Illustration by Alli Berry
The first time I saw the sunrise over Lake Michigan, I was in Hyde Park. It was two in the morning. I was 19, and neither I nor my companions had fake IDs. After spending 30 listless minutes asking one another: “Well, what do you want to do?” we decided that the beach was as good a place as any to kill the hours before dawn.
From the Museum of Science and Industry, we trudged south to a strip of sand east of 57th Street. We sat there with our bag of Cheetos Puffs until the sky turned orange. As the sun broke over the horizon, the most listless of us swallowed a Cheeto and said: “This would’ve been awesome, if we hadn’t been staring at Gary.”
Even at 19, I knew this was a petulant thing to say. Petulant, but accurate — I also thought that Gary, Indiana was a miserable sight. Not only is the industrial skyline unpleasant, but it serves as a reminder of a Chicago that its twenty-first century residents would rather forget.
In its rush to become a “global city” with an economy stimulated by a global stock market rather than local trade and manufacturing, Chicago is eager to ignore its Rust Belt past. Unsanitary as it may be, the Gary shore has the potential to serve as a useful counterbalance to this mad urge toward globalization — even if it can sometimes make swimming difficult.
Chicago has long struggled to shed its image as Hog-Butcher to the world. Though blood no longer runs through the river, a distrust of the city’s waterways remains. Though modern-day Chicago makes more of an effort to protect the lake than it once did, the Chicago Tribune reports 19 billion gallons of contaminated storm-water dumped into Lake Michigan between 2007 and 2010.
In AOL Travel’s list of the most polluted beaches in the U.S., three Gary-adjacent beaches — Jeorse Park Beaches I and II in Indiana’s Lake County, and Jackson Park Beach on the South Side of Chicago — broke the top ten. Indeed, Jeorse Park Beach I was ranked as the most polluted beach in the country.
Gary’s pollution regulations are notoriously lax, serving as incentive for U.S. Steel and other industrial giants to continue doing business in the region. (This is the reason that the Calumet River is virtually inhospitable to life today.) The city’s skyline consists of little more than factory after factory.
Chicago is certainly a much more vibrant city than Gary, but a ride through the West Side reveals a staggering number of abandoned factories. While the city itself may be healthy, its working-class residents are still reeling from the loss of industry.
Chicago’s best view of Gary might be from Calumet Park, a beach on the Illinois/Indiana border. Standing on its shores, the Chicago skyline is nowhere to be seen. With the mills and refineries of Northwest Indiana spread out before you, it’s easy to forget that anything as abstract as a “global city” exists. To your left is a boat launch, to your right, a Coast Guard outpost.
From the launch, a barge sets sail. Objects that can only be described as rigs dot the horizon. Some of these can be spotted from the North Side, but from that distance they’re little more than shadows. This close, you can see that they’re painted yellow and grey. You can also make out ladders, lattices and poles.
There are beaches, but the strips of sand can be best described as perfunctory. One is only wide enough to house a lifeguard’s tower. A yellow flag hangs from one, informing beachgoers that there are troubling amounts of E. coli in the water. No lifeguards are on duty, but this isn’t a surprise — it’s 61 degrees outside.
One leaves with the sense that recreation isn’t the point of this particular stretch of Lake Michigan. It would be ill-advised to vaunt Gary as a symbol of lost twentieth-century productivity; the town was founded by U.S. Steel in an attempt to avoid negotiating with Chicagoan labor activists, and the company has continued to have a strained relationship with its workers ever since. But it does stand in stark contrast to the shuttered warehouses on Chicago’s South and West Sides.
Reckoning with Gary — that is, considering it as something more than a blight on the horizon — forces Chicagoans to ask serious questions about the way we run our city. Our beaches might be cleaner and more attractive than Gary’s, but what happened to our industry? Will our city truly be better off without it? These are issues worth considering even if it cuts into our sunbathing time.
