Are We There Yet?
As 2013 approaches, we know you’re eager for the big reveal of Red Line D.C.‘s final two-part documentary series. Trust us when we say, so are we!
Having finished the fine cuts of (part one) “See Something, Say Something” and (part two, tentatively titled), “Crossing the Line,” director/producer Saaret Yoseph has tagged in some essential support to help her champion–and finally complete–this three-year long project The remaining elements include, visual effects and a soundtrack by local legend Damu the Fudgemunk, a surefire combo package to compliment our documentary efforts.
We know that you are just as excited as we are to see these final touches come together. No doubt, a little impatient, as well. But fret not. With a few months to go until completion, we wouldn’t pass the time without giving you a taste of what’s to come. Here’s a slideshow featuring some of the fantastic, never-before-seen photos of Red line graffiti that we’ll be including in both films. These images have been collected by Cory Stowers, one of our featured interviewees and co-owner of the custom design shop Art Under Pressure. We have him to thank for holding you over until we get our act together.
Enjoy! And, as always, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below!
From Theory to Practice
We’re back with another sampling from the #RedLineDC video vault. This time with an excerpt from last year’s interview with art historian and culture theorist Martin Irvine, the founding professor of Georgetown University’s Communication, Culture & Technology program.
We asked Professor Irvine about the academic concepts evident in graffiti subculture. What’s the big idea behind the writings on the wall? Why has the tradition of graffiti returned to the Red line, again and again? Irvine weighs in on the lure of metro graffiti and explains why we need to give these everyday aesthetics a closer look. See for yourself and share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Waxing Poetic, Metro-Style
Imagine combining your public transit experience with poetry. Try describing the feeling while underground or when emerging from a tunnel to face graffiti outside your window. Picture adding word and rhyme to the rhythm of shuffling feet, to the sight of bodies in motion, rocking along with the train. That’s exactly the goal of poet Joseph Ross and the folks at Knowledge Commons DC, whose Slam the Rails series looks to inject ”spoken word in a context often defined by silence.” Ross will be in our neck of the woods on March 18th, reading poems on the red line (toward Glenmont). Riders are invited to hop the last car and hear him read, to take in his poetry along with the miles-long view of spray-painted murals and names.
Like us, Ross has been fascinated by the “ever changing graffiti landscape of the metro.” His poetry explores the work of local graffiti legend Cool Disco Dan and the significance of graffiti as a public name-writing practice. Here, he explains more about his curiosity with metro graffiti …
I am really interested in two areas of graffiti art. First, for me, is the “naming” element. I think it’s so interesting to explore what it means for someone to come out in the middle of the night and paint their name is 5 foot letters. I wonder how “unseen” that person might feel? I wonder about what kind of self-proclamation it is. It seems to be a way of saying “I’m here” to a world that does not see this person. It seems like a baptism, of a sort. Second, I am interested in the “memorializing” element of graffiti art. Often you see the name of someone from a neighborhood who has been killed– showing up in a memorial of some kind. Some are of famous people but some are from folks whose names the rest of us would never know. There is also something very transient about graffiti art– like a Buddhist sand painting where it’s created, it’s beautiful, but everyone knows it will blow away. That impermanence fascinates me too.I’ve often thought of the Red Line from Union Station to Silver Spring as a kind of constantly changing graffiti art museum. You never know what you’ll see. A name can be there one day and gone the next.
