Yesterday was a snow-day for the public school system. The schools were closed and road conditions were unsuitable for driving or walking. Presumably, people should stay off the roads to allow trained crews to remove snow and clear sidewalks. So why don't we all just have a snow-day?
Imagine you work at an office job. The weather is crap, and driving is going to suck. At best it'll be slow, at worst there will be an accident due to poor road conditions. Or maybe you take public transportation, in which case the sidewalks are going to be slippery and buses will be delayed. If you are in a wheelchair, it would be even more difficult.
Imagine the only way you can work at your office job is because your kids are in school during the day. The school is closed, so you have to stay home with your kids. Maybe you can work from home, maybe you can't. Maybe you have to take a personal day to avoid losing pay. Maybe you fall behind on your work and your "performance" is affected.
Imagine your job is to clear the roads of snow and ice. The snow is falling fast and you are trying to keep up with it, but there is traffic from people trying to get to their office jobs. Maybe there is an accident you have to work around.
Imagine instead non-critical systems are closed due to the weather, and we all simply accept this as the most reasonable thing to do. You stay home, hang out with your kids, shovel your driveway, and help your neighbors. You aren't punished by your job because this is "the most reasonable thing to do". The road crews get their work done quickly and efficiently because there are fewer vehicles on the road. Ambulances, fire trucks, and buses (yes public transit is a critical system) aren't slowed by traffic or accidents.
So why don't we all just have a snow-day?
Gentrification is Displacement
There are plastic signs zip-tied to lamp-posts in my neighborhood with the words "COMPRAMOS CASAS" ("WE BUY HOUSES") on them. I've seen similar signs, "I Buy Houses CA$H" et al. East Boston is referred to as "one of the hottest real estate markets". The COMPRAMOS CASAS signs appear to be put up by Aquasvivas Creative Real Estate Buyers, LLC — their website address and phone number are printed on the signs.
Their website presents them as being sympathetic and helpful to people who are "unable to keep their homes", but these people are simply vultures looking to profit off the misfortune of others. Instead of actually helping people keep their homes and prevent displacement, or act as an agent to help them get the most value for their home through a sale, they are seeking to take advantage of the real estate market boom by flipping the houses they buy. Logic dictates that the homeowners would never actually get fair market value for their home by selling to these people, and they have no interest in helping people accomplish this through a partnership or by providing any kind of service.
If you see these signs, take them down. Many are posted illegally anyway and these companies are a threat to your communities. Shame these companies on social media. Counter them with advertisements in local newspapers and posted flyers. Encourage neighbors to seek FREE help from programs like Making Home Affordable or discuss other options like conversion to affordable rental housing, selling to a local housing co-op, or at least selling through a qualified real estate agent.
Gentrification is a real threat which should not be whitewashed as "progress" nor accepted as the natural order of things. Displacement is unnatural, oppressive, and destructive to communities, especially communities of color. Fight against it.
Increase the Peace
Last night I watched Boyz n the Hood for the first time. In the early nineties I cut myself off from mainstream media, so there are a number of movies from that time period which I totally missed. Boyz n the Hood (released in 1991) was one of them.
One of the opening scenes depicts a Reagan re-election campaign poster riddled by bullets. Although the film is full of gripping, insightful scenes, this one is deeply disturbing to me in a way I had not felt in years. Folks who grew up in the eighties might recall the hopelessness and madness of the Reagan administration. The implosion of the counter-culture in our recent history, the AIDS crisis, the Ethiopian famine, the insanity of trickle-down economics, and the threat of nuclear war created an atmosphere of dystopia that made the thought of growing up miserable.
Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future
No future for you
– God Save The Queen, The Sex Pistols
A nice lady on a plane once told me that my generation ("Gen X") was waiting for a bus that would never arrive. We were raised with a promise of prosperity if we worked hard and played along. Trust the system. The same system that was letting corporations poison the planet, imprisoning people of color behind bars or in poverty, de-funding social services, war-mongering at home and abroad, and marching us all toward assured mutual destruction? No fucking way. But what was the alternative? There wasn't one.
