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documentation and curatorial practice as political engagement

Art & Public Policy, Tisch School of the Arts, New York University

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DOC14 neighbourhood

Project row houses reflection

By Tyler

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we take the theater outside of the theater—how we move it, so to speak, or how it travels—and oppositely, how we invite the outside world in, in such a way that informs the theater (whatever “the theater” is) itself. Additionally, I’m perpetually thinking about space, home, art—and the flexibility and transformative potential of these things. I am particularly attracted to the ways we can launch projects into the middle of community, to address real need. What is the potential of art as shelter, as community center? As meeting, convening, organizing space. And oppositely, home as art space, house as art installation space. Row Houses makes an excellent proposal for this. The viewing of art as space of reconceptualization, and a host of transformative community and definitions of neighbor and hospitality. Reconsidering what it means for art product to be public good. How do I build an alliance, and cohesion, between the work of art-making and putting yourself on the line? I want to avoid work that talks about the world but yet fails to step into it.  work of putting yourself on the line.

I am also attracted to this idea of space as a container, revitalizing space, casting ourselves on our walls, creating our homes—reimagining what spaces of poverty look like, reclaiming the architecture of poor neighborhoods. In many ways, our social environment suggests our worth. In many ways, what we see around us suggests the extent of our possibility. How can we alter this to include maximal possibility? Row Houses also stands as inspiration on this front as well. In offering programs for youth education and neighborhood history preservation, their work affirms what is great about their people.

I think it’s also critical to foster more creative minds and creative strategy in low-income neighborhoods—which is seen in Row House’s example of increasing the visibility/training of black artists. It’s critical to make work that centers our experience, to make projects that confront our needs. It is the urgency of artists making work now, in the present moment. I am inspired by building projects of place that undermine oppression,

Problem solving in spaces of poverty. Social design. I believe this is my passion.  Home is my passion as well. Spaces that call folks together, in one room. Creative strategy and restoration. I am drawn to places and people that go neglected. I am drawn to things we write off. I desire to be a part of ushering something back to its original glory, bringing things to life. I think this is my central calling.

 

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I constantly find myself trying to translate successful projects into other scenarios. I find Project Row Houses inspiring, and am joyful of its success. To bring together social programing and art in a substantial way. To not leave social programing at a thing with which to draw media attention. To be about the community you’re engaging with. To be the community. What does Project Row Houses have that other spaces don’t? Is it location? Funding? Programing? A combination of these?

I find the tactics behind Project Row Houses, the ones I can observe, fascinating. The way it’s laid out seems to reveal that intention as well. There’s a row of white houses, which are the artists studios and such, and behind, the housing for single mothers, as if the art was protecting the social programing. As if to provide this social service it was fundamental to be legible as art practice. As if “art is essential to community” doesn’t only mean let’s express ourselves together, but how can the art world be of service to us, because there is no other way people are going to be looking this way.

I also like their use of “neighborhood revitalization”. To me, today, that just meant gentrification. It’s the language developers use to fool you into thinking they’re doing something good for the community. But PRH takes back that language. It boldly defends the honest meaning of neighborhood revitalization and enacts it in the community’s own terms. How powerful, to beat liberalism at it’s own game.

Another aspect of PRH I find compelling, is its commitment to place and time. How it has survived since 1993, more than two decades, and while Rick Lowe and other artists involved have mobility, the project has become an institution that must remain in place, must remain committed. How frightening is that to me. I find myself thinking that. While I very much want to practice and build, for some reason I find myself terrified at the remote possibility of being tied to a place. It’s not even that I’m trying to go anywhere, I have no alternate plans that building a space (for example) could prohibit. It’s the commitment itself that’s frightening.  

What do I gather from these scattered thoughts? Maybe just to be smart, and learn to play the game. To play without diluting ideals. To get to check mate. And to commit to those ideals. And if that looks like a commitment to place at some point, so be it. Two things can happen, the project is so successful other people can come in to run it, as PRH has done, or it’s not, and you let it go when it’s time to let it go.    

 

Project Rowe Houses – By Joy

This project fascinates me for many reasons. I believe that it is a clear example of how art can bring life back to a space. But at the same time, I understand that art can’t do this on its own. I think that the reason why I find this project so attractive is because it succeeded in combining social/community work, history, architecture, education, art and sustainability. It is not so straightforward to think about a project that includes all of these variables, and Project Row Houses not only did it, but also with amazing outcomes.

Many times I reflect about my own practice on how to think about a project that can somehow be informed by -at least a combination of some of- the different -and apparently diverse- areas that I have been working on. How can we think about a project that involves history and architecture, but at the same time, includes the community? How can we think of an inclusive initiative that considers art and architecture? The answer, in this particular case, is thinking about all these issues together. Considering every aspect and creating a macro-idea.

In this sense, the idea of having a general framework and particular guidelines can be very helpful. The Project Row Houses is divided into Art and Creativity, Education, Social Safety Nets, Architecture and Sustainability. And even though each of these principles contains its own particular projects, they all fuel the macro-objective. I understand that each of these principles could of course work as specific individual initiatives on their own. But the results obtained when they work together, toward a common end, are strengthened by that same inter-relation. While thinking about this project, I cannot stop thinking about the notion of rhizome.

The Project Row Houses also makes me return to a question that I tend to ask myself: is art enough? I believe that art can be very powerful, in many different ways. But what happens when some people are denied of basic human rights? Is it possible to generate a change without a holistic approach -as in the Project Row Houses- in these cases? If it is, how?

