*click photos below for larger image
Lise Swenson and Gordon Winiemko like to have FUN in the Mission!
of the Body Cartography Project perform amid a decade's worth
of murals in Clarion Alley - itself a space slated to be overrun.
at Galeria de la Raza unveil "Ese, the last Mexican," an example
of "pre-digital man" and "the last of his tribe" found in the
Mission district of SanFrancisco.com.
Megan Wilson's 250 "home" signs go to members of the Mission
Ink Boat dancers direct their brand of Butoh to a swelling crowd
of casual onlookers - and police.
Smith sends a message to "all the dot com motherfuckers... fuck
Hennesey's troupe recreates "Lame," the desperate cry of the
displaced dance community presented earlier in the week at the
Footworks Studio "Circus of Resistance."
Garcia and Marci Klane reintroduce the New Economy to its tools
in the chichi Slanted Door restaurant.
It's hard not to notice...
when a new restaurant opens up seemingly every day, replacing a
small grocery store or auto body shop... when snow white, picture-perfect
Buffy and Ken come out to play at night, their shiny new luxury
tanks lining the middle of the street... when you can't walk ten
feet without tripping over yet another "artist loft" development
without any artists in it... or when all your friends and the community
organizations that support you are being evicted or can't afford
to stay here anymore. In San Francisco these days, it seems like
every third person has an eviction story. And it's particularly
bad in the Mission district, for decades home to small, funky businesses
of every stripe, nonprofits, Latino families, and artists. One day
you wake up and realize that the city is being white-washed, its
polyglot bohemia surgically replaced by a corporate, consumption-loving
monoculture. One day you decide to do something about it.
Such was the genesis
of Art Strike's Back. Thinking back to the "Art Strike" organized
internationally in the early '90s as a response to art's complicity
in perpetuating elitism and misapportioned wealth, some of us decided
it was time for artists to respond to this current situation and
comment on what is effectively an enforced strike, a moratorium
on art and culture in San Francisco. Art strikes back. Art Strike
With our backs against
the wall, we rallied around another slogan, "All action, no meetings."
And we invited whoever could get an email to stage actions up and
down Valencia Street, over what ended up being six weekends this
past summer. It started on a Friday night with Jo Kreiter and other
dancers strutting and writhing in front of Community Thrift. It
continued with a searing series of feverish Saturday night set-pieces,
beginning with Sonny Smith's Guthrie-inflected observations (Woody's
guitar read "This machine kills fascists," Sonny's just said "evicted"),
progressing to Ink Boat's street Butoh (directed at a swelling crowd
that ended up including about six cops) and culminating in Rene
Garcia's and Marci Klane's zombie death march dragging computer
hardware as ball and chain.
From then on it came
fast and furious, and for those who participated, either as performers
or as willing spectators, it seemed like a magic time. As organizer
Lise Swenson put it, "It was like we took the streets, our neighborhood
back." Co-organizer Megan Wilson painted a flowery "home" to proclaim
and welcome visitors to the Clarion Alley Mural Project. Home indeed
to a decade's worth of murals by renowned SF artists, Clarion Alley
too faces eviction.
Art Strike's Back saw
more artists making it their home - like Krista Denio and other
dancers, whose performance one Saturday night ended up including
one additional participant. Wearing a tight dress and aping Janet
Jackson moves, this African-American woman (who frequents that alley
more than any artist) was in some ways more artful than some of
the "official" performers - playfully challenging the proceedings
and reminding us that gentrification has many layers, many culprits.
Twilight the following
Saturday found the Body Carto-graphy Project in the same alley,
serving up an arresting, multilayered presentation that beautifully
framed the hideous clear-cutting of culture underway in San Francisco.
Keith Hennesey's troupe recreated "Lame," the desperate cry presented
earlier in the week at the Footworks Studio Circus of Resistance.
Reborn as E. Victor, I served eviction papers to startled revelers
at restaurants and bars. Rene Garcia and John Leanos unveiled "Ese,
the last Mexican". Lisi De Haas did a grief walk. And, in what may
have been the centerpiece of the series, a bunch of us walked down
Valencia one night wearing not much more than underwear. Tied together
in a web and gabbing relentlessly on cell phones, we were the mirror
image of the New Economy and its weekend Mission playground, the
"Emperor's New Clothes."
Whatever else it may
have accomplished, the performance series made a definitive statement,
one even the city government evidently could not ignore. With the
performances scarcely over, Art Strike's Back was invited to install
an exhibit in the Arts Commission Gallery window space right across
the street from City Hall. Still, while it may have looked like
we were getting a free forum, we were ultimately not allowed free
expression. For one thing, we were expressly forbidden from making
even the slightest mention of the community-drafted slow growth
ballot measure, Proposition L, that would be voted on during the
five weeks of the installation's run. Then there was the City's
reaction to the public response that followed. Completely unbidden,
people started taping messages to the gallery window - impassioned
responses to the ongoing displacement of culture and community,
many of which did not shirk from indicting the City for its role.
Thrilled to add more members of the community to the Art Strike's
Back effort, we elected not to disturb the continually accumulating
comments. The City, however, was not so thrilled, and had the comments
removed, effectively denying the people of San Francisco the public
forum paid for by their tax dollars. Just like the framers of the
Constitution, Willie Brown obviously knows (and fears) the power
of free speech. Certainly, as long as artists are still living in
San Francisco, they will continue to use their voices to protest
the massive giveaway by City Hall to greedy developers and their
tenants in the ersatz New Economy. As for the City sponsored (and
censored) installation, what Art Strike's Back ended up presenting
was an empty room, presided over by the recorded voices of thirty
artists representing a cross section of the threatened San Francisco
arts community. In the window, painted in Day-Glo colors in the
manner of a car dealership or supermarket, we added one more slogan
to our short list: "We Lose Space - You Lose Culture."