I was essentially radicalized at this time, but the form it took was counter-productive. I would bury myself in the fantasies of comic books and video games, trying to escape the feeling of powerlessness. I would vent through skateboard, pen, and punk. Never really getting anywhere because there was nowhere to go.
Since then, I have become more aware of just how broken "the system" is, both in terms of degree and manner, but I fight against the hopelessness every day. I fight because I realized that hopelessness is just a tool of oppression. We are made to feel hopeless, to feel that there is no future, so that we will not resist. Meanwhile, the "future" — i.e. the way we would have the world become — is taken from us by those who seek to control it.
The end of Boyz n the Hood shows the title with the words "INCREASE THE PEACE". While this could easily be seen as merely a call to young black men to work towards non-violence, I believe this call goes out to us all, not just to soothe the symptom, but to cure the disease. The system of oppression that created the world depicted in the film is the same system of oppression operating today.
No justice, no peace.
Increase the justice, increase the peace.
Yesterday I was walking from my studio to the train station and saw a scrap of newspaper on the sidewalk. This is nothing remarkable, but it caught my eye because the photograph seemed old, and the paper was yellowed with age. Upon inspection, the torn fragment was from the Boston Traveler dated September 18th, 1939.
Someone must have just cleaned out their basement or attic. I thought about how there was a person holding the newspaper from which this was torn in 1939, before my parents were born. "Hitler", "Fuehrer", "Nazis" appear in the text.
Quite a few of the tourists who gaze up at the flag atop the White House which flies when the President is at home and keeping us neutral argue that there should be another flag there to fly when Mrs. Roosevelt is home, too.
Amazing to think what it must have been like to be reading this at that time, just when World War II was beginning and before the United States became directly involved. I can't help but make comparisons to now, when no one knows what the future will hold, and the political climate seems terrifyingly bizarre. This photograph of the woman spooks me now, as she looks back at her reflection, the mirror of history displaying the laced binding of her corset — a garment of confinement and conformity. Slaves to ourselves, never able to escape the debt of our past, we risk repeating mistakes throughout time, lashed to the karmic wheel.
Neutrality is impossible.
I'm happy to announce that I am a recipient of an Opportunity Fund grant, which I am planning to use towards a new membership at Atlantic Works Gallery, a co-op gallery in my studio building in East Boston. I've been a supporter of AWG for a while now and love the community and the space, so I'm very excited to have the ability to apply (and pay!) for membership.
Writing about writing
I've been reading Anne West's Mapping the Intelligence of Artistic Work and thinking about writing in relation to my practice. So I'm revisiting writing as part of my practice. Words seem to be the most clinical tools in my work, even in the form of a poem. I was recently thinking about how sound, image, and language form a strata through which I ascend and descend as I make work.
Sound is the most primal, pure, and free. When I think about sound (and music, although music carries with it a cultural and historical weight that I am not addressing in my thoughts about sound), it is usually in response to an inability at the time to think about other things. I get depressed about various things, and I think about sound, because sound makes more sense than anything else at the time. And I hunger for its freedom and purity, and it's ability to surround, penetrate, and resonate. An emotion is closest to a sound, if an emotion takes a form (I think much in the way some artists think about color). Like emotion it alters perception and is altered by circumstance. Sound crashes into context and reverberates against it, transformed and distorted by the surface.
Image floats above sound. It vanishes when eyes are closed and gazes are averted, or absolute darkness or lightness obliterates it. It persists only in memory after the signals in retinal receptors fade. It asks of us to look upon it. If we ignore it, we do not see it. Sound comes to us, whereas image requires our approach. Image always emanates cultural and historical energy. We attempt to decipher it first and foremost, classifying it and categorizing it. We can only perceive it as form by deliberately letting our minds stop decrypting the meaning, and then it either sinks into banality or sits on the surface of beauty. An image without meaning, as simple form, becomes an inaccessible fortress.
Language is a slippery fish. It can be sound or image or both. It implies an absolute perfection but is a complete illusion. It is merely a key to a box that can be opened and looked into, but never entered. And every individual has their own box, and the boxes are at once the same box yet different. Language permeates through all things, trickling between the cracks and flowing along the surface. It defines and it is defined constantly. It is a machine ever creating itself. It can reinforce, and it can erode all meaning and understanding.