When presented with the prospect of closing out There Goes The Neighborhood with Carousel Microcinema 03, I didn’t relish the idea of caging the participants of Jessica Sledge’s “Taking Up Space” into a static single-channel viewing format.
The entire TGTN weekend is a series of community oriented fully participatory events that engage our senses our bodies, and our imaginations in deeper recognitions with our neighborhood. In this context the static formalism of the black box turns into a black hole. How can the moving image not only reflect the figure back to us, but challenge us to use our own bodies to interpret images? Where are the makers who are more concerned with audience engagement than perfect projection? Can two time-based medias, music, and video, co-exist when they are not designed to oblige each other’s strengths weaknesses, interests or subjects? CM03 takes a step into these murky waters. Once Sledge’s performance arrives at the top of the Georgia and Lincoln Streets, all processioners will encounter an audio-visual environment that seeks to integrate with the natural environment of the neighborhood while simultaneously inviting our guests to imagine the possibilities of abandoned and overlooked spaces and possibly use the view to contemplate their own little parcel of North Park. Three video loops will be projected onto the side of a bus, a rear projection screen, and the canopy of trees that inhabit this strip of wild and eroding real estate.
CM03 commissioned the site-specific ambient projection, North Park Lights, from underground video variant, Kelly Gabron. This digital rainbow will cascade color, light and shadow across the upper tier of trees at the top of the hill.
The Matrix Procedures (2009, 12:07 loop) is a collection of video exercises created by UCSD undergraduate VIS 174 students in the Fall 2009. I introduced the students to Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies. We became aware of some of his lesser known studies which attempt to freeze a human form mid-motion from multiple perspectives. Thanks to John Gaeda and the Wachowski’s this effect is now referred to as bullet time©. However, Muybridge’s studies indicated the ways in which media makers with limited resources might create formal studies that comment on and contribute to this ubiquitous visual device.
The students rigged twenty 35mm disposable cameras onto plywood planks, mounted those into a rough U-shape with C-stands, and then photographed our gifted subjects, Kenneth Kim (martial artist and video maker) and David Martinez (b-boy and martial artist). One the count of three, David and Kenneth struck poses as all of the students snapped their picture in sync (sort of). It was nothing if not a lot of fun. The resulting exposure files were divided among the students so that each could take their pass at applying the bullet-time effect to the figure. Three of my favorite videos in the suite are Carol Ahn’s “Matrix”, Alex Barrera’s “Exposure #5”, and Monica Diaz’s “Hacked”.
Carol Ahn’s piece forthrightly attempts this heady formal effect but instead of freezing time, Ahn teases and punctuates it into a synchronicity with the accompanying techno beats. I enjoy the way in which the limits of our chosen technology (disposable cameras duck-taped to plywood) in no way interferes with Ahn’s insistence that we reckon with the elasticity and limits of the body.
Alex Barrera uses chroma effects and improvisational editing to make literal Afrika Bambaataa’s assertion of the four pillars of hip hop. Barrera coerces a wall of graffiti to surround the b-boy like a fly in amber; thereby making his choice of a classic track from Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, a.k.a. NAS, all the more appropriate. I sometimes find myself lamenting the way in which music videos have become the baseline vehicle for the expression of hip-hop culture. Given the music video’s directive to invoke desire within the viewer, it’s no wonder that Bambaataa ‘s ideals are at times unrecognizable. So for me, Barrera’s reach back to a time when the formulas of music videos had not calcified, when effects like chroma key and staggered editing were naively applied with glee, and experimentation was not a threat to sales (or an interference with pleasure), is refreshing and endearing. What about this desire that a music video is required to produce? Must we really undermine pleasure in order to imagine ourselves simultaneously something new and something connected to the past? Alex Barrera’s video assures me that we don’t.
Monica Diaz’s “Hacked” takes no prisoners. Her relentless application of rapid splices and high contrast washes produces a euphoric meditation of the b-boy as intermediary. Extract the figure from space and time. Pull him through black holes and star bursts. Indeed the splice – the edit – the juxtaposition of one image against another is the basis of cinematic complex thought. The splice creates movement where there was none. The splice connects elements where no images of connective tissue actually exist. In “Hacked”, precious little material, about 20 digitized exposures of a b-boy popping a freeze, turn into a battle against gravity, and the amplification of physical power. When an editor meditates on images with the intensity demonstrated by Diaz, we are reminded that the magic of movies is in the in-betweens, and the lights and the shadows. CM03 must give a shout out to the Chula Vista-based hip-hop collective AWKWARD CONGREGATION. Diaz relied on their track, “This Isn’t Madness” to put David Martinez into bullet time, and then free his body of time completely.
