Since 2013 I’ve been working with collaborators, or on public platforms, to integrate my research into larger conversations about public art, urban politics, youth voice, and creative expression. Some of it takes the form of public-facing reception research, or creating public documentation for public art production. Other projects I have worked on are in collaboration with artists and educators to experiment with public conversations, youth workshops, and art production to create dynamic dialogues across cities.
Hemispheric Conversations: Urban Art Project
Hemispheric Conversations: Urban Art Project (HCUAP, pronounced hic*cup) is the brainchild of myself, Oreen Cohen, and Shane Pilster, and began in 2016. We were joined by our co-organizer, Max Emiliano Gonzáles in 2018. HCUAP uses urban art as a platform for larger discussions about just development, transnational aesthetic movements, youth activism, and postindustrial identity. Working with local Pittsburgh artists like Juliandra Jones, Marie Mejia, Maggie Lynn Negrete, Alison Zapata, Jerome Charles, Max González, Jessica DuVall, Nick Sardo, and Danny Devine (RIP), we offer free youth street art workshops (YOU.Saw). We partner with the Boys and Girls Club of Western PA, Assemble, Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh, The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, Radiant Hall, Rivers of Steel, Artists Image Resource, KSD, Boom Concepts, and other local organizations. Working with artists in Mexico, Argentina and Chicago we also have developed eight murals to date. We also offer public conversations and debates about graffiti.
River of Words Oral History Project
In 2015 following a question about the propriety and legality of public art projects in a National Historic District Neighborhood, I undertook an oral history project with word hosts on Pittsburgh’s North Side. In collaboration with City of Asylum I interviewed hosts about the meaning and the effects of their words, and shared my findings at a public hearing in May 2015 about whether the words should stay. These transcripts are available on the blog portion of this website. The project also received a mention in the Atlantic in 2016.
Urban Acrobatics is a collaborative project with aerial acrobat and educator Polly Solomon that took place from 2013-2014. In 1973 Twyla Tharp choreographed Deuce Coup, a collaborative piece between the Joffrey Ballet and several talented young writers who were part of the heyday of the New York City subway graffiti movement.
As the dancers pirouetted, grand-jetéed, and leapt across the stage writers crouched in the background writing their names on monumental panels that loomed behind the dancers bringing what then was commonly framed as the “urban jungle” aesthetic of 1970s New York into the pristine dance world.
The late 1970s and early 1980s offered scenes for tentative experimentation with graffiti in the gallery world, with Basquiat and Keith Haring becoming the (not entirely representative) poster children for a hybridized street-gallery art.
What would have happened if Deuce Coup became a more elongated conversation? Can we see its traces in body painting? Or perhaps, the whole arm movements and diagonal knee to nose strokes of the writer during a live paint jam? Graffiti is an art that has a history of movement, in terms of post WWI freight train monikers,the train-and-freight canvases that offer the most iconic images of 1970s New York, traces of diasporic migrations in placas and cholo inspired writing in Los Angeles but also the practice of writing itself: feats of daring to reach overpasses, billboards, subway tunnel throwups, rapid alleyway tags, and multi-story productions.
Such daring movements point to another genre of movement that has migratory histories and a dynamic aesthetic: the circus. Aerial acrobats climb hundreds of feet in the air to create astounding shapes by contorting their bodies and playing with gravity. Even more so than graffiti, such art leaves no trace. The train figures in circus history as a mechanism of travel, but also a space for living.
Notably, practitioners of both art forms have historically figured as social outsiders, and yet, participate in forms of expression that are spectacularly public, offering fascinating oscillating scenes of secrecy and publicity.
Circus and graffiti art offer each other productive sites for conversation around movement, publicity, and spectacle. We can see hints of a desire to cultivate such conversations in pieces like 7Doigts Traces performance, which combines acrobatics, drawing, and an urban atmosphere. Using symposia, youth workshops, and performances where circus and graffiti artists worked together, we explored such questions.
Sixty Inches From Center/Art Threat/Art Nerd (Former Contributing writer)
Sixty Inches from Center is an archive and public writing project based in Chicago that explores art that is often marginalized, off the grid, and other than central. I wrote for Sixty, covering street art and graffiti projects, from 2012-2014. Two of my pieces were also featured in ArtNerd Chicago.
Art Threat is an online magazine that political art and cultural policy. I was a contributing writer from 2011-2012.