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

Monday, April 16, 2012

Long, convoluted, and overdue reflections on an installation

I am writing these reflections quite a while after the installation came down. Originally, I told myself I was waiting to acquire the photographs taken at the installation, in order to use them alongside my ruminations. But it soon became clear to me that the delay that had nothing to do with the photographs. Rather, the delay arose because I felt that the project had reached an ending point. Although I wanted to, and felt I should, reflect on and document some of the experience, I was not motivated to sit down and write, but as soon as I realised the reason for my procrastination, I was able to overcome it. As a consequence, a lot of thoughts have accumulated, and this post has taken on a more essay-like length that I did not originally intend…
I wrote that the project has reached an ending point. The article is important—it has not reached the ending point, but an ending point, merely one of many points at which it feels it could end. This was definitely not the case after the performances in November, as at that point in the process I continued to want to think and write about the project. I felt there was a need for continued exploration of what had come up.
The installation provided the space for this exploration. It was fulfilling, and revealing, to come back to the content and themes of the project after the performances, and to look at them anew. Exploring different applications of the same ideas and different iterations of the same material allowed for new connections and realisations. Collaborating with Adj and Slim contributed hugely to this because they brought different perspectives. The collaboration also drastically altered the experience for me; although I was involved in the conceptual development, I was not directly involved in producing some of the installation components. Until I saw it installed, I did not know exactly what Adj’s floor piece (Dancing Through Time) looked like, or even what photos had made the final cut. Likewise, I could not predict exactly what Slim’s projections would look like, as I was not involved in the final stages of their design and creation. I had both a creator’s/insider’s knowledge and a visitor’s delight and surprise when I saw the installation.
I was delighted that people did not refrain from stepping on Adj’s floor piece, Dancing Through Time, and that many took time to read some of the quotes and investigate the double-layered images. It was interesting to have the excerpts and memories in text form directly under the ones in audio form featured in a soundtrack comprised of excerpts of recorded conversations about the Arcade. Unfortunately, the soundtrack was hard to hear in the space due to the level of noise—both conversation and the soundtracks from the other works on display in the building. The different volumes and speeds of different voices likely contributed to this, and may have made this component of the installation more suited to a private display space, or more effective on headphones. But perhaps the odd detail that came through for a visitor here or there made for a more organic experience of those memories than if a visitor sat down with an intention to listen to them on headphones. Perhaps those fragments of memory filtered into someone’s subconscious.
Due to practical constraints, some elements of the installation had to be tweaked a little. The projectors in each of the living rooms did not have the mobility we had hoped for, and so Slim and I could not quite realise the projections that we had envisioned. One of the things that Slim responded to in the performances was the way that the audience had to make choices, and had their passivity challenged. To that end, he wanted the installation visitors to also have to make choices and to use projections that shifted between the two “living rooms” on different levels to make the aware of those choices. He entitled his component of the installation Move!  The technical limitations altered our plan, but Slim was able to work within the constraints to try and facilitate the same fundamental idea. I am still not sure how successful it was in terms of the original goal, and I have not been able to get feedback that helps us evaluate that. But I saw people commenting on the projections, or just spending a while watching them, so their presence was definitely noticed, and people will have drawn from them what they will.
The green taped line emulating the Independence Trail in downtown Providence was the other element to undergo some alterations due to technical constraints. Originally envisioned running along the floor and up the staircase, the tape would have damaged the unsealed concrete on the steps. The compromise was to have it run along the floor in the living room spaces and then up the side of the stairway rather than on the steps themselves. This made the line less prominent. But it also dictated less, asking less obviously to be followed, and more subtly suggesting a connection between the two levels.
The two elements where a compromise needed to be found were the two whose purpose it was to link the living room spaces together. The decreased visibility of the green line detracted from this function, as it less prominently lead from one living room to the other. Similarly, the movement of the projected images was much more subtle, and did not link the spaces as clearly as envisioned. Nevertheless, connections existed. The cantilevered design of the staircase (where the landings are the “living rooms”) allows for an uninterrupted stretch of white wall that runs the height of the building. The balconies and landings are angled such that often both projections and both living rooms were visible, creating connections between the two halves of the installation in ways that I had not fully anticipated.  So perhaps our objective of linking the two living rooms in an emulation of the way that the performance linked the various spaces of the Arcade was not met as clearly as envisioned. But hopefully others made connections that I had not planned, and did not see.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Installation notes

To go a little deeper into my ideas concerning this phase of the project, here is the text I have written to accompany the installation:

