Streetopia


There’s nothing quite like a book that points out over 300 pages how clueless you’ve been about your local community of artists. As I read this, I had to wonder what rock I was living under in May/June 2012 to have missed out on the five weeks of discussion, exhibition, art walks, free vegan food, lectures on herbal remedies, etc. I mean, I passed by the Luggage Store on my bike every day headed downtown for work—why was I oblivious?
Erick Lyle gives us several of his own pieces and pulls together essays from writers like Rebecca Solnit, Micah Bazant, Sarah Schulman, etc. to produce 31 distinct entries into this book layered with photos of the art and exhibition and lectures. Marshall Weber spent 72 hours exposed to the streets without eating/drinking unless something was given to him (a burrito and a loaf of bread) and sleeping outside all while reading site-specific poems around the city and dragging a small covered wagon filled with poetry. Sam Green gives us a history of “plop art” that makes me actually change my mind about that sculpture in Justin Herman plaza:

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, at the press conference for the dedication, Vaillancourt shouted, “This fountain is dedicated to all freedom. Free Quebec! Free East Pakistan! Free Vietnam! Free the whole world!” Then he jumped into the water of the fountain and spraypainted the word “Libre” with a stencil directly onto his new sculpture! “I am an emotional man,”Vaillancourt said. Then prodding his middle finger upward in the direction of the speaker’s platform, he added, “And if they don’t like it, fuck them!”

Plop art itself is worthy of a definition: “Plop Art (or Plonk art is a pejorative slang term for the public art (usually large, abstract, modernist or contemporary sculpture) made for government or corporate plazas, spaces in front of office buildings, skyscraper atriums, parks, and other public venues.”

Sarah Schulman gave a talk on the Gentrification of the Mind, noting that in communities like NYC and SF where a section of the population died off from AIDS, those radical and alternative artists were replaced “by people who were far more obedient to the dominant order, economically and aesthetically. And hence we see why the new tenants, and now their children attending NYU, would want to stop in at the 7-Eleven on Saint Mark’s Place for a microwaved hot dog. Its blandness reminds them of themselves, their own obedience, their own mass production, their own sameness, corporate aesthetic and their own corporate desire.”

In Lyle’s Utopia in the Tenderloin essay, I learned about the Kaliflower newsletter of the 1970-1971 timeframe, produced by a communal household in the Western Addition to connect communes in the city and East Bay. This publication was hand-delivered by individuals who then created personal bridges between the communes. Appendix 1 contains a partial listing of all the addresses of communes within the network between 1967-1971.

The book is visually interesting and tackles the complex issues cities (and SF in particular) are facing with the ever-widening gap between haves and have-nots.