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NEWSLETTER Augus t26, 2011
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Derek Bently Music Survives Them All A semiologist opens old and new wounds
ong gone are the days when the American anarchist Dorothy Day joined John Kennedy Jr., the democrat American politician, Joan Baez, the singer and American culture icon, and many other civic and cultural leaders of the 1960’s and 70’s, to visit Cesar Chávez in the farmlands of California. They flocked to those plantations to support him and his Chicano United Farm Workers of California. It was precisely about the same time that the black movement of Martin Luther King and Jesse Jackson nationwide, and of Al Sharpton and Calvin Butts in New York, were raging through urban America. For the most part, the urban black movement characterized the postwar American social consciousness. This strong, articulate movement of the 1980’s and 90’s came practically to an end with the presidential ascent of Barack Obama. A generalized overall sense of national reconciliation and satisfaction has mollified the entire country. A self complacent and all-inclusive media open embrace has followed. The saga of American social justice has been written as if the black injustice was the last pending account of American establishment. The huge shadow of the African American debt seems to have been solved once for all. And it has been solved effortlessly, with no acrimony or national debate anymore. Not even a financial retribution as some critical circles were mulling over right until the time of the last presidential election.
Well, there is another pending cause right now, which is reaching its own momentum and climax and gaining strength and relevance. It concerns the Hispanics, mostly the Mexican Americans who are pounding at our cities, neighborhoods and institutions. And these are mostly young Mexicans singles and entire families. There are now no less than twenty Spanish-speaking communities in the US. The most spread about and strong one is the Mexican one, with about 20 million individuals. One of every six Americans is presently from Hispanic descent. And the numbers are growing. The USA is becoming the first Spanish speaking country in the world, ahead of Spain and Mexico. The common understanding of large segments of the establishment is to make believe that they are temporary, marginal, irrelevant immigrants, with no specific cultural mark or imprint. A well spread American strategy is to simplify completely the map, and to amass everybody together under malicious stereotypes such as “illegal immigrants”. The Spanish language discourse does not figure or share in the conventional media and is not part of the national conversation. The sad truth of the matter is that no less than 400,000 Spanish-speaking immigrants are returned to their countries every year. There is a program called “Secure Communities” run by The Immigration Service and the Home Land security that expels from the US every year the staggering figure of
Los Tigres del Norte, photo by flickr.com
400,000 Hispanics, sometimes based on a domestic violence complaint. The Hispanics are the blacks of the current America. For lack of labor, political and other organized social supports they are now being relegated to the region of the physical, vocal and musical, like the African Americans used to be until the 1960’s. Like in all prior massive minorities, they are ascribed to the world of dance and music as their only field of expression. The immigrants’ rights have been shelved for now. Their issues appear messy, unpopular and unrewarding. But in America, music dance and theater have always played a generation building role. The dance and the word are saving the Hispanics as a population group, as they saved the Jews and the Blacks back in the times. It is an extremely well documented sociological truth that America has reserved to the immigrant masses the musical arts as their primary world of reference, expression and formulation of identity. That was the case for the African American forced immigrations of the 18th and 19th centuries; also for the Jewish massive immigrations of the 1880’s-1900’ as well. Before the Hispanics, it was the blacks and the Jews who suffered discrimination and ostracism. They were finally accepted, integrated and assimilated. It was precisely the music and the arts one of the most important ingredients of this process. The black music generated the jazz, the negro religious music and the choral music, besides the dance and the ballet; the Jewish immigration brought us The Bowery and Tin Pan Alley; Broadway
and later Hollywood would be unthinkable without the Jews, besides the press and literature. The Mexican immigrant masses are bringing the mariachi. The mariachi music and musicians, in a very extended sense, hold the key to the cultural identity of the Mexican America and of America in general. Certainly, this statement may sound exaggerated but the same could have been said at the beginning of the 20th century about the black culture and its role in the American culture in general. For now, the mariachi music and its bands seem to be confined to provide entertainment and to channel the harsh dynamics of the situation at home and beyond the Border. Let’s take a closer look at the situation. Over a career spanning more than three decades, Los Tigres del Norte have grown to be considered one of the most influential and legendary regional Mexican groups in existence. The band has forged a repertoire in the tradition of corrido, which is a “story or song celebrating the enduring pursuit of truth, justice and opportunity, whether by heroes or ordinary folk.” Corridos, also called ballads, have been a Mexican tradition --especially in the north of the country-- for at least 100 years. The songs, based on polkas and waltzes, feature lyrics accompanied by accordions and brass bands. The Mexican Revolution, which lasted from 1910 to 1917, triggered hundreds of corridos about legendary figures such as Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata.
