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

Saturday, October 29, 2011


As rehearsals at the Arcade happen more frequently, I am constantly reminded of how blurry the line between process and product is in this undertaking. As far as passers-by are concerned, these "rehearsals" could be performances. Every time we are down there we are intervening in the same way that the performance is designed to; our rehearsals are really a series of performances.

We now have a series of ways in which the vignettes connect, and the challenge is to now get used to those relationships so that the dancers can really feel comfortable in remembering how they relate to one another, and start to really play with the performance of them. The dancers have come up with so much interesting material at the site, and my challenge is to now bring our and highlight in the piece as a whole those moments that make the individual sequences so powerful.

In a sort of similar experience to what happened a week and a half ago (although this was less surreal for me), we were again on the Weybosset portico when a man standing in front of the doors observed, in a somewhat surprised manner, that the Arcade was closed. He said that it had been such an icon in his childhood, and when I asked, he said that had been in the 1980s shortly after its re-opening. He said that he had worked in the pizza shop at some point (or perhaps I misheard him and he said he went to that pizza place a lot). Unfortunately, I can't accurately remember the details he was telling me, and did not ask him if I could document his words in any way.

Today was the first really cold day that we were down there (~45F), but it was a beautiful crisp, clear and sunny day:

Sunlight on the railing of the second floor balcony, Weybosset side. Photo by Timothy Simonds, 28th October 2011.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Old Curiosity Shops

This article appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of "Preservation: The Magazine of the National Trust for Historic Preservation," and I came across it a few weeks ago in the RIHS Library. As it is a fairly accessible publication, I decided to seek it out elsewhere to avoid paying $0.50 per photocopied page. Unfortunately it was not available online, but I was able to access and scan it in the Brown University Rockefeller Library.
In the article Edith Pearlman recalls the Arcade as she had known it as a child. As an author by trade, Pearlman uses language effectively and evocatively, creating a visceral, sensory experience of the Arcade that is full of vibrant and captivating details.

In addition to her beautifully descriptive prose and fascinating anecdotal details, it should also be noted Pearlman's representation of the Arcade is nostalgic and romanticised- which fits the article's context of a preservation publication. The place is tangled up in a personal nostalgia for Pearlman, as many of our childhood places are. But I feel that the context of the article widens her personal lens on the Arcade, representing it more universally as a site of nostalgia, a place of another time, a place belonging to an earlier golden age on which, it seems, rose tinted glasses are being focused.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A lived place

On Monday I had some time to work just with Natasha at the Arcade. These are the thoughts that she shared with me after working down at the Arcade:

I really want to go back and photograph that one spot where the flat glass of the door on the second and third floors meets the curved glass of the window. 
my biggest observation was the solidity and height of the columns. and as I mentioned yesterday, the feeling of both protection and vulnerability or blindness that one has standing on the platform, looking out on the street. even with your back to the arcade, there is a discomfort, as the entrances to the balconies are behind you and people can be (are) up there! in addition the building behind is glass, so your reflection is revealed to those on the street before you are.
the building was built before the buildings around it. I imagine it once felt more like my favorite place to hang out as a kid- the temple to music in Roger Williams Park.

And this is a version of the phrase she came up with in connection with these thoughts about the space:

The people that Natasha refer to as being up on the balcony are those that make the Arcade their shelter at night. It is a popular sleeping place for those without other places to go, and when we were there on Monday we could clearly hear sounds of occupation on the second balcony on the Weybosset side. This use of the Arcade is something that I have been aware of since the start of this project, and have tried to be conscientious of. It is important to realise that the "lived" quality of the place is not just a chic way of describing the fact that people eat their lunches on its steps, but a reality in the fullest sense of the word for some. Our presence down at the Arcade could easily become intrusive, and I would not want that to be the case. This is part of the reason that I don't want to be rehearsing down there in the evenings, and have scheduled the performances for the middle of the day. I do not assume that the people who regularly use the Arcade space as a shelter would be willing to talk to me about their experiences, but if the occasion arises, I would definitely be interested to hear their thoughts- they have a very different understanding of and engagement with the Arcade than myself, or anyone else I have talked to.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Alternate realities