No disrespect to the new interest in print publications, but there are also beautiful things happening with online journals, particularly in terms of interface and functionality. I had all but given up trying to deal with the excruciating “page flip” animation of scribd and other similar formats, but the elegant and intuitive layout of new short-form quarterly Edits, from Portland-based designer Ian Coyle, may have changed my mind.
This week: Edits quarterly, issue no. 1, Winter 2012, Voyager
The vibe: Sun-speckled mountaintops and highways, analog photos in digital form (complete with shadowed frames), lots of Bodoni italic, and sweet “interlude” illustrations based on on navigation route maps
Not so much a magazine as a series of like-minded photo journals, vignettes gathered around short personal anecdotes from contributors on the theme of that issue’s title. The first iteration, Voyager, follows contributors from small towns in the Pacific Northwest to unspecified Japanese metropoli. Detailed travel accounts are not the goal here, so much as general vibes (or specters, more sophisticatedly) of place and memory colliding in the photographic image. Naturally, then, if location (and even author) are secondary, the camera model itself is the crucial contributor, and prominently displayed.
Travel as a mode of personal exploration is the overarching message, and the included content speaks not so much to vagabond abandon but to recurrent loops of habitual behavior: trips always seem to be trips home, trips back or trips away, rather than voyages unto themselves. Maybe it’s through this lens of reconsideration (contributors all seem to be sharing trips that are several years past) that we discover larger patterns in our voyage’s trajectory.
Now, where am I going this summer…?
Brooklyn Street. Image courtesy Mina Matlon
“I’m not an artist,” New Yorker Dana Eskelson disclaimed in July when describing her project in response to the Paris-based photo-graffiti artist JR’s global call to “stand up for what you care about.” JR is the 2011 recipient of the Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED) prize, which offers its winners the opportunity to make a wish to change the world with $100,000 and the support of the TED Community.
Accepting the prize in March, JR expressed his wish to “turn the world inside out” by inviting individuals and communities to take part in a global participatory art project. Stating, “what we see changes who we are, [and] when we act together, the whole thing is much more than the sum of the parts,” JR hoped that “together we’ll create something that the world will remember.” Called “Inside Out,” the project builds on the artistic process for which JR is known: close collaborations with communities to create large-scale photographic portraits of its members that are then affixed to the surfaces of public buildings. The images invite the public to seek out and speak with the individuals represented in the portraits.
“Inside Out” differs from JR’s past projects in that the role of the artist is turned over to the community members themselves. The project website, insideoutproject.net, provides the following simple instructions for participation: “Upload a portrait. Receive a poster. Paste it for the world to see.” To date, over 9,000 photos have been uploaded to the project website in locations as wide-ranging as Cape Town, Oslo, Lima and Brooklyn.
Six months after the JR/TED team launched “Inside Out,” F Newsmagazine spoke with approximately 50 members of the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, regarding the community’s implementation of one of the first “Inside Out” projects worldwide and the first in New York. Was this organically constructed project fulfilling JR’s wish to change the way members of a community see each other?
Park Slope and Atlantic Yards
Construction on Atlantic Yards Project. Image courtesy Mina Matlon
Park Slope is a culturally diverse area in the midst of gentrification, home to trendy new cafes, established corner bodegas and a contentious development project known as Atlantic Yards. According to its website, Atlantic Yards will consist of a public plaza, affordable housing, retail space and a new stadium for the New Jersey Nets basketball team.
Over the years, Atlantic Yards has been the subject of numerous protests. Many residents oppose the project, citing increased traffic and general disruption to the character of neighboring Brooklyn communities. Business owners in the area, however, generally express more complicated views of Atlantic Yards. Echoing the sentiments of most business owners interviewed, Pete Kocher, co-owner of Ride Brooklyn bike shop, stated, “Everyone will be impacted. It will be okay for business. For living…less so.”