This installation is a re-imagining of “An Arcade Project”, a place-based dance project developed between August and November 2011. The four-month process culminated in performances at the Westminster Arcade in downtown Providence on the 18th and 19th November 2011. However, although the project was oriented towards the development and presentation of the performances, they were only one aspect of a multi-faceted process that also produced a large number of photographs, voice recordings, video footage, and blog posts. This installation explores the nature of the work that was done, re-imagining and re-presenting what “An Arcade Project” was, and is, in its holistic, yet fragmented entirety. 
Mediation was a central theme in “An Arcade Project”. Multiple layers of mediation were involved in the various outcomes of the project, connecting disparate sources and transposing ideas between mediums; bodies mediating memories, memories mediating place, bodies mediating place, archives mediating place, video mediating bodies, photographs mediating bodies mediating place…the list circles back on itself endlessly. In a continuation of this theme, this installation re-mediates various outputs of the project, reassembling them to create new juxtapositions and new relationships between individual components.
Like the performances, the installation is about experience of place. At the performances, both the performers and the audience created the experience by making movement choices that defined their interactions with and perceptions of spaces. The installation also invites audience agency, using the design of the Granoff Center to encourage exploration—explorations of space, of ideas, of histories, and, of course, of the Arcade itself.

Friday, March 2, 2012

An Arcade Project, Installed

Plans for the installation are underway, and we have a much clearer idea of the different elements that will make up the installation since the last time I posted about it. I say we, because this undertaking is a collaborative one. Friends and colleagues of mine Adj Marshall and Seung Chan Lim (Slim) are artistic collaborators, and Emily MacCartan has generously taken on the responsibility of coordinating the installation and making it happen.

The fundamental idea driving the layout of the installation is to reference and re-create some of the same exploration of the space and agency that the audience had in the performances. To that end, the installation will be located in two of the "living room" spaces of the Granoff Center that are directly above one another. Adj and Slim were both photographers at the performances. Slim's photos are going to act as one prompt to move around and investigate, in much the same way that the dancers did in the performances. The other element designed to invite is a green line that runs through and between the spaces, referencing the Independence Trail in downtown Providence that runs by the Arcade. Adj has been working with the photos she took as well as with some of the archival photos of the Arcade to create multi-exposure photographs that offer a cross-temporal vision of the Arcade. The two other elements that make up the installation are the edited film of the performance and a soundtrack composed of excerpts from different interviews that I conducted in the course of my research.

The installation will be on display in the Granoff Center for Creative Arts from 12th-17th March, 2012. 

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Providence Postcard Project

Last week at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University was the opening of “The Providence Postcard Project” by artist Betsey Biggs, which featured a postcard of the Arcade. It was a project realised as part of the Urban Cultural Heritage and Creative Practice international research collaborative, and is summarised in this excerpt from the UCHCP website:

1000 postcards – 100 photographs – 22 neighborhoods. ”The Postcard Project,” by artist Betsey Biggs, explores the familiar souvenir medium of postcards as a source of reflection by the residents of Providence on what meanings the city holds. Beginning this week, the project will be distributing pre-addressed, postage-paid postcards featuring photographs taken by Biggs during her visits to the neighborhoods of Providence. Local residents and members of the general public are invited to pick up postcards at Providence Community Library locations throughout the city, write to the Postcard Project, and share their own stories about the many places of Providence.
One of Betsey’s photographs featured the Arcade, and there were some fascinating responses that I got to read at the opening of the exhibition. Betsey was kind enough to let me reproduce the Arcade postcards on this blog, as they provide an interesting addition to the research conducted for this project.

Front of the postcard featuring the Arcade, from "The Providence Postcard Project" by Betsey Biggs. The photo depicts the stairs to the second balcony level on the Weybosset St side.

When I saw this postcard at the opening reception of the exhibition, only the top message was there. This was written by Tim, one of the dancers involved in this project, and details the phrase that occurred on these steps as part of the piece. The message below was added during the time the exhibition was up, and seems to be a response to the new plans unveiled for the Arcade.

I would love to hear more of this story.

This was another postcard that had a second note added to it while being on display in the Granoff. The sideway message is hard to make out, but reads roughly as follows:

'Worked on second floor in sales / saw many stores come + go / 2nd floor not much traffic. First night nice music they hosted/ Johnson + Wales / store (?) full of yummy thin (?) / the Prov ____ / ____? not sure but giant cookies'

Cookies have come up before in some of the interviews I did way back in September (see here and here for two sets of memories that involved the cookies); memories connect and interweave, maybe blur, and ultimately reinforce a sense of place triggered by the invitation to write on the back of an empty postcard. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Next steps

Since the time of the performances, almost exactly three months ago, I have continued to think and reflect on the project. Despite envisioning the performances as something of a culmination, I was aware that there would be a period of processing and reflection. Some of this (as much as I could manage) has made its way onto this blog, but much has not, some of which I hope has been going on in the minds of others. One thing that has come up for me is how central the theme of mediation is to the project. Especially after seeing the the video footage and still photographs that were taken during the performances, I realised just how many layers of mediation are involved in the various outcomes of the project: bodies mediating memories, memories mediating place, bodies mediating place, archives mediating place, video mediating bodies, photographs mediating bodies mediating place…the list circles back on itself endlessly.