Last week I discovered that the Arcade is, in fact, still open. We were on the Weybosset portico experimenting with some material last Wednesday (19.10.11) when two women walked purposefully up the steps towards us. After a moment of wondering if their purposefulness was directed at us, I realised that they were heading into the Arcade. Or at least trying to. They were visiting Providence (we did not ask where they were from, but English was not their first language- a guess, probably inaccurate, on my part would be that they were from eastern Europe) and had come to the Arcade because it was recommended in their guidebook as a place to shop. They were quite surprised to hear us say that had been closed for a few years, and asked where else in Providence they could go to shop. So, somewhat incoherently, I gave them directions to Westminster Street and also the mall.

This occurrence left a resonance. It was a moment where the past identity of the Arcade as a vibrant shopping location (whether in reality or in utopic visions of the city), and a site touted in guidebooks for visitors to Providence was brought into the present, where identity of the Arcade is as an empty and derelict place. It was not so much an overlapping of identities as a collision; incongrous and seemingly incompatible, the past and present identities of the site reverberated through and against one another. This collision highlights the tensions that exist between pasts and presents, beween projected identities and realities of a site, and in this case this tension resulted in disillusionment for these two women. (Perhaps this disparity between the promised and delivered experience of the Arcade was also felt by some visitors when the Arcade was still open). But it is in this moment of collision, of conflicting realities, that a questioning of these realities is allowed. In this moment, the seemingly stable temporal sequence of the Arcade's history broke apart into fragments of uncertainty, fragments of possibility: as the women walked with such purpose up to the doors of the Arcade (they were almost ready to reach out and grab the door handle before I could say something), I believed for a split second that they were going in, that the Arcade could, in fact, be open- we just hadn't noticed. In that second another reality seemed possible.

Possible for me, that is, because it was a reality for the women, for whom the Arcade existed as an open, functioning shopping location- until we shifted that reality by saying it was not. What if I had told them that it had, unfortunately, merely closed early that day? Would that have preserved the existence of an open Arcade in their imaginations? Maybe. But it is possible that there are still people out there with a guidebook of Providence from pre-2008, where the Arcade is featured as a centerpiece of the city. If so, the open Arcade is a present reality, existing in those individuals' imaginations. And it is a reality that exists alongside and in dialogue with the closed Arcade that I know; these realities are not incompatible. However, sometimes they do collide. And in the space of that collision we are privy to an intersection of realities that reveals something of the complexities of a place's existences and identities, which reach far beyond what we can fully understand, organise, or control. And yet we still try to do just that.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Dancer reflections

The title of this post is a double entendre. The first meaning concerns the thoughts of the dancers after our second rehearsal yesterday, when they had more experiences with the space to reflect upon. Here are some impressions that they jotted down at the site.


stairs on weybosset side seem shallower then westminster, wet, upstairs feels higher up then i expected. Don't want to look down. Scared of heights. Can feel the floor sloping and buckling from age. Columns are just the right circumference to circle half of them with my arms. Keep touching things...wood is softer and warmer, columns are colder and harder. Unlit star hanging out front. What color was it when it was lit?


fascinated by the responsiveness/flexibility of the building material...the once-straight lines of the upper balcony railings and edges, in particular, having become impossibly serpentine with age; surprised at the capacity of wood and metal to relax into such soft contours.the scale of the space strikes me as indicative of belonging to a different era - in my mind's eye, I compare it to the scale of the mall (the corridors, the storefronts) and I understand how vastly our notion of what constitutes a sufficient amount of space has shifted since the time of the arcade. The more I gaze at the columns, the more they seem like robust, stoic, flat-footed figures standing upright in space, with us dancing around their feet.I see suspended white globes, reaching their arms out into the streets below, beckoning.I see the peeling skin of paint grown old, endless shades of gray...stone, different stone, the sky on this rainy day, more stone.There is a lightness inside threatening to spill out...if only it were set free.