The Park Slope Project
Motivated by JR’s TED speech, Park Slope resident Dana Eskelson wanted to join “Inside Out” in making a difference but was unsure how to participate. She ultimately drew inspiration from the community she loved, the long-term shop owners who added texture and history to that community and her belief, shared by many residents, that “a lot of businesses can’t make it” because of Atlantic Yards.
Homeowner of a brownstone located on a leafy, moderately trafficked street approximately one block away from Atlantic Yards, the ten-year resident invited those of her neighbors whose houses possessed stoops, approximately 44 of the almost 60 houses located on her block, to participate in the art project. Eskelson wanted to recognize the local shop owners, “the vast majority [of which] are immigrants who have been here for years and are still here, despite the massive rent hikes and gentrification.” In a letter explaining the project’s purpose, she stated, “Will [the shop owners] be able to stay once the stadium is built? We have come to depend on them – and yet they all remain largely unknown, and somewhat unseen. I’d like to change that. I’d like to show our appreciation and honor and thank them…I’d like them to be able to tell their story.” Seventeen residents representing 11 brownstones donated their stoops for the project.
Detail of Inside Out Project Installation. Image courtesy Mina Matlon
“Everyone had an opinion,” Eskelson noted of the business owners neighbors wanted profiled on their stoops. She made the final selections, choosing 11 individuals, 10 of whom are immigrants, and, after a friend took the owner’s photographs, picked which photos would be turned into portraits. On May 9, Eskelson, her family, friends and several neighbors attached the portraits to the participating brownstone stoops.
When I toured the art installation several months later I was greeted by photographs intermittently spaced on both sides of the block in the form of 36 by 48 inch black and white head shots cut horizontally and pasted across the brownstones’ stairs. Some of the faces smiled directly at me, while others appeared stern, downcast or stared contemplatively into the distance; none of the images contained any identifying information. The photographs’ sheer size made them compelling, but their placement on the stoops distorted the faces, rendering several of them difficult to discern. The tired or concerned expression in so many of the portraits, combined with their distortion, created an overall impression of something lost.
The installation of this first “Inside Out” project in New York was followed by generally favorable press coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post and the Brooklyn Paper. But a closer review of the Park Slope project reveals striking differences from the participatory model existing in JR’s own projects and envisioned in JR’s TED wish.
When We Act Together
Omitted from the Park Slope project were two key features JR referenced in his TED wish: collaboration and recognition. The Park Slope project was Eskelson’s idea, and her insular approach to its design and execution resulted in a participatory art project that had minimal participatory features.
Eskelson’s belief that the project “brought my neighbors closer together,” was countered by a participating neighbor, who asked not to be named in this article due to concerns that the neighbor’s frankness would not be well-received by other neighbors: “[It was] not a unifying project at all.” Rather, when the portraits went up, “my neighbor looked at mine, and I looked at theirs, and that’s it.” The resident further expressed dissatisfaction with the business-owner selection process, feeling no real connection with the individual ultimately featured on the resident’s stoop.
Detail of Inside Out Project Installation. Image courtesy Mina Matlon
Similarly, all six of the interviewed profiled business owners noted that their sole involvement in the project was having their photo taken. Echoing the experience related by most owners, Paul, the thirty-year owner of a fruit and vegetable store, had little knowledge of the resident on whose stoop his photo had been placed and was unable to identify many of the other owner participants. Regular customers had informed him that his photo had been pasted, and he had been to the block to see his photo. As Eskelson suspected, neither Paul nor any of the other owners had more than a vague understanding as to the purpose of the project.
Eskelson has not spoken with the owners regarding their experience with the project. As quoted by the Wall Street Journal, “I haven’t asked the business owners what they think. I don’t want to pressure them to thank me. I just wanted to do it and have people feel whatever they feel.” She was not alone: none of the residents interviewed for this article had asked their profiled business owners what they thought of the project. Reflecting on the experience, the resident who asked to remain anonymous felt strongly that the project would have had more of an impact with greater participation from the residents and better communication with the business owners: “What should have happened [is that] you … have to do a little more legwork, really talk to people.”