When I visited the site of Jessica Sledge’s “Taking Up Space” performance, I was stricken with the force of the eroding hill that greets her finale. There are foot trails pressed into dried weeds and dusty rocks. There are wild nasturtiums conquering the south side of the lot while the shade of a eucalyptus keeps the north side relatively sedate with low grasses. And there are pedestrians walking themselves and their dogs up this hill as a way of imposing strain on lifestyles designed to avoid it at all costs.
The residents of North Park have worked this neglected lot into their routines. They usurped the dogma of urban planning in favor of a little freedom. As neighborhoods change (gentrify) and grow (colonize) it’s important to seek out nodes of resistance. Which home, which corner store, which family on the block refuses to accommodate the mores of the upwardly mobile acquiring affordable homes and staking planter beds for heirloom tomatoes onto their front lawns? Which of my neighbors will be the first to acquiesce to requests that they remove the shag carpeting which covers the swatch of land that perhaps was once thirsty grass, but is now just the floor for their outdoor living rooms? Will anyone advocate for the teenagers who are told that it doesn’t matter if the music festival is in their backyard– if they can’t cough up thirty dollars for admission, they are not welcome? Resistance can be soft, like the paths of desire that cut through vacant lots; or hard, like a group of young people who took up arms in the late sixties to defend their community against police brutality. Without resistance, we become weak. So my hope for North Park is that the residents who are clinging onto their homes for dear life while witnessing their neighborhood’s ascension into fashionable desirability find strategies for resistance that make the community as a whole stronger than it will be if we leave behind the most vulnerable among us.
William Cordova’s super-8 film, Sayhuaman (stand up next 2 a mountain), has haunted me since I saw it at Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans as part of Street Level: Mark Bradford, William Cordova and Robin Rhode. The film (transfered to video) begins with a tight cityscape that nods towards both minimalist sculpture and modernist institutional architecture. But it’s a bit haunting – haven’t we’ve seen this image before? And then something happens. A completely mundane occurrence transfigures these New York City Courthouse steps into a portal that whiplashes us into an era when the powers-that-be were shaken enough to meet resistance and protest with brutality and obscenity.
When I asked Cordova if I could play is film, he responded by directing me to this image which graces Dr. Ogbar’s book. Cordova’s film loop is in fact a re-creation and a re-vision of this historic moment captured by filmmaker Roz Payne from Newsreel Collective. As we watch this re-enactment happen, we hear the voice of Jimi Hendrix apologizing for the fact that his band is new so they only know “six, seven,… NINE” songs. And then he tells his audience that The Band of Gypsies will next play the Black Panther National Anthem. As if the fact of a black boy emerging from the ghettoes of Seattle, Washington to become the most innovative and accomplished guitar player of the twentieth century is not political enough– some critics accuse the late Hendrix of being indifferent to the civil rights struggles raging in America. Cordova has unearthed a sonic artifact to prove just how wrong an assertion that is. But the film loop’s title, Sacsayhuaman…, links this struggle to an ancient and bloody era of resistance occurring hundreds of years earlier on the South American continent. Sacsayhuaman is one of the most impressive human-made structures on the face of the earth.
Five centuries after it was constructed, the site continues to signify potent resistance among other radical markers of creativity innovation, imagination and ferocity. The link between Cordova’s Peruvian roots and his fervent African-American identifications is at the fulcrum of his work. Through his images, films, and sculptures, Cordova provides forms of knowledge that permit our ancestors to reach us through speaker boxes, transform vinyl records into towers of power, and identify women as central to the sustainability of revolution. One of Cordova’s drawings of a “speculative sculpture” might also be recognized a pile of discards in any American inner city, and there again as a rendering of the zig-zag of the Incan fortress wall. Through a rear screen projection, Cordova’s video will loop on the zig and zag of a North park hill, so that we too, all together, can consider what we already know about necessity of resistance.