The second meaning of the post title references the section that I worked on with Nadia and Amy today. They are each on one of the porticos, facing into the Arcade, and one dancer's movements are mirrored by the other across the length of the building. The duet riffs off of the prominence of reflections at the Arcade. The glass doors and store fronts under the Arcade porticos create a wall where the activity on the streets in front of the Arcade is refracted and reflected, and I found this multitude of reflections- of cars, of pedestrians, of buildings, of myself- largely defines my experience of the space. Some of the photos from 12.9.11 capture these effects.

Interestingly, the Arcade was originally doorless, open, existing as an extension of the streets, and the glass was not added until the renovations for the 1980 re-opening. The experience of the space would have been very different pre-1980 without this reflective canvas, even thought the choice of glass for the doors was a clear attempt to maintain the open quality of the building. But perhaps the glass assists this flow of interior and exterior in its own way; while the glass materially creates a divide between the inside and outside of the Arcade, the reflective effects blur them, creating a montage where, for a person standing on the portico looking in, the interior and exterior blend and shift into one another. The duet I created for Nadia and Amy riffs off of this reflective experience, as the dancers shift in and out of being the original and the reflection without really knowing which is which.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


Yesterday we worked down at the Arcade again, despite the heavy rains and ever-shortening days. As well as revisiting some of the things we had explored last time, we started to link some of the vignettes together. These photos show Nadia and Kelli exploring what it means to do some of the phrases we made in the studio on the Weybosset portico. Inherently, the material changes - both logistically (some of the spacing has to be altered) and psychologically (it means something very different to catch your weight on a stone step rather than on a studio floor, for example).

 I have asked all of the participants to do a free-write capturing some of their impressions and ideas about the place, and because I am working with an amazing set of people, they said they would be happy to. Here is the first of them from Amy:

Winding, circular, rusty, ornate, level changes, dim, dark and light simultaneously, dirty, downtown, a big deal back in the day, expressive, lost in the crowd. Should be better taken care of. Has its own personality. Will forever link the arcade to Elise. How do I make dance relate to architecture?

I also asked the dancers to take some time to pay attention to the space and experiment with using their experiences of the place to create some movement material. They came up with some great material, and I had Nadia teach what she came up with and played with some compositional ideas. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Student echoes and Walter Benjamin again

One of the printed materials held in the RIHS is an urban studies senior thesis by a Brown student named Susan L. Newman from 1981 entitled "The Providence Arcade: Architecture in a Changing Urban Environment."  She was writing her thesis during the year that the Arcade opened- an important shift and turning point in the site's identity- and her thesis begins with this statement: "The purpose of this thesis is to investigate the meaning of the Providence Arcade".

It is always interesting to see something of yourself in the research materials you are dealing with- and always important to remember how easily the line between researcher and subject blurs.

She has many interesting insights to share, but I will include only one or two here. On page 57 she includes  an excerpt taken from the publicity campaign for the re-opening of the Arcade in October 1980, 31 years ago, reproduced here in my notebook:

In keeping with the idea of mediation and re-mediation that I discussed in a previous post, I want to include an image that Newman used in her thesis, which is held in the RIHS collection, but that also exists in the RIHPHC collection (which is where my copy of the image comes from):

1830 lithograph by Moore after J. A. Underwood showing the Westminster facade of the Arcade

The idea of myth also makes a few appearances. On the same page as the excerpt above, Newman writes that "the Arcade is mythical; it provides more than shops for the working population-- it provides a sense of historical continuity." In her conclusion, she returns to the idea of the myth, setting up her argument by starting with the statement that "the Arcade has a mythical value that may appear to exceed its objective reality. The Arcade is, in fact, only a building." But she closes by offering that the then current developers perhaps realised that "the mythical value of such a building is not something to be contrasted with its objective reality. Instead, such a value is an intrinsic part of the reality binding place to building to people."

Newman's ending evaluation is optimistic and romanticised; it reflects the time at which she was writing, when the Arcade re-opened with high hopes pinned on it. Her reference to "myth", however, was intriguing to me because it brings me back to Walter Benjamin, who used the term frequently in his writings on cities. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Benjamin's work has been influential in my theoretical positioning on urban space, and his work on arcades was in part the reason for this project focusing on the Providence Arcade.