Crowd at a Narco Corrico concert, photo by flickr.com
But over the past 30 years the biggest growth area has been the narco corridos, which are based on the real lives of drug dealers and smugglers. Among those heavily featured are the Arellano-Felix brothers, who ran a drug cartel in the border city of Tijuana, and their archrival Amado Carrillo Fuentes, aka Lord Of The Skies, who was based Ciudad Juarez. Elijah Wald, a former blues guitarist who has written a book on narco corridos, states: “The first thing a drug runner would do after a successful run was to hire someone to write a corrido about it.” Corrido performers normally charge thousands of dollars to write and perform such pieces. However, most narco corrido writers and performers would deny writing bespoke songs for the drug barons. Corridos and narco corridos are now ubiquitous in Mexico and have spread to California, Texas, Florida and other places with large Hispanic populations. They have also become popular in Colombia and in other parts of Central America. The US the market for Mexican regional music is worth about $300m a year, with Los Angeles being the hub of the narco corrido industry. Los Tigres’ most recent album sold nearly 500,000 copies in the US alone. But, can this musical genre be considered so dangerous as to be banned from the radio? Yes, according to the authorities in some parts of Mexico who have forced radio stations to take action in an attempt to stamp out the culture of narco corridos,
which they accuse of glamorizing drug trafficking and gangsterism. The Mexican Senate, unable to act itself because of freedom of speech legislation, exhorted individual states to restrict narco corridos, saying the songs “create a virtual justification for drug traffickers”. Antonio Mejias-Rentas, entertainment editor with the Los Angeles-based La Opinion newspaper, said: “There is a mixed feeling about them in the Mexican community; while there is an appreciation for the art form, there is also concern about the glorification of violence and drug consumption. Los Tigres are generally well-regarded, some of their narcothemed songs are classics, but lately they are better known for songs about immigration and other social concerns.” For instance, they put out a song some time ago called Las Mujeres del Juarez which was about the murders of women in Ciudad Juarez, a very controversial subject; the local government did not like it. Derek Bentley
Culture in the LES BMW Guggenheim LAB
or generations of New Yorkers, Downtown has signified not only a geographic city location but also, and perhaps specifically, a state of mind, a lifestyle. From the early waves of Jews and German immigrants and the following period of political activism, to the building of thriving artistic and literary communities, Downtown New York has always signaled a certain experimental, counter-cultural and unconventional attitude. After years of swift transformations and the indelible trace of urban gentrification â€“ suspiciously regarded by no few dwellers â€“ eventually it all has paid off. The sudden appearance of the BMW Guggenheim Lab in Houston Street and 2nd Avenue this August is a significant example. A foray of the Guggenheim institution in Downtown and backed by a notable car industry sponsor? Some could certainly have misgivings about the nature of the new project. However, from the perspective of urban and cultural development, any forwardthinking initiative that is deeply involved with the surrounding fabric of the city is worth considering. If it also triggers fruitful debate and participation from the people, then there is no point in quibbling. At least not for the moment.
