopez Sets World Auction Record for a Living Spanish Artist at Christie’s

Antonio Lopez (b. 1936), Madrid desde Torres Blancas; signed and dated `A. Lopez Garcia, 1976-82′ (lower left), oil on board, 57.1/8 x 96.1/8in. (145 x 244cm.) Painted in 1976-82. Sold: $2,760,803. © Christie’s Images Limited.

LONDON.- An early highlight of this evening’s auction was Madrid desde Torres Blancas by Antonio Lopez (b. 1936) which sold for £1,385,250 / $2,760,803 / €1,744,030, becoming the most expensive work by a living Spanish artist sold at Continue reading

Interviews with 25 Geographers (1970-93)

The AAG has posted interviews with 25 Geographers from the “Geographers on Film” Archive available here. The first interview is with Carl O. Sauer (1889-1975) from 1970 (Berkeley, cultural [geography], founded Department@Berkley 1923, AAG Pres. 1940, Honorary AAG Pres. 1956).

Megan Kendrick DH article from Vectors Journal / Los Angeles-Hotels

Thinking through DH in general as I have been for some time I came across the following journal and article Click on the “Launch project link” on the site below, you won’t be disappointed.

http://vectors.usc.edu/projects/index.php?project=94&thread=AuthorsStatement

[I’m pasting here the Author’s statement about her project]

Author’s Statement: Touring History through New Media

Hotels provide the nexus between the tangible, lived experience of the city and the imagined landscape that tourists carry with them when they visit a city. They are objects of circulation, they are monuments to the city, and as Siegfried Kracauer observed, they are sites of spectacle and display. This web-based project comes out of my dissertation research which explores the role of hotels in the shaping of Los Angeles. I seek to understand how their representation in visual culture reflects their particular stories in the urban planning of the city. I argue that the hotel served as a vanguard in the shaping and imaging of the city.

Throughout different phases of urban planning history, influenced by distinct systems of transportation, hotels have played a leading role in the way Los Angeles has been planned, formed, and imagined. In this context, Virtual Tourisms brings new meaning to the concept of a digital “virtual tour” by making visible the urban planning context and socio-spatial relationships involved in the historical and cultural practice of a tourist’s stay at a landmark Los Angeles hotel. The digital project takes shape in the form Continue reading