What We See Changes Who We Are
Interviews with Park Slope community members revealed that very few were aware of or understood the purpose of the Park Slope project. Many residents had walked directly past the portraits and failed to notice them. Those who had seen the project either did not recognize the profiled owners or incorrectly identified them. For example, told that all the photographs were of local vendors, a barista at a coffee shop a block away from the project insisted, “I’m pretty sure I saw some famous dead people, like Albert Einstein. You’re sure?”
Detail, Inside Out Project Installation. Image courtesy Mina Matlon
When informed that the primary purpose of the project was to provide local business owners who would be impacted by Atlantic Yards with recognition and support, there was unanimous support for the project by residents.
The profiled business owners, on the other hand, did not share the presumption inherent in the project’s purpose. Language difficulties made it hard to ascertain some of the owners’ full views on Atlantic Yards, but the participating owners generally shared the cautious view of the business community that Atlantic Yards could have a positive impact on business in the neighborhood. Residents’ misperception of the owners’ views clearly indicated that the profiled business owners remained unseen and unheard by residents.
“Inside Out” set out to change the world through a participatory art project but provided minimal guidance on how community collaborations should take place. In Park Slope, the project appears to have been lost in translation. Michelle, a profiled owner of a Mediterranean restaurant, summarized the Park Slope project: “I don’t know how much impact it has had.”
For the final installment of “Emerging Art in El Salvador,” Danielle Mackey interviews Renacho Melgar, a painter and the coordinator behind the Salvadoran artist collective: Colectivo Urbano (Urban Collective). Melgar was born in 1981 in San Salvador. He identifies as a painter, because, “simply put, I love to paint and draw every day.” He is 30 years old and is from the generation that grew up on the Wonder Years, Tranzor Z and the Thundercats. He specializes in visual and body art.
Urbano Colectivo artist Jorge Merino, Renacho Melgar, and Urbano Colectivo artist Oscar Lopez.
Danielle Mackey: Can you tell us a bit about the origins of Colectivo Urbano?
Renacho Melgar: It all began, if you believe it, through hi5. I had recently returned to the country after having lived in Nicaragua and Costa Rica and doing an exposition in Cuba. I wanted to try something different so I contacted my friends, photographer Jorge Merino and painter Efrain Cruz, thinking that we could do a joint exhibit. I didn’t realize we’d end up building a collective together. We ended up going out for coffee and, as artists worldwide always do, we lamented the lack of space and support for local artists, along with the necessity to create something different. Without realizing it, during that long talk over multiple coffees, we had given life to a great idea. We said goodbye, planning to go out for another coffee the next week. The very next day, Jorge (Merino) called me and he’d already recorded everything that we had constructed the afternoon before. This is something that never happens: we always get together and talk about our problems and what’s going on, but this time we had a very concrete project that would be simple to fulfill. We decided to do twelve expositions during one year — one per month — with the theme always revolving around urbanity. Urban character, urban landscape, and urban still life are a few examples. That’s where the name Colectivo Urbano comes from.
DM: How did the collective grow beyond you three?
RM: From our original idea, we wanted to offer open call to all artists in the country in any area (to participate), as long as their work focused on the subject of the month. We found a curator, and we began to search for areas to exhibit outside of San Salvador, because it seems art here is always concentrated in the cities. As you’d imagine, we didn’t have money to offer, so everything relied on our own initiative and negotiations. Soon, the months passed and we had not only done the original twelve expositions, but instead twenty-five of them, and we had involved 40 different artists.
Jorge Merino, Oscar Lopez and Renacho Melgar.
DM: What is unique about how the collective works?
RM: There have been collectives before us, but our dynamic of collective creation is what sets us apart. I’m proud to say that people are replicating our form of working. We’re not just doing awareness-raising with society, but we’re also making them a part of our creation processes with our urban interventions. We try to involve the public in the moments of creation and development, so that it’s truly our art. All this effort has garnered us legitimacy with different generations in the art world and with the media.