Talking about hospitality – Facilitator reflection

I really enjoyed our conversation around the notion of hospitality and our after-talk with Rick Lowe. Regarding hospitality, Derrida is very clear about the antinomy between the LAW of unlimited hospitality and the LAWS. He simply writes “hospitality should not be a duty, it should be a law without law”. And I ask myself: how can it be a law without law when we live in a society? Even if they are implicit, this collision will always be present.

We also explored this idea of the host and the hostess. Shouldn’t hospitality come from both sides? Why do we feel more confortable with some people than with other? What is our role in such an interchange? And also, how does the language play in hospitality? How can we be hospitable to someone else without trying to know her/him? Is there hospitality if we don’t try to engage with them? But which are the ways of knowing other people if its not through language, and through questions? Also focusing on language, why didn’t we think about hospitality in terms of a “right”, as Derrida proposes, when naming our connections during class? How do we connect rights to love?

And many of these questions and reflections came to the surface during our talk with Lowe. One of the things we usually discuss in our classes is how to engage a community while being an outsider, without being harmful and, even more, being useful. And when answering this question, he talked about “managing expectations”. This, in my view, has a lot to do with hospitality. And this also comes back to the idea of the “outsider” also being responsible for hospitality. Who is the host and who is the hostess in Lowe’s projects? Is it something that can be defined in “this or that” terms?

Project Row Houses- Anooj

When I think of Project Row Houses, I think back to the Cultural Equity Framework that I have studied a lot in this program.  Specifically, it brings up questions around inequities of people to even have the same spaces to celebrate, share, and express culture.  One of the largest challenges with the definition of culture that this framework provides is that it asks people to examine their everyday rather than what is considered mainstream and to evaluate whose everyday is receiving funding, space, resources, mobility, and vision to be celebrated.  The key word here is “celebrate”.  Looking at most cultural plans across the nation, they aim to distribute or spread culture, rather than celebrating what already exists within spaces.

The coalition between artists present on the website is extremely interesting and exciting to me, especially because there are artist programs that we have studied such as Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matters who first organized at Simone Leigh’s installation last summer, which we also went to as a program.  Seeing projects that are bringing together individual artists who are working towards similar revolutions is a really powerful form of coalition building as it puts funding and space in the hands of those working to end cultural inequity.  I tried to research the roots of how this project started and came across the idea that high school students had asked for solutions rather than art that just showed problems.  Learning moments, like these, are crucial for me to remember in that they are a part of every person’s process.

Last week I went to the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MassMoCA) and of the many notes I took, I wrote about the idea of community imagination of wonder and what it means for a neighborhood to experience art that through its ability to induce wonder, cultivates some sort of co-authorship as to what the art is.  Looking at the programs, they all so closely involve members of the Houston community, whether in the actual creation of art, or in who is being centered to experience it.  Art merging with housing, young motherhood, educational access, small business development and so much more within this project, shows the foundations that art can create for a people to be able to explore their identity and then come together to change their surroundings, not only because of the recognition of culture that art can bring about, but the opportunity art gives to see the future as malleable.

The final piece that I have been thinking a lot about is the idea of dispensability within a lot of organizing practices.  Namely, how do we take histories of shame, difficulty, and oppression and sometimes center those challenges in our work, and how does doing that impact the esteem and worth of the people around us?  I would love to see a shift in this practice, and see it clearly in Project Row Houses, where possibility is being centered—especially in a place that was once a symbol of drugs.  To be able to invest in a community in that way gives people an opportunity to grow in self worth and self love alongside the community development process.  If this self worth process is not happening in the people leading a movement, how can we possibly expect the people we want to collaborate to be able to?

Project Row Houses: Home and Hospitality

A. Ellis

In sitting down to compose this reflection, I am attempting to connect Project Row Houses as object and project to Derrida’s concepts of hospitality. However, I am finding that, since my read of Derrida was that he is more skeptical of the concept of hospitality and I find Project Row Houses to be a positive force, the connection I want to make is a bit forced. So perhaps Project Row Houses is not hospitality at all; it is not inviting someone in based on law, not asking someone to name themselves.

Project Row Houses doesn’t seem to be recognizing “foreigner” but cultivating people and culture with art, education, and safety nets who do not have to be identified by their location. Yet are these cultural and social things not deserved for all? The existence of Project Row Houses seems to imply that there is a divide in Houston, that, despite this neighborhood being a famous African American neighborhood in the city, this particular community is seen as outsider, as foreigner. Though with the history of slavery and racism in America, I wonder if it’s actually foreigner, and not other. This makes me think that hospitality was catalyst to this project, to building homes, not looking for hospitality, but looking to go beyond the assumptions and alienation that comes with such a concept.


Then I get to hospitality and home building. Would Rick Lowe and other organizers want to create hospitality of homes? What is the difference between the two? Upon further research, I found that a group of students approached Lowe and had asked him to do something about the problems they were facing instead of just raising awareness. Hospitality could be seen as raising awareness. A welcome mat does not make people safe or part of the community. It simply welcomes an outsider into a structure of laws, raising awareness of a foreigner’s presence. A home and building a home that one may live in offers much more. A home, that ownership of a space, contributes to also the ownership of one’s own self regulation, to one’s safety, allows for a culture to grow — home is belonging. Project Row Houses is not hospitality, it is not the foreigner, it is home.

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