Red-Eye: Up Against the Wall
A visit to the red line does much for visual wonders and recently, our red line research took us up-close and against a wall of colorful evidence. With red line writers Fame & Grave as our tour guides, we found ourselves somewhere in between Ft. Totten and Brookland — or was it Ft. Totten and Takoma? All we know for sure was there was graffiti high, low and in abundance. See for yourself …
Open to the Public, Open for Discussion
Just when we thought we were alone, out here on the interweb, TBD’s On Foot echoes our efforts for public participation. Check out the pedestrian blog’s latest post with updates on our progress and read what blogger John Hendel had to say about the rough cut of part one in the Red Line D.C. series, See Something, Say Something. We’re so happy to have our words and visuals shared with new audiences. Let’s see what new conversations come of it …
First Post Since …
The new year has made us nostalgic. Looking back on old footage from the first days of Red Line D.C., we came across an excerpt-worthy interview that had to be shared. Robin Marcus, a writing professor at George Washington University, sat down with us in the summer of 2010 to sift through Flickr photos of red line graffiti and riff on its significance. It was an experiment of sorts. One of many we’ve conducted by taking the topic of graffiti beyond the red line and in new directions. This time, a mild-mannered academic was asked to eyeball the work of red line writer JU from the convenience of her computer screen. Since the project’s onset, our goal has always been to spark a larger dialogue about shared city aesthetics; to inspire metro riders with a renewed sense of attachment to their city, its public spaces and all that they see. In this video, Professor Marcus does well to remind us of that. Taking an open-minded look at JU’s “Big Booty” piece, she emphasizes the ability of artistic expression to connect us and our disparate ideas to a broader human consciousness. See what Professor Marcus had to say, then go back to our excerpt of JU’s interview to hear what he had to say for himself.
Looking Back at Our Red Line Ride
This past weekend, five brave souls set their sights on the red line to talk about the metro and art. It was an experiment in filmmaking and community dialogue. We took the risk of approaching strangers and asking them to take a new look at their environment. We asked commuters about their red line histories, experiences riding and interest–if any–in the graffiti that greets them each day. The responses were varied and the results of our little adventure were surprising to all involved. In the days since our all-day shoot, here’s what the small and energetic crew behind Red Line D.C.‘s commuter interviews has had to say about the whole weekend excursion:
I think it was interesting how we were worried about approaching folks, but some people reacted really warmly. It’s an important reminder that filmmaking is a two-way street. We’re not just taking, but there is an exchange …
– Julie Espinosa, videography
I was pleasantly surprised by how open and receptive most people were about talking to us and being filmed; the friendliness of red liners! And, people gave really thoughtful answers, not just yes or no.
– Jada Smith, interviewing
In general, I was surprised at people’s willingness to talk in such an open space. I only spoke with a couple people, but I was also surprised at how overwhelmingly negative their attitudes towards graffiti were. I mean, I guess my own opinions aren’t a good barometer, but … it seems like people were just forming their opinions [about graffiti on the metro] without discussing at all … They just may not have all the sides to the story.
– Mebrahtu Grmai, videography
The few people I was able to interact with, actually had a lot more to say than I expected. It almost felt like people are quiet, but when given a chance to express themselves, they really open [up]. [In] my experience with the metro people are quiet, looking down, minding their own business (as much as possible), but that day, the 2-3 people I got to see or talk to, opinions just started flowing out.
– Philippe Bissohong, interviewing
I enjoyed soaking up the metro experience in a group. It attracted a lot of attention, but in ways that allowed us to spark conversations with curious commuters. Announcing to a packed train that you are doing a metro graffiti documentary is probably the biggest ice breaker I can think of … Once the initial “we’re-transit-strangers-so-we-shouldn’t-speak” awkwardness passed, I was surprised by how many people we’re willing to share their points of view.
– Saaret Yoseph, directing
Word on the Street: Red Line Riders Speak Out!
This site is in need of some fresh multimedia! A little audio inspiration is exactly what we need to pickup momentum on discussion about red line aesthetics and history. Straight from the Red Line D.C. vault and submitted for your approval, a quickie interview with a willing red line commuter named Ellen. As we work with WordPress (and on our ever-growing technical skills), we’ll do our best to share more of these conversational gems with you. Hopefully, this recorded fodder will inspire you to share your own experiences on the red line. Hear what one commuter has to say and sound off with your own opinion at firstname.lastname@example.org or down below in the comments section.