The appropriate response to this continuous mediation of place with its many rich layers seems to be to highlight it, and to that end I am starting to work on an installation version of “An Arcade Project.” 

“An Arcade Project, Installed” will be exhibited as part of the American Dance Legacy Initiative’s winter Minifest, and will be displayed during the second week of March in the “living room spaces” of the Granoff Center for Creative Arts at Brown University. My ideas for the installation are still taking, and shifting, shape. But here are a few preliminary ideas for things I am interested in including: video footage of the performance, an audio soundtrack of the interviews, feedback and thoughts on the piece, still photographs (framed and hung? projected onto walls?), and I would really like at least one interactive component. Since I did not take any of the video footage or photographs, this installation will almost certainly involve some collaborators, and I am excited to see in what new ways the project material manifests itself through this collaboration.

Meanwhile, the life story of the Arcade continues, and I continue to document news and stories related to the building.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The future of the Arcade

There were some whispers of plans for the Arcade a few months ago (discussed in this previous blog post), but now it seems for certain that the Arcade has renovation in its future.

On January 25th Mayor Angel Taveras, Senator Jack Reed, Governor Lincoln Chafee and representatives of the Arcade attended an unveiling ceremony for the new plans. They were joined by "more than 100 business leaders, government officials and downtown leaders" according to this article on the official website of the city of Providence.

The new incarnation of the Arcade will be a combination of retail and residential spaces. Shops and restaurants will fill the ground floor spaces, and, in a departure from previous designs, the second and third levels will be converted into 48 loft-style apartments. According to the Daily Dose, the apartments "will be furnished, including refrigerators, dishwashers and microwaves - but no stoves - will be marketed toward recent college graduates and young professionals, Granoff said. Rents will start at $550 per month". The no stoves part is an interesting one- perhaps limited by fire restrictions on a historical building? It will be interesting to see how this feature affects the clients that these apartments will attract, and whether this stipulation will eventually be modified. (A comment left under this article raises a good point: "Why would they need to waste what little space they have with a dishwasher? they don’t have stoves, so I think just using the old sink and drying rack method would work").

The title of the Providence website article, "A Providence Landmark is Reborn" suggests that a similar rhetoric to the rhetorics of the past is being used about the Arcade today. Themes of monumentality, historical significance, and myth abound.

The reopening of the Arcade is an exciting development for Providence...This project breathes new life into America's oldest indoor mall and one of our city's most historically significant buildings, with a mix of retail, restaurants and affordable housing for young professionals in the heart of downtown Providence. --Mayor Angel Taveras 
It will be called The Arcade Providence and it will be a historic revival...This historic revival will create an Arcade community, increase the energy in the heart of downtown, help drive business to surrounding retailers, attract new retail and restaurants, and bring micro-loft residents into downtown to live, eat and shop - and it begins today. --Mr Granoff

It is hard to read these descriptions of the Arcade and not be reminded of similar rhetoric used just over 30 years ago in  conjunction with the 1980 renovation and opening of the Arcade. Specifically one quote discussed a previous blog post comes to mind. Taken from the 1980 opening campaign, it describes how the Arcade is "not just in the heart of Providence. It is the heart of downtown Providence."

Photo of Mayor Angel Taveras at the Arcade on 25th January, 2012. Photo from

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Conversation notes

These are my notes from a conversation with Laura (who I interviewed earlier in the year about her memories of the Arcade) after she saw the performance where she shared some of her thoughts:

The building should be listed as a cast member- the dancer's relationship to it gave it character, personality.
It successfully created a structure to work with the 'accidents', moments where people not involved in the project became a part of it.
It made you look at everything differently.
'Mirror duet' was the "most effective" part- it brought the two sides of the Arcade together.
The piece as a whole created a situation where there was a lot for the audience to "puzzle out".

Her comment that "it made you look at everything differently" is particularly exciting for me to hear, as part of the intention was to re-contextualise and de-familiarise the space to allow multiple identities for the space, and create new relationships to it.

And although there are several parts of the piece that I find particularly satisfying, the 'mirror duet' is definitely one of them. This is the section where Amy and Nadia perform the same phrase across the length of the Arcade. One performs it on the right, one on the left, so they mirror each other. It is discussed more in this post and can be seen below.

It is one of the most successful moments in terms of connecting the two sides, but also in challenging the audience's perception of being able to see the whole picture, imparting a fuller understanding of the sense of the spatial extent of the Arcade, and in playing with the inaccessibility of the interior.