In his analysis of Benjamin's oeuvre, Graeme Gilloch notes that Benjamin uses the word ‘myth’ in various ways that often contrast, and are not really clearly explained. One of these ways is “to refer to erroneous thought and misrecognition....which is clearly derived from the Enlightenment tradition, ‘myth’ refers to archaic forms of perception and experience."1 However, for Benjamin "myth is not simply to be equated with delusion and misrecognition. Myth contains within in positive elements and potentialities which must be preserved and utilized.” 2

This conception of myth resonates with some of my experiences with the Arcade. One example might be conversations with people where "incorrect" details that they remember conflict with other sources of information, and where these ways of remembering are being "preserved and utilized" in this project. Another might be my desire to move beyond relying primarily on visual and written ways of knowing, which are generally privileged over phenomenological (or experiential) forms of knowledge-- under Giloch's framework, these engagements could be viewed as the "archaic forms of perception and experience"; they are perhaps "mythological" ways of knowing.

1 Graeme Gilloch, Myth and Metropolis: Walter Benjamin and the city, (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1996), 9
2 Ibid, 12

Ledgers and land deeds

Last week I spent some more time at the RIHS Library. As well as having some interesting printed materials relating to the Arcade, they also have several feet of Arcade Company Records from 1829-1923.

These ledgers gave me an insight into the Arcade as business, as a source of revenue, as an investment. Lists and lists of names of stockholders filled the pages of one ledger as they signed off on paying for their shares and dividends. Many names re-appeared frequently; one that stood out because of his distinctive signature was Horatio Bassett. His signature was consistently larger than the others, and the ink was always darker for his name- maybe he pressed harder with the pen. Another of the ledgers documented the transfer of stocks and shares in the Arcade that were left to people in wills- as such, this ledger was full of death certificates.

In addition to the ledgers, the RIHS has a long box of loose and assorted manuscripts related to the Arcade, that have not yet been fully catalogued. There were some individual share certificates held by stockholders (1 share = $100). There were also 9 copies of a printed notice that must have been distributed to the tenants of the Arcade, dating from the 1890s. These 9 were blank, and must have been extras that were never used. Due to the photocopying policy of the RIHS, I opted to make a copy of it in my journal instead of photographing it:

Whether the "open yard" referred to was on the east or west side of the Arcade is hard to say, but if it was on the west side, that is the area that is now the alley way connecting Westminster Street to the parking lot and Tommy's Place. 

The box manuscript materials also contained the land deeds documenting the transfer of the lots that the Arcade was built on all the way back into the late eighteenth century. The Arcade was built on 4 lots of land- 2 that belonged to Cyrus Butler, and 2 that belonged to the Arcade Corporation. Cyrus Butler had purchased these 2 lots from the executor for the estate of WIlliam Lee in 1816 for a total of $3550. Unfortunately, it seems that when the lots were originally demarcated, a straight line was not among the dividers' priorities, and so an agreement from 6 May 1827 between Butler and the Arcade Corporation states the following: the present dividing line between the two said lots, owned by the said Cyrus Butler, & the two said lots, owned by the said Providence Arcade Company, is not...perfectly straight, &, consequently, not so convenient as it may be rendered;-- In order, therefore, to remedy that inconvenience, & to establish a perfectly straight line between the said lots, which is to be the center of the Arcade, to be erected...that the dividing line aforesaid shall be established by drawing a straight line...

A year and a half later, a land deed from November 2 1829 confirms the straightening of the (said) line:

...a straight line, beginning at the centre of the northerly Portico of the said Arcade building, on the southerly line of Westminster Street and extending through the centre on the main avenue of said Building to the centre of the southerly Portico thereof, on the northerly line of Weybosset Street...

In terms of thinking about what existed in the area before the Arcade was built, the west side of the river was not very built up at all, with mostly residential rather than commercial structures. Of the two lots bought by Cyrus Butler, both are described in the deeds as containing "a dwelling house and other improvements thereon"- a stock phrase used repeatedly in deeds that does not tell us too much about those buildings. The deed books do reveal, however, that the widow of William Lee, Anstis Lee, had right of use and occupation of the dwelling house on the second lot until she relinquished the land to Cyrus Butler in 1816.