The Guggenheim Lab is a mobile laboratory that defines itself as part urban think tank part community center and public gathering space. Worth pointing out is the fact that it aims to arise public discourse worldwide not only through programmed activities and events, but mainly with the aid of its website and the use of online social communities. Nothing extremely innovative, some may argue. However, the Lab has proved so far to be able to understand how to bring together varied groups of individuals with a sense of innovation and freshness. BMW Guggenheim Lab is conceived to tour the world starting in New York, where it will remain until October. Afterwards it will travel to other eight major cities over the next six years. Not precisely small an ambition. Moreover, it is divided into three discernible Cycles; number 1, namely New York-Berlin-Mumbai, concludes with a large exhibition that will be presented at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 2013. In a time of economic stagnation, despondency moods and dwindling public-realm enhancements, the suddenly appeared Guggenheim Lab aims
photos by BMW Guggenheim LAB
to encourage an exchange of ideas about urban improvement culled from people’s involvement and feedback. This clear focus on exchange and experimentation, while directly addressing the city residents’ participation, is one of the main, admirable features of this new venture. Urban, social and political factors shape the way people interact with each other and with the environment. Given this fact, it seems crucial, more than ever, to try to raise awareness and spark involvement with challenging issues such as sustainability, lifestyle, affordability, innovation or health. It can be argued of course, how the much-touted Downtown think tank is going to carry out such an impressive, demanding goal. Well, in the first place, they count on international, talented, interdisciplinary teams in the areas or architecture, urbanism, art, design, technology and education. Secondly, there will be expectation, because three distinct thematic cycles entail three architectural structures in tow. A different architect will be in charge of designing each one, which in turn will travel to the trio of cities that make each cycle. The first mobile laboratory has been designed by the Japanese Atelier Bow-Wow. The Swiss company NUSSLI is responsible for the fabrication and installation of the superstructure. The structural skeleton is built of carbon fiber and conveys a sense of weightlessness yet compact solidity at the same time. The lower half, conceived as a presentday version of the Italian loggia, will be left mostly open. Intended as an interaction arena, here is where workshops and public programs will take place. The upper part of the structure is configured following an interesting, daring solution; made of a flexible system of ropes wrapped in a transparent web, it’s akin to an external skin through which visitors can glimpse the backstage of tools used according to the events needs. Appealing as it always is, particularly in summertime, the Lab offers small, simple wooden shelters that house a café and restrooms. The natural, unprocessed design and materials allude to timber construction and add a little bit of peaceful, rural feeling -- though this would be achieved easier without the heavy traffic that constantly parades next to the Lab. While the location has some obvious downsides, it also proves to be a creative solution and a fearless, challenging option to fill and frame what was a bleak, desolate urban void.
Lastly, an integral part of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is the remarkable programming. It covers a wide range of options intended to arise true public involvement and priceless feedback. Engagement can be made possible either through attendance – all events are free – or visiting its website and social communities to contribute with ideas and thoughts. To champion debate and awareness, what could be better than an attractive set of talks and lectures? As such, the likes of Nicholas Humphrey – emeritus professor of sociology at the London School of Economics – and Bjarke Ingels, the renowned Danish architect and enfant terrible, will discuss the notions of individual and collective comfort and the urgent need for a social responsibility committed to preserving the environment. Additionally, talks like City of Bits, Bytes, and People or Sprawl: Past, Present, Future will explore how digital technologies are shaping the new urban conditions and explain the concept of sprawl: the uncontrolled spread of urban centers into adjoining regions. These and the other planned activities, for instance talks with local entrepreneurs, are definitely not-to-be-missed events on your calendar. Nevertheless, if nothing of the above is alluring enough to drag you there, and you are wondering in which sense the Lab proclaims itself as one of a kind, you might try to participate in the creation of its acclaimed logo. The Korean studio Sulki & Min ably devised an artful logo that is in perpetual motion. The colorful emblem interactively changes when visitors to the website or to the Lab premises respond to the stimulating curatorial question: how would you improve comfort in the city? The answers are added as phrases forming the letters L-A-B, thus constantly metamorphosing. To elicit this data is crucial, they claim, in order to put into practice the good suggestions later on. As neighbors and satisfied visitors, here at the Angel Orensanz Foundation we strongly recommend you to visit the BMW Guggenheim Lab. Bask in the outdoors garden, keep up with the up-coming events, and don’t forget to engage and participate.