Over the past three years, we have changed our working dynamic in some ways, but we always keep clear that we do everything collectively, and our support and effort goes to emerging places [in the art world]; that’s where people call us to be. This is the only way to change the art world in this country, where we tend to go through moments brimming with cannibalism and others characterized by a stupid intellectualism. Our priority is simple: we want to construct a different proposal for art, and I’m being sincere here. This will be a space where we all fit and where all struggles come together; and, above all, this will be a space where we dare to destroy and construct our daily realities through art — including art itself. Even art must be destroyed so that we can rebuild it.
In part one of this three-part installment exploring the emerging art community in El Salvador, Danielle Mackey visited Artefacto Espacio Cultural, an art space committed to exhibiting the work of emerging Salvadoran artists — from students, to established art makers. In part two, Mackey talks shop with three Salvadoran artists, narrating photos of their work with tidbits from their conversation.
“We have to have these conversations more frequently!” Sara Bolougne, a Salvadoran modern ceramic artist, both a lamentation and celebration of the space that four of us created on a rainy, cool evening on the back porch of a San Salvador café. Bolougne, together with Fredy Granillo and Sandra Leiva, represent three leading figures in the movement of emergent artists of El Salvador. That night they shared with each other and myself some samples of their work, along with thoughts about topics ranging from the power of art in the family, specifics of their own pieces, and the divisions within the Salvadoran art community.
"Untitled" by Sandra Leiva
Though all three were educated at the National University of El Salvador’s School of Art and Culture, Bolougne and Leiva had never met before that night. What brought them together was Granillo: he had been a student of Bolougne’s, and has taken classes with Leiva. This surprising lack of contact within a specific community in a small country became a thread woven throughout our discussion that night. “I can’t believe we’ve never met,” Leiva said at once point, confounded. “Clearly we do not have the dialogue spaces we need.” Thus, the real power of the evening happened long after I left: Bolougne and Leiva stayed, holed up in our corner table on the patio, smoking cigarettes and reveling in this newfound space for two talented people to lay important groundwork for the future of Salvadoran art.
Part one of a three-part series exploring emerging artists, art, and art practices in El Salvador.
All photos courtesy of Danielle Mackey
The entrance to Artefacto Espacio Cultural.
“You’re here to see the young man?” The sturdy gentleman in a tan vest with a semi-automatic slung around his shoulder asks as I walk up to the small museum’s front door. “He’ll issue you in; just a second,” he says. The name of the “young man” is Carlos Funes, and he is the owner and principal director of the museum, called Artefacto. The security detail is there because Funes also happens to be the son of the current president of El Salvador.
The guard sweeps open the tinted glass doors and I find myself flanked by another three guards, seated just inside. The museum is small — shot-gun shaped, perhaps about five meters wide and three times as long — and the main offices are in the back. It’s dimly lit in an attractive way, and a projector throws onto the back white wall a video of an acoustic performance by the popular Mexican band, Zoé. Funes exits the office in his green-brown suit and tie. I feel a bit under-dressed in my jeans and Converse, but Funes has an ear piercing.
Beginning to speak almost before sitting down, he explains that the music video is modeling an idea they have for an upcoming exhibit: to film minimalistic, 2-camera acoustic performances of Salvadoran bands with a small audience enjoying the performance. Then, he points out the walls, hung with paintings and drawings. His initial comments explain why Funes does not refer to “Artefacto” — which means “artifact” when translated literally — as a museum. The full name of the building is the Artefacto Espacio Cultural (Artifact Cultural Space). Funes, together with a team of artists, began this space in May of 2010. Their idea is to provide a place for various forms of art, and activities devoted to the promotion of art, as a vital part of Salvadoran culture.