So far I have not come across any documents that provide visual information about what these buildings might have looked like, but a place to start would be maps from pre-1828 that record building footprints. From research I have done for previous projects, I know that these are hard to come by-- building footprints did not start to be recorded consistently until later in the nineteenth century, but I will re-visit some of these early maps to take a look at what they have to offer.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Rehearsal at the site

Last Wednesday was the first time that we worked down at the Arcade during our rehearsal time. I wanted to have some material to work with before rehearsing there for the first time, and so up until now we have been working in a studio, creating material that is related in various ways to the photos, the advertisements, the conversations, the memories. Now that we have some material, and now that the dancers have got to know one another more, I want to be working at the site more often. Our experiences of the spaces will shift and shape the material we already have, and inform the creation of new movement. In other words, I am interested in paying attention to the phenomenology of the site- the physical, embodied sensations that we experience at the Arcade.

I started rehearsal off by giving the dancers time to explore the site for themselves, asking them to pay attention to the impulses and sensations they experienced, whether that was a desire to walk around touching the columns, a need to walk down the street to understand how the approach to the Arcade works, or just a desire to sit and listen. It was an exercise in heightening awareness, and moving beyond the methods of "usual" interaction with the building where social understandings of space are dominant, and that usually privilege vision over other sensory engagements. Here are the notes that I jotted down as a result of that exercise:

Ash marks on the Westminster steps from cigarettes being stubbed out- like paint smears from fingers. The ash smears easily onto my shoe. A door handle that supports my weight- "Pull" is a command, a taunt, since it does not open no matter how hard I pull. Reflections define my experience of standing on the Westminster portico looking through the Arcade. So much dust on the Weybosset portico- it must be from tearing up and replacing the road that happened this week. Footprints stand out in the dust- ours and others'. 
It was a lot of fun to be down there and trying things out, realising how the space changed certain things, and finding new ways of applying the movement material we already had. It was fulfilling for me  to see the dancers responding to being there, and hearing their thoughts and excitement about the space. I don't think any of them had really explored the space before and walked up and into the porticos, although most knew the building, and had walked past it before. 

We spent most of our rehearsal on Wednesday at this location, 44 years after the photograph was taken:

I am excited to start to craft and shape the piece as a whole- working from the kernels of the vignettes that we have, expanding on those and delving deeper into them by reflecting on how it feels to dance at the site, and starting to connect them together to create some not-necessarily-logical relationships between the different moments of interaction that are occuring. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Re-articulating some fundamentals

In reflecting on what I am doing in this project, I could describe it as working with fragments of the building's past (documents, memories, images) to make an interesting piece of dance at an interesting site. While this is what is happening on the surface, I do not want to lost sight of some of the deeper motivations for my interest in place-based dance work. Ultimately, what I am doing is an alternative archaeological engagement with place; this work is exploring what it means to (re)present, recycle, and constantly re-mediate a place, where material place is tied up with people. My research activities in the archives, on-site, and with others has not involved collecting for the sake of collecting and accumulating information, but instead has undertaken the collecting because it is a process in which the material is re-processed, re-mediated, re-searched: a conversation becomes a digital (non-material?) sound file on a (material) voice recorder, it becomes a blog post, it becomes performed, choreographed and improvised movements that are translated and mediated through the body of a dancer at the site (as well as not at the site, for example, when we are working in studio space). Mediation is an important word here. To cite the definition of mediation that gets at the heart of what I am interested in doing:

[mediation] refers to articulating aspects of the material world-- something of the locality, multiplicity and materiality-- that are often sieved away by paper-based modes of documentation...mediation is a means of translating things that we talk about but cannot accurately sum up. It is a way of manifesting something of the ineffable 1

This work is about engaging and experimenting with the processes by which we interact with and experience places and things across time. Within this work, several mediations occur, but the ultimate focus is the body as a mediator of and communicator about material place; the body employs a visceral, kinetic knowledge that articulates the site beyond visual and linguistic ways of knowing.