Looking Back The Educational Alliance More Than a Building
s I wandered along East Broadway on the Lower East Side of Manhattan I was startled by the mass procession of black. Nestled into the streetscape, amongst the old tenement buildings was my destination, The Educational Alliance building. Their black garb was the X that marked the spot. The congregation dawdling on the street corner was exiting the synagogue next door; they just completed the traditional mourning ritual for the deceased. Entering the building, I was amazed at the fervency with which Jewish traditions and customs were alive on the Lower East Side. Stepping off a boat and into a world of differences can be a lonely and vulnerable experience. Throughout the 1880’s immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe started to settle in America. Although they knew exactly what they were running away from, what they were running towards was a little more ambivalent. America was an enigma to them and they needed assistance acclimatizing to a new way of life, The Educational Alliance provided that support for them.
Almost one hundred and twenty years later I found myself at the entrance of the building. I was puzzled by the dull, navy blue carpet covering the marble tiled floors; I had been expecting a lobby with a little more personality. But then again, I am a little bit biased. It was my proactive demeanor that led me to the vicinity. I had been calling and emailing the community center for weeks and while their website insinuates that their mantra is “eager and willing to please,” my experience with them was neither amicable nor conducive. I received nothing warmer than a cold shoulder. Although I only had good intentions, the foundations leaders remained unresponsive. And so, I ventured to 197 East Broadway, irritated. The Educational Alliance was founded in 1889 in hopes of easing the tensions and constraints that are often coupled with adjustment. The programming originally centered on manifesting English in the immigrant communities and the center was initially run by volunteers. Classes were offered during the day to children, while night classes were conveniently available to adults. Plays and other
Robert F. Kennedy, photo by Educational Alliance Archive
Summerfest, photo by Educational Alliance Archive
cultural programming were utilized to further fuse immigrant culture with American ideals. In 1907 Mark Twain attended a production of “The Prince and the Pauper.” He was dually impressed by the facility and the positive affects it was having on the community. It would seem to me that since then times have changed: once upon a time everyone was welcome (even eager reporters), volunteers disabled occupational hierarchy, and the foundation leaders willingly spoke to their constituents. Historically, The Educational Alliance became more than just a building; it was a home away from home. In 1895 they opened an art school. Through art, they envisioned an outlet for children: a medium in which they could express and develop their creativity. Many influential Jews sat in this art studio, unconsciously nurturing their imaginations. Chaim Grossman, Peter Blume, Ben Shahn, Philip Evergood and the Soyer brothers all graced the hallowed halls of the Educational Alliance building. Even a century later, as I stood waiting in the lobby of the building, two children walked through the vicinity proudly carrying their artwork, on display for any and all passerby who cared to look. Seeing these children made me wonder if I was the only one finding the community center impenetrable. Had their mothers sat on the phone for hours waiting to enroll their children in the program? I was patiently waiting in the lobby of the building for someone to talk to me, but to no avail. The security guard scanned my picture ID and made all the necessary phone calls upstairs. Stoically, he informed me that everyone was too busy for me, but, if I emailed this specific address (it was recited to me at the speed of lightening via the phone), someone would be happy to answer all my questions. Disappointed, I inquisitively asked if I could see the building to help me understand just how large the vicinity was; I was rejected instantaneously. It has now been two days and I have yet to receive a reply. Just to clarify, I am by no means diminishing the importance of The Educational Alliance. Its history is impressive by any standard; however, their inability to cooperate astounded me. How is it that a community center, which by definition indulges people’s needs daily, could not spare ten minutes for a writer looking to anecdote a few kind words? By the 1940’s the community began to shift. The Educational Alliance supplemented volunteers for professionals allowing them to provide social services for the community. During the 1960’s, teen delinquency rates were drastically increasing. As a result, The Educational Alliance created one of the first head-start programs for early childhood education as well as a preschool that is still thriving today. In the 1980’s many of the elderly in the community were suffering from eating deprivation and mental illness. The Educational Alliance started
