This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Logistics

It is easy to get swept up in the excitement of thinking about the ideas I want to explore with this project, the process of conducting the archival research, starting to work with the dancers, creating material. But before I can launch myself into that, I have had to research the ownership of the Arcade in order to establish what access I can have to the site.

I started my initial research just over a month ago, and have since then established the ownership of the Arcade, but have not been successful in getting in touch with the owners. The Westminster Arcade is owned by Granoff Associates, a real estate management company who also own the lot adjacent to the Arcade towards the river. This lot is the site of the infamous “Weybosset fa├žade”, which remains standing after the demolition of the Providence National Bank Building (the 1940s facade was saved after protests at its demolition, and was intended to be incorporated into the new structure on the site- the residential tower that was never built). The Westminster Arcade has its controversial side too with evicted tenants, and financial struggles, and both the Arcade and the Weybosset facade have been the focus of activities intended to highlight the failure of the development plans.

I was aware of these histories before entering into this project. Indeed, the debates over the use of the Arcade, and its current derelict state contrasted with its celebrated history were part of what drew me to the building. But despite my desire to engage with questions of abandonment, change, and memory, I do not approach this project with a desire to highlight the controversial and political nature of the site or subversive ends. The controversy over the site is relevant to my project, but is not the motivation.

Suffice to say that these are contested spaces, and the ownership of the sites is part of the politics of development and land use in 21st century Providence, a fact which does not bode well for my interest in gaining access to the Arcade for this project. And sure enough, one research-filled month, numerous unanswered phone messages, and one unsuccessful in-person visit later, I have not been able to talk to the Arcade’s property representative, Lisa Marrocco (she has represented the property since at least 2005, before the name of Granoff Associates was directly linked to the Arcade). While this is perhaps not surprising, it is nevertheless frustrating, and I am left contemplating the next steps of the project in light of not being able to have a conversation with the owners. It is partially a question of access. The interior of the Arcade is inaccessible because it is chained shut, but the portico area is open to the street and is accessible. Nevertheless, it is private property and using the space in an unauthorised way could elicit a reaction from the owners. Additionally, as Lisa Marrocco has represented the property for so many years, I would be interested to talk to her about her perceptions of the site and gain an insight into the business of managing the property.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Historic recognition

The Arcade was listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, and is assigned National Register of Historic Places NRIS Number: 71000029. It was also included in the Historic American Buildings Survey, the documents of which are located in the Library of Congress. Luckily, the Arcade's records are among those to have been digitised, with two black and white photographs from 1958 (below, but can be seen at higher resolution by following the link above), and 5 data pages on the building's history compiled in 1962.


Southeast facade on Weybosset Street, April 1958. Photographer: Laurence E. Tilley. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library Of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C. 



Interior of the Arcade, April 1958. Photographer: Laurence E. Tilley. Historic American Buildings Survey, Library Of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D. C. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Plan of action

In my first post I wrote that,

I am interested in using dance performance to (re)present urban spaces (specifically unused, abandoned, or ‘forgotten’ spaces) in unexpected ways. In doing so, my hope is to encourage and facilitate different ways of understanding the pasts and presents of the sites, and to raise question about the changes of the materiality and meanings of sites over time.
But just how am I planning to go about doing this? Here are my current thoughts on this question:
The initial steps are to research the building’s ownership, current status, etc., and to establish contact with relevant parties so I can make this project happen. Next, archival research. What materials exist relating to the building’s past? What picture does the archive paint of the building and its place in Providence’s history? What (his)stories does the archive suggest? I plan to complement the archival research with interviews conducted with people who have experienced the Arcade at various points in time. My hope is to gain an insight into the perceptions and memories of the Arcade that people hold today. This collection of research materials from the historical archives, the interviews, and my own photo and video documentation will then be used to generate the movement content of the piece in collaboration with the dancers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Some key ideas

I want to lay out a few of the ideas running around in my head as I embark on this project, and that I consider key in my approach to this site-specific work:

The material and non-material: The interplay between the material and the non-material is important for what I am trying to explore. I use “material” to refer to the materiality of the site—the stuff, objects, buildings, things, physical components that make up the site. I use “non-material” to refer to more abstract aspects of the site, such as its meaning, symbolic importance, emotional effect, imaginative potential. The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive; the relationship between them is multi-faceted, complex, and unstable.
Presences and absences: How has the materiality of the site changed? What is present that used to be absent? Absent that used to present? I am interested in exploring past presences and present absences on both a material and non-material level.
Place: Considering place as distinct from space- whereas space is abstract and rational, place is subjective, it has value invested in it, it is lived in. Considering place as something that is created through movement and embodied practices (“embodied practice” is used here quite literally, to refer to practices of the [human] body). The concept of place that I am employing is drawn from ideas of space and place explored by thinkers such as Edward Casey and Yi-Fu Tuan.
For Casey in particular, the body plays a pivotal role in our experience of place; he writes that, the body 
bears the traces of the places it has known. These traces are continually laid down in the body, being sedimented there, and thus becoming formative of its specific somatography...placial incorporation.1
Places stay with us, are embedded in us, and this process is reciprocal.
Memory: What is the relationship of memory to the material site? To material presences and absences? What role do memories of the site play in its present identities? How do others’ memories of the site inform and change our understandings of the site?
Non-linear time: Considering the ways in which the pasts of the site (material and non-material) are present through our engagements with them (as William Faulker wrote in Requiem for a Nun, “the past is not dead. In fact, it’s not even past”). Considering the role of memory in blurring the conception of time as linear, where time is an absolute entity that progresses from past to present to future.
Dance:  Approaching the idea of dance as kinetic, embodied exploration of and engagement with what it means to be human.
Site-specific dance: Approaching the site-specific dance as a kinetic, embodied exploration of and engagement with what it means to be human in a place.
Flux: I like to subscribe to the idea that places are not static; they are constantly changing. This can apply both on the material and non-material level, with the instability of the meanings, conceptions, and perceptions of places existing in a complex interplay with the material changes occurring at a site.
Performance and performativity: Considering the creation of urban space as a performative act- designating certain sites as historic, or off-limits, or endangered are some examples of performative acts that shape and define urban spaces and the way that people use and think about them. If we consider city-making as a performance, what happens when a performance in the more conventional sense (i.e. a performing arts event) is inserted into this performative space?

1 Casey, Edward S. 2000. “Body, Self, and Landscape: A Geophilosophical Inquiry into the Place-World.” In Textures of Place: Exploring humanist geographies, edited by Paul C. Adams, Stephen Hoelscher and Karen E. Till, 403-425. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 414.