1 Christopher L. Witmore, "Symmetrical Archaeology: Excerpts of a Manifesto", World Archaeology 39.4 (2007): 554. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trailing independence

I have posted previously about the recently unveiled Providence Independence Trail that goes by the Arcade on Weybosset Street, but yesterday made an exciting discovery. At points along the trail, walkers can dial a phone number and enter the number of their location to hear about the history of the site they are standing at. On Weybosset Street there is no stop on the trail specifically for the Arcade; however, on the Westminster side, there is a stop in front of the Bank of America building, which stands directly opposite the Arcade. I discovered (accidentally) yesterday that this stop also covers the Arcade. If you call 401 441 6401 and enter the location number 6, you can hear one of the histories told about the Arcade. Try it out! Among other things, the Arcade is described as being "clearly one of the most beautiful buildings in Rhode Island", we are told it was originally called Butler's folly, and the architects Butler and Warren are likened to children in a sand box.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

At the RIHPHC (cont.)

As I mentioned in the last post, my visit to the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) was both an engagement with some of the archived material about the Arcade, and a chance to have another conversation about the Arcade. My conversation with Sarah covered a variety of topics- both personal recollections and historic preservation perspectives on the Arcade- as Sarah grew up in Providence, and has worked for the RIHPHC for the past eleven years.

In addition to getting to hear some wonderful stories about Sarah's involvement with the Arcade as a teenager, Sarah and I had an interesting conversation about the imaginative potential of the Arcade, and its place in the preservation community in Providence.


To round this post off, here is one of my favourite photos that came from the RIHPHC file:

A woman looks over the second floor balcony at the north end of the Arcade (the Westminster street side). 1957. Photo credit: Providence Journal-Bulletin. Negative at the RIHPHC.

Also in the file is the photo used as the background of this blog:
Interior of the Arcade, looking north from the third floor balcony. 1957. Photo credit: Providence Journal-Bulletin. Negative at the RIHPHC.

Back to the archives

I wrote the title of this post offhand, but the phrase it recalls- the title of the film "Back to the Future" featuring the unforgettable Mart McFly- actually prompted some reflections on the nature of the archive. A play on the fim's name (and themes, since it deals with time travel) might frame delving into the archive as going "back to the past", but perhaps the classic title of "back to the future" suits the archive just as well as it suits Doc Brown and Marty McFly. After all, the archive concerns the future just as much as the past, perhaps even more so, since the project of the archive is to preserve and provide (and often control) a legacy for the future. The archive addresses select pasts (however distant or immediate), exists in the present, and projects a future; it deals in visions.

To return to the original thought that prompted this post, as the project progresses, I am aware that I have been more drawn to talking to people about the Arcade and recording those conversations than to archival research. The effect is that I have somewhat neglected the archival side of the research. While I am noticing this about myself and honouring it, I do want the archives to feature among the research materials in a meaningful way, and not just use a few images as a token gesture. 

That said, my visit yesterday to the Rhode Island Historic Preservation and Heritage Commission (RIHPHC) involved both engagements. As one of the archival repositories in Providence and the state agency for historical preservation and heritage programs, they were sure to have some material on the Arcade. Specifically, I had an appointment to meet Sarah Zurier who works at the RIHPHC, and who knows Laura and Rosanna (whom I interviewed last month) from growing up in Providence together, and who was willing to share some of her experiences with me. 

The RIHPHC has a file on the Arcade that contains two nominations for the National Register of Historic Places from 1968 and 1976. There are some interesting details among the information included in the form, and there are also some wonderful photographs. Since the RIHPHC is a state agency, the copyright regulations are less strict than those of the Rhode Island Historical Society Library, a private research library, and so I will be sharing those photographs on the blog. Here's one to get started:

Air view of the Arcade from the north showing the Westminster Street portico, 1944. 
Photo credit: Providence Journal-Bulletin. Negative at the RIHPHC. 

On the 1976 nomination for the National Register of Historic Places, one paragraph in particular caught my eye:
It recalled the paragraph in the 1919 article from the RIHS Library that mentioned "the recent fire in the Arcade [that] calls to mind that just 50 years ago the building also suffered from a slight fire." I have not found any other details on these fires, but it might merit some more looking into. It would be interesting to be able to establish how much damage was done, and to know to what extent renovations were required after the fires. 