Although it opened just last year, the concept for Artefacto has been germinating for a while. Carlos previously worked with a local troop of videographers and documentarians, called Tripode. What brought him to Tripode was an appreciation for art in his lineage. (Carlos’ mother was a plastic artist.) He loved it, but identified as an artist only behind a video camera. He began to wonder how he could get as close as possible to the other types of art that he loves. “How could I facilitate art without being the artist? I don’t know how to play the guitar, though I love music; I don’t have talent with a paintbrush though I love to paint; and though I like to write I don’t have a disciplined pen.” Carlos ruminated on the desire for a while. “One of my most impacting moments in art was when I did a documentary about blind painters with Tripode,” he explains. “I thought, ‘If these blind people have the courage to paint and the heightened sensitivity to produce such beautiful art, I can make my contribution too.’”
Gallery space inside Artefacto, with Mexican band "Zoé" playing on the projector screen.
Funes’ contribution manifests itself in this cultural space, which fills a void that currently exists in the Salvadoran art world. “My idea with Artefacto is — just like the word ‘artifact’ would suggest — to give artists the tools necessary to do their work.” For Carlos, this especially applies to emerging artists. “There is a stigma here that the old guard — those who sell paintings for upwards of $5,000 or 10,000 — are the only ones worthy of sponsorship. But we want to break that stereotype. We have to change our way of viewing these things in this country. All of the Salvadoran masters that we’re still privileged enough to have around were once emerging artists too.” Funes insists that focusing on emerging artists acquaints him with impressive talent. “I see lots of emerging artists that have their own voice, their own style. We have to bet on these young folks.”
Artefacto’s current exhibit proves Funes’ point. It spotlights a series of intricate, vibrant drawings and paintings made by economically disadvantaged youth in a school known as the Experimental School for Plastic Arts and Photography. “You should have seen the kids’ faces when they entered the gallery and saw their own work up on the walls, with placards with their names and spotlights for each piece,” he tells me. “They were ecstatic.”
Though Funes values inexperienced artists, he is not shy about explaining what he sees as the necessity of art as a commercial activity. In fact, Artefacto’s other raison d’etre beyond celebrating art, is selling art. “Some people are too romantic about art: you know, ‘art for art’s sake,’ art as pure passion, etc. In the end, art is a commercial product. It’s a piece that you can sell. There’s a necessity to sell, and artists have to have the vision to be able to do so.”
Funes standing next to artwork in the space.
He emphasizes that his work at Artefacto is an attempt at innovation in Salvador’s small and entrenched art world. There are workshops on Mayan art, a trip to Peru for an exchange between two Salvadoran artists and a museum in Lima, a dance presentation done by a team of two dancers on a floor sprinkled in sand. In May of this year, an exhibit called “Collage” invited both artists and interested lay people in to write on and paint up the walls of the cultural space in homage to Roque Dalton. May is the month that Roque Dalton — perhaps the most famous Salvadoran poet — was murdered in 1975 during the 12 year civil war that ravaged this tiny country, leaving nearly 80,000 dead.
Funes identifies himself as part of a new movement led by emerging artists. This movement extends beyond Artefacto, and includes using digital platforms for art, creating advertising for products that feature emerging artists’ work, and parties in public spaces that involve a night of multiple simultaneous exhibits of photography and visual art, concerts, and beer on tap. And this is only the beginning.
There is surely much to come from Artefacto and the rest of the Salvadoran emerging art movement. Stay tuned for part two of “Emerging Art in El Salvador,” where Danielle will talk with three young independent Salvadoran artists about their motivations, struggles, and opinions of their field.
Danielle (center) with friends at a Salvadoran woman's shelter.
About the Author
Danielle Mackey is a journalist, translator and teacher based in San Salvador, El Salvador. She holds a BA in Political Science and International Studies from St. Louis University. She is especially interested in the social movement and its organization against marginalization, corruption and violence in El Salvador. She blogs about her time here (www.danielleinelsalvador.blogspot.com.)