These past several weeks, as we followed Words, Beats & Life’s progress across the District, we’ve been absorbed in the process of creating murals and conversing about their value. The public discussions, and our subsequent blog posts, were mainly concerned with the product — good vs. bad graffiti, commissioned vs. criminalized work. The place, however, is an added and equally significant factor. In our ongoing research for Red Line D.C., we look to connect scenes of illegal graffiti and graffiti-inspired murals with the space they reside: metro.
As we explore how open-air art plays out in the community and among commuters, metro history and news about the neighboring Metropolitan-Branch Trail build context to the red line’s story. Besides helping to layer the experience of producing and consuming public art, the metro system is, itself, a vital sign of community engagement. You might remember our past interview with Michael Henderson, a local resident who felt that planned, public artwork is needed for a good quality of life. Well, Professor Zachary Schrag, author of The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, says the same about public transit:
A good transportation system doesn’t simply move people from one place to another — it also shapes the places it serves. (Washington Post 2006)
From afar, it might seem public art and transit have little in common, but communal elements are evident in both: shared space and mixed experience; concentrated efforts to consolidate opinions. Schrag’s expectations of D.C.’s public transportation have been repeatedly raised about its public art with recurring points about quality, inclusiveness and community input. For the making of Red Line D.C., documenting metro graffiti means getting the whole picture, the aesthetics as well as the environment. In our rapidly transitioning city, both are subject to change. And on the red line, what we see is just as important as where we’re seeing it.
Walk a Little, Talk a Little Art
This weekend, Red Line D.C. went east of the river to attend a panel discussion, The Importance of Art in Public, at Anacostia Library. In a public building showing off its own aesthetic appeal, local residents gathered to hear what the artists, gatekeepers and administrators behind citywide public art projects had to say about their work’s significance. Moderating the panel was Phillip Kennicott, arts and culture writer for the Washington Post. Kennicott kicked things off by asking the panelists to consider how they defined public art and how that art “finishes a space; keeps a space present.” Though, all the participants made interesting points, standout quotes from the Saturday afternoon event came by way of Dierde Thayer Ehlen, public art manager for the D.C. Commission on the Arts & Humanities, and Wanda Aikens, executive director of Ward 7 Arts Collaborative. It was Ehlen’s belief, for example, that public art be “molded into the fabric of a community,” while Aikens thought it essential for a city to have “fertile ground for people to create.” Always ready to keep the red line relevant, we asked the panelists if they valued illegal public art, like metro graffiti. Talk of the Metro-Branch Trail and marginalized artworks ensued. (Excerpted video of their responses TK!)
After talking about public art at the panel, we wandered around Anacostia to find the real thing. A nearby MuralsDC site at Bread for the City (Good Hope Rd & 10th St, SE) had just been completed last week. And, not far from there, lead artist Bryan Conner and his apprentice artists were putting in work on a massive parking lot mural off Martin Luther King Blvd. Take a look at the flicks to see whats been done and what’s in-store to see for the future. To follow Aikens’ advice, public art productions, like these, are good for “waking up brain cells with color.”
Read All About It …
As a fitting farewell to our summer of graffiti, this week’s issue of the Washington City Paper featured a cover story on the city’s complicated relationship with legal murals and unsanctioned art. Writer Jonna McKone included some familiar names to the fray: Cory Stowers, art director of Words, Beats & Life, Inc.; artist Tim Conlon; and writer FAME — all of whom have been interviewed or involved in Red Line D.C.‘s development in some way, shape or form. (The documentary was given a quick shout-out, too. Woot! Woot!) Before reporting out the WCP article, entitled “Tagging Rights,” McKone did a similar story for WAMU that followed FAME as he hit the line. Both pieces of reporting point to the odd positioning of graffiti culture in D.C., and elsewhere, as more street art finds its way into classrooms, galleries and public art exhibits.