Project ORE, which provided warm, kosher meals, as well as case management to those who needed it. Even today, programming is constantly adapting to the needs of the community. The only person they seem to discount is me. In 2009 the Educational Alliance building completed a 1.2 million dollar renovation for a fitness center. As Americans battle obesity and struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle, the building once again provides healthy eating options as well as a fully equipped gym. Currently, there are over forty different programs for people of all ages. If you look at reviews for any of these programs, they come highly recommended; an amazing feat for this one hundred and twenty year old nurturer. Perhaps in order to be heard and valued, I need to participate in a program. I do not regret my journey. If you walk past The Educational Alliance facility, you see a mildly brown thick brick rectangle. Old blind niches that have been covered up by brightly covered activity posters, a dulling façade from years of wear, a dark black cornice molded in the simplest of design, and four floors of neatly rowed windows, only the top of which are arched. The building’s simplicity doesn’t even begin to express the complexity of the organization it houses. Programming foundations come and go as fast as the tide rolls onto the shore and then recedes. Often, as communities change and grow, the foundation’s services find themselves to be more of a nuance than a necessity. Incredibly, this community center has continuously provided the public with exactly what they need. They have allowed their surrounds to shape them, all they have provided is the foundation. As for me, my phone messages must have been lost in a stack of important papers, my emails must have gone to spam, and my visit to the Educational Alliance was scenic at best. Although I personally may have a long list of grievances, their programming does come highly recommended. If you are not a reporter, you should have no issues immersing yourself in the benefits the community center has to offer.
Hot From the Archive Catherine Sullivan Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land
rts From the Orensanz is a program of contemporary art and cultural events carried live on Norfolk Street. The program also features newly edited videos based on the Foundation’s rich archival collection of work created by Angel Orensanz. Program August 30, 2011 | 7:30PM The performance Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land (Orensanz Manifestation) was a presentation coorganized by Catherine Sullivan, Trapdoor Theater, the Whitney Museum of the American Art and the Angel Orensanz Foundation in 2004. The performance stemmed from Catherine Sullivan’s 2003 video installation, titled also Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land, which was on view at the Whitney Museum as part of the 2004 Biennial Exhibition. Sullivan culled material from the famous Russian novel Two Captains (1944) – a love and adventure story about polar aviation during the Russian expansion in the Arctic Sea. This novel was the basis for the musical Nord-Ost that was being performed during the 2002 Chechen rebel takeover of a Moscow theater. Like the video installation, the performance at the Angel Orensanz Foundation staged an elaborate series of actions, costume clichés, and idiosyncratic details from the novel. Through its scrutiny of
and projection into the novel, the work addresses notions of cultural regimentation, which are related to the Chechen hostage crisis but do not reference it directly. Working with the same source material as her video installations, Sullivan explores the arenas of theater and performance to evoke a new set of consequences and possibilities, often arriving at very different conclusions. The main space of the Angel Orensanz Center served well the vision of the director. “In live theater, I really enjoy the pleasure of the eyes able to look anywhere, and the feeling of a very distinct kind of participation; watching and being able to experience a lot of different kinds of spatial compositions and depths.” - said Sullivan.
ARTS FROM THE ORENSANZ A weekly TV program on Manhattan Neighborhood Network (2003-2011) Every Tuesday at 7:30 PM Time Warner Channel 67 Producer: Al Orensanz Assistant Producer: Maria Neri Program Director: Klara Palotai
Ice Floes of Franz Joseph Land Performance, Angel orensanz Foundation, 2004.
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