Thursday, November 4, 2010

art and crime

There's an art show tonight at Loganberry Books where a real photographer is showing some of her work that's inspired by urban decay and graffiti. I look through these beautiful photos and realize that we've been to the same places, only she didn't get arrested.

I'm 5 days away from completely probation and realizing as I ride the Rapid that most of my photography involves some element of illegality as do those of most of my fellow artistically minded Clevelanders and other rust belt denizens. I'm fine with giving up the abandoned buildings.

Those places still fascinate me the way that ruins in the Old World would if I lived there, but I don't want to deal with the court system again, much less run across who knows who. Now that I know what the law is, I respect it, and in all honesty, those adventures were things I'll look back on a few years from now and go "Damn I was stupid back then."

My favorite parts of the city are the dead zones along railroad tracks cutting through industrial wastelands, where everything is growing and a whole other world exists underneath bridges and in forgotten worlds, where flowers spring out of concrete and vines take over fences, the soil is red from the rust of former manufacturing and the bright aerosol colors are arcane hieroglyphics showing that others have gone before us in a city that's gray most of the year.

But these places are owned by someone. Someone who's hoping that a developer will come along someday and buy these swaths up for the revival that may never come, for an industry that can be elsewhere, or someone who might be dead and doesn't know, or some nameless corporation in another state, or languishing in brownfield purgatory.

I went to hear this photographer speak last week and she talked about her excursions into the architecture of this city and times she ran into trouble but was always very nice and gracious, asked permission, but she's an older lady so she has some modicum of respectability as opposed to me being young and in racially mixed company in a city where the culture of past generations is still segregated.

There's so much talk about the creative class and making this a haven for artists. Other cities are known for their bright murals and incredible graffiti, but here, if it's not safe and clean and able to be consumed or surrounded by trendy restaurants and beautiful people, it gets destroyed. I wish I could have experienced 'The Temple of Lost Love' back in the day before it was whitewashed by city workers and the Campbell administration. The aesthetic may not be appealing to all, but it resonates with a lot of us.

I felt a sense of loss when the RTA started buffing over a decade's worth of paint from the Red Line. Does that gray paint really look better? Does someone painting "Cleveland Rocks!" in rainbow letters of declaring their love of Led Zeppelin on a wall really hurt anyone?

So now I'm trying to figure out how to continue to pursue exploration and artistry in this city without getting in trouble again. I've done a good job of keeping it legal, and I intend to continue to do so to the best of my ability but I think now about how many things that are not moral wrongs that there's something on the books about. For all of us who've ever cut through someone's yard or picked up a piece of furniture off of someone's curb, or walked down some railroad tracks or opened someone else's mail by accident.

I'm sure it won't be as hard as it feels sometimes, but I'm honestly jealous of all these photographers who don't feel like they have to debate these questions.


Anonymous said...

sure she got a show but does she have yer street cred? glad to hear that yer sentence is winding down and i'm sure that there is much to explore in the city that doesn't involve the police until you too are old enuff to be seen as harmless. do you really think that there will be a new period of development in the rustbelt? i'm afraid that all of the non-coastal red areas on the recent election map have their best days behind them.

thatgirl said...

I hope that things get better here because this is home but it's hard to be optimistic when I'm one of the few people I know not stringing 2 or three jobs together and I'm only a couple grand above the poverty line myself.

I doubt that the election results really have much of an effect because we've been in decline since the 1950s (Dem party machine corruption, sprawl, jobs disappearing) and all the hype about revival in the 90's had more to do with shiny new sports stadiums built downtown that the taxpayers are still paying for and a rock hall that us locals don't really care about.

We joke around here that the only way people will come back is if the Southwest dries up and they have to migrate back to a place that has a large body of water.

Randal Graves said...

If Arizonastan wants water, they can build some desalinization plants and pipe it from the Pacific. Although, given the hand-to-hand combat in the streets over Lake Erie, The Man might be distracted enough to where taking pictures of abandoned buildings isn't seen on the level of Sacco and Vanzetti any longer.