The cultural and artistic tensions that McKone discusses directly inform our work for this project. As MuralsDC adds color to more legal walls around the city, including those along the red line, the significance of these open displays of art becomes increasingly difficult to frame. Is the red line just an old relic of underground art legends, a low-stakes territory for little-known, newbie writers or a transitional place seeing “progress” through public artworks? Clearly, there’s still lots for us to mull over at Red Line D.C. Though, our minds are fixed on a spring/summer release for the documentary, we remain open to the myriad of possibilities for our project. The growing interest in graffiti culture and resulting media attention pushes us to ask: What will Red Line D.C. contribute to the discussion? McKone leaves much room for questioning, as well. She writes, “As the graffiti bubble grows bigger and bigger, its contradictions are being painted in vivid color.” And its with this vast, contradicting color palette in mind, that we set off to paint our own picture …
Word on the Street: Good vs. Bad Graffiti
As promised, here’s an excerpted interview filmed on-the-fly at a recent mural-painting site in the Edgewood neighborhood of Northeast D.C., right across from the Rhode Island Ave. metro station. Taking a break from his early evening bike ride, local resident Michael Henderson stopped to admire the newest public artwork on the Metro-Branch Trail. Here, he shares his thoughts on art, expression and what the two can do for our quality of life. Take a listen and let us know if you agree/disagree.
Last Writes of Summer: Art, Events, Etc.
My, how the summer flew by! Without realizing, we went from the legal graffiti of Long Island, NYC to the writing on medina walls in Morocco and, now back to the streets of D.C. during the peak of mural season. The weeks of public art on-display and in discussion have been productive for Red Line D.C. The ‘Art of Vandalism’ panel held at the end of July gave us the chance to collect some small donations and, more importantly, to raise awareness about the project. We had the same opportunity to spread the word last night during another MuralsDC event hosted by WBL. Back again at the U st. corridor location of Bus Boys & Poets, this time with the work of Jamila Okubo, an upcoming artist and soon-to-be college freshman who was showing in her first solo exhibit. The night’s main event was a screening of the documentary Chocolate City Burning which followed the story of local graffiti crew, DotCom. Afterwards, the filmmaker Nicholas Smith took questions. Saaret Yoseph, the director and producer of Red Line D.C. spoke briefly about her project as well. You can be sure there was also a donation bucket in-tow and a trailer on-hand. Just sayin’ …
Of course, the nighttime events haven’t been the only thing keeping us busy. Last week Red Line D.C. wrapped an interview with local artist/writer Tim Conlon and we’ve gotten a chance to squeeze in a couple man-on-the-street interviews with graffiti writers–and readers, as well. Mural-crashing has been the main cause of this. As WBL is in full-force painting murals across the city, Red Line D.C. has captured some of the action. We documented a production in Northeast D.C., directly across from the Rhode Island Ave. metro station. This latest addition to the Metro Branch Trail was led by Austin-based artist/writer Drew Liverman. As he and his apprentices put the finishing touches on their grand-scale aerosol art, many pedestrians and bikers accessing the trail offered kudos. Stay tuned for a snippet of what one local resident had to say, plus other flicks and video from this graffiti-filled summer. It’s definitely been a blur, so far. Here’s a look at the haze of public art and events in photos:
We <3 Shout-Outs!
It’s always encouraging to hear how enthusiastic people are about our efforts. Last week, TBD blog On Foot discussed Red Line D.C. in a lengthy post about metro graffiti. Considering the site’s focus on pedestrian life, public space and city living, the interest in our documentary topic comes as no surprise. But we’ve said before and we’ll say it again — a little local love goes a long way! We’re happy (and humbled) to see the documentary project gain more traction online and in the streets! Thanks to TBD and to all of you out there who are following the progress of our film …
Just don’t forget, we need you to participate, too! If you have any inquiries for graffiti writers, let us know so that we can include them in future interviews. Write to us at email@example.com . And remember that every transit ride is an opportunity for dialogue, so keep yours eyes open
and your questions coming!