Reacting to Memories

Dear North Shore,

You have proven to be a difficult site to understand. Your history is buried beneath concrete blocks. The vacancy of your lot leaves a void of activity. Above street level highway and railroad tracks create a concrete canyon and a chasm that stretches off towards the setting sun. You have isolated yourself from the surrounding neighborhoods. Your community is of a transient strand. Either tailgaters arriving from areas removed from Pittsburgh or a homeless population recently evicted from a concrete dwelling they once called home.
These bricks were placed last year, walling up cubbyholes where 16 of the North Shore's homeless used to live. Photo: Alexandra Oliver

Dear North Shore: The bricks seen in this photo were placed last year, walling up cubbyholes where 16 of your homeless used to live. Photo: Alexandra Oliver

As I stated yesterday, developing a short-term relationship with a city can be a challenge for out-of-town artists and this process has an effect on UNLISTED as a whole. In an effort to have an effective value, UNLISTED must not merely produce site-specific work, but understand the communities they are serving prior to international influence and artistic decision making. Otherwise, we are merely taking performance and randomly applying this creative practice to spaces hoping for something, anything, to stick. From my vantage point, this is doubly complicated with you, my beloved North Shore. How can an effect be had in a vacant lot? Who are we connecting with? What population are we serving?
To our great fortune, we learned about your recent history within the first week of our rehearsals when we met Larry Allen, a former resident in your parking lot 7H. Larry was one of the homeless individuals who was forced to leave the shelter provided to the homeless beneath your train tracks. Larry told us about how the city spent thousands of dollars to evict these individuals from your lot and then proceeded to fill these nooks with dirt and concrete.
Had this information been discovered months in advance, how would this have influenced a curatorial approach to the space? How would this have influenced the text written by a playwright across the Atlantic? How would this have influenced the purpose behind creating a performance piece in a vacant lot? To what end are we throwing focus onto this space buried in your neighborhood beneath concrete barriers?
Artists have a tendency to be self-serving, so perhaps nothing would have changed. Artists also have a tendency to surprise, so perhaps everything would be different. In the end, we are left to discover ways a script written across the Atlantic can now react to the space and histories we currently find ourselves immersed and collaborating within. Although the challenge has produced an interesting and unique final site-specific performance, I feel the effect might be lost due a lack of re-acting to what you had to offer.
North Shore, you have given us a space that echoes with the memories of a community that has since moved on. As UNLISTED moves forward and questions their effective value, curators and artists must adapt and re-act to the specificity of the community around them.
Forever yours,
Chris Bell

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