The clarity of the photographs in the RIHPHC file provide a wonderful insight into the stores that were in the Arcade during the 1950s. In the photograph below, the shop signs are clearly visible, projecting out from the balconies of the Arcade. As Sarah pointed out, it is interesting the way that private, commercial, and civic entities were all present alongside one another in the Arcade at this time: the RI League of Women Voters, Don Turner, advertising artist, the Maintenence Dept, Ira Rakatansky, architect. 
Interior view of the Arcade, facing north from third-floor balcony cross-over, showing balcony setbacks and central bridge at second-floor level. 1957. Photo credit" Providence Journal-Bulletin. Negative at the RIHPHC.

Ira Rakatansky's sign for his shop on the second level features prominently in the photograph. Sarah provided some interesting information about Rakatansky, who I had not heard of before. He still lives in Providence and is known for his role in realising the ideas of the modernist movement in the New England area. Sarah said that at the time of his retirement his office was on Meeting Street, right by the Providence PReservation Society building, and that his wife now runs a gallery in that space. He trained under Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropius, two giants of the modernist movement in architecture, and is described on a RISD blog as "the only architectural practitioner consistently committed to Modernism in the Providence area during the 40s, 50s, 60s." I came across a ProJo article which provides a lot of similar details to those that Sarah gave me. It would be wonderful if I were able to talk to him about his experiences in the Arcade, so that will be a direction to follow up in the next week. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Vignettes, emerging

As I continue to work with the dancers, material is developing and the first vignettes are starting to emerge. The piece will be constructed of a series of movement vignettes that do not exist in a strict serial relationship to one another. There is certainly a logistical advantage to this approach; it is easier to coordinate two or three people's schedules on a regular basis than it is to get everyone together for every rehearsal. However the primary motivation for the vignette structure is its potential for realising in performance some of the theoretical underpinnings of this project.

There are many narratives that can be created about this site, many stories that can be told. My intention in undertaking archival research and talking to people about their experiences at the Arcade was to share some of these. But as far as the dance goes, I am not interested in forming logical progressions from one section to another where the result is a sequence of independent events from which a narrative can be formed. Rather, I am interested in creating an ecclectic collection of vignettes that overlap, echo, repeat, contradict, digress from and relate to one another-- a reflection of the research materials that were the starting point for their creation. The relationships between the vignettes will, inherently, always be both spatial and temporal, creating places within the place, and existing in a temporal dialogue with one another. These spatial and temporal dialogues are intended to highlight and realise some of the ideas I have laid out previously concerning the ways in which we conceive of and experience places; where places are always in flux, our experience of time is not linear, and we experience the intersection of time and place in fragmentary and shifting ways.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


This blog is one medium that I am using to record and process my thoughts. Another is the old-fashioned pen and paper journal that I have been keeping to record observations and thoughts I have whilst I am at the site, or in rehearsal. Below is the page from my journal documenting my time spent at the Arcade on 30th September.

My ostensible reason for going down was to measure out some of the spaces on the porticos that I am interested in using. Ideas for the different vignettes are beginning to take shape, and I have started to create and set them on the dancers, but in order to do so I needed more specific understandings of the space's dimensions. I used my body to measure out the space. The foot unit I was using was the length of my own foot, and the "body widths" was my shoulder span. Part of the reason for this was practical- I did not have a measuring tape or a metre ruler. But it was also an intentional choice to reflect the way that my understanding of the space is experiential. My body is the medium through which I understand the porticos; I have not spent any time pouring over blueprints or looking at plans, so a dimensioned, rational understanding of the space is not part of my experience researching this building.

The video below records the faded graffiti on the Weybosset portico which I had not noticed before. As I mention in my journal entry, my attention was also caught by the sign on the railings below. I have seen it many times before, but this time it called to mind Marianne's comment about there never being enough seating inside, which was part of the reason why there were always so many people on the steps.  

The following video was made when I walked the section of the new Providence Independence Trail that goes past the Arcade on Weybosset Street. It is a cell phone walking tour with a number to call at different points of interest, but it does not seem that the Arcade gets a stop of its own.