In honor of the new spring forward, here’s another remix via Red Line D.C. This time, we left the film techniques behind to record our first-ever podcast with red line writer (and willing guinea pig) Nepal. As a featured participant in the video See Something, Say Something, Nepal was invited to share his feedback and feelings regarding part one of the documentary with its director and producer Saaret Yoseph. In an informal conversation between filmmaker and subject, the two talk about filmmaking ethics, the outdated “outlaw experience” and the red line ‘s future with D.C. Check out the chatter below …
* Podcast music composed by Timothy Morrison.
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.
Show & Tell: Two Takes on Offline Graffiti
For Red Line D.C., last night was another opportunity to take the topic of graffiti off the Line and into the city. We occupied U street corridor for the evening to interview two different, but well-informed sources: local graffiti writer Asad “ULTRA” Walker and cross-cultural artist Saul Williams.
We met Walker in an alley at 14th and U st, NW, where we talked about his history with D.C. graffiti and watched him produce a legal piece on the back of a local business.
Afterwards, we set off for Black Cat (1811 14th St, NW), where Williams was scheduled to perform later that evening. As an actor, poet and musician, Williams has a knack for blending styles and experimenting with his artistry. In a recent video produced by la Blogotheque, he is seen exploring the catacombs beneath Paris, jamming out with layers of graffiti and history around him. The underground excursion made us curious about Williams’ stance on graffiti. Check out what he had to say:
Take a Ride with Red Line D.C.!
My, my, my … how time flies. It was this time last year that we applied for a small/planning grant with the Humanities Council of Washington, DC and as we take stock of our work, so far, we thought we’d share a portion of our submitted project narrative:
The main idea of The Red Line D.C. project is to integrate the typically disparate players associated with illegal public art – those creating it, those consuming it and those covering it up. In a communal environment like the D.C. metro a mosaic of opinions exist about the images and messages populating the ride. Some view metro graffiti as blight, while others support it a means for free expression. Similarly, as the space around the red line metro begins to change, questions about valuation and gentrification begin to arise. The Red Line D.C. project intends to address the many interrelated issues associated with illegal public art by inquiring what one space means to many.
The mention of “disparate players” and singular space reinforces our red line goals. The red line has and continues to have different functions for the many different people who use it. Thus, we’re constantly on the grind to collect more voices, more stories, more experiences on the metro. Though, we’ve filmed and interviewed a good amount of graffiti writers, commuters and property owners have been, surprisingly, reluctant to bite. Currently, we’re on the hunt for one (or more!) metro rider(s) who might be willing to let us film their day’s commute on the red line. If you’re down for commuter cause and interested in being involved with our documentary, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If not, please pass on the word to someone who might be. We and our cameras are super ready to roll … but don’t worry, we’ll be gentle.
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 …
WATCH: Random Acts of Expression, NYC
Videos have a powerful case of contagion online. If our Red Line D.C. reel is any example, multimedia is a great way to catch and share a glimpse of city life and everyday happenings, here in the capital or elsewhere in the world. In our personal travels across the interweb, we came across a recent YouTube video of a commuter’s experience with public art on the New York City subway. In this case, the unsanctioned art at work was an impromptu jam session (ukulele, included!) between alleged strangers.
The lively back-and-forth between songstress and drummer clearly held the attention of some passengers on the train, including mybs86, the user who posted the video and titled it “never a dull moment on the NYC subway.” Still, not everyone aboard was as impressed. Watch the clip and you’ll notice a couple heads low and a few eyes averting the disruption. Seems a lot like the mixed reviews we got from red line commuters about the graffiti and murals there to distract their ride. Some riders, like mybs86, were enthusiastic fans while others were ambivalent or outright annoyed by the unwelcome expression. Check out the video and tell us where you stand on graffiti, gratuitous concerts and other unsought transit distractions.
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.”
Online, Offline, Red Line
Like it or not folks, these are very mobile times we’re living. And we’re not the only ones on the move. Increasingly, technology and transit have not only bridged distances between people, but cultural products as well. Public art is no different. These days, you’re just as likely to encounter it on the internet as you are along the metro. So, what the digital age has done for graffiti has been to preserve and proliferate ephemeral works online. Sites like 12 oz. Prophet and Juxtapoz are already in on the action, serving as platforms for writers, graffiti enthusiasts and the like to get a glimpse of graffiti and street art beyond their own neighborhoods.
Yet, aside from exposing us to new ideas and aesthetics, the internet can also be a platform for reconnecting us with the physical and familiar. One major aim of Red Line D.C. is to use this website (and posts like the one you’re reading, right now) to promote online discussion for offline engagement. We want what you encounter here to encourage participation; a fresh perspective on the art (or lack thereof) in the places you inhabit most. And, it turns out that there’s a term for what we’re trying to do — digital placemaking. Check out the video below to hear urban designer and community builder Bonnie Shaw explain what digital placemaking is all about:
Using online communication to enliven offline communities, eh? Not a bad concept, but definitely one that takes a little work–from as many people as possible. The challenge, so far, for Red Line D.C. has been to corral more contributions from local residents. Not just $$$–though, that is appreciated–but stories, comments, and captured images of the red line. If you live in the city, ride the metro or just have something to say about public art in public space, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
The internet is an easy and effective way to strengthen community ties. But, when all else fails, there’s always the ol’ fashion in-person method. Late last week, Words, Beats &, Life Inc. (our friendly D.C. nonprofit) held a community forum for local residents to weigh in on the creation of an upcoming mural in the District’s U st. corridor. Surprisingly, there wasn’t a large number of attendees looking to join in on the mural-making process, so we’re wondering what can be done to get more people participating in the aesthetics of their everyday space. Be it online or off, be sure to share your voice! What you see may be important, but what you have to say about it means much more!
Field Trip to Fes!
This week, we’re traveling way past the city limits to get a little taste of graffiti abroad. Saaret Yoseph, the director and producer of Red Line D.C. with a bad case of wanderlust, shares photos taken of graffiti during her current trip to Morocco. Read on as she talks a bit about her snapshots and impressions of aerosol going wild elsewhere in the world:
While studying abroad in Morocco this past month, I’ve been lucky enough to visit a handful of historical sites and cities, including Marrakech, Volubilis, Meknes and Rabat. Alongside the beautiful madras, mosques and ruins of these well-known places, I’ve been encountering aerosol, etchings–and even penciled!–graffiti. Just yesterday, I went to the former capital of Fes and was surprised to see so much writing, especially on the walls of the old medina, Fes el-Bali. The hidden corners and winding walkways of this UNESCO World Heritage site house more than just an endless array of souks. Here, on the stone walls of this rapidly dilapidating tourist attraction, random words in Arabic and English present themselves at nearly every turn, proving that one-man’s desecration is just another man declaration.
I haven’t been able to decipher it all, of course. But, despite the gaps of language and culture, the pervasiveness of graffiti is clear. Even in a centuries-old medina, Moroccans are adding their own layer of existence; contributing to these lived spaces by leaving their mark.
Take a look at my photos and let me know what you think of the graf I’ve found in the Motherland!
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!
Interview: Identity, Art and Action (on Camera)
The Red Line D.C., as seen … in Ethiopia! This week, director and producer Saaret Yoseph filmed an interview with Kalli Ejigu of Ethiopian satellite show “The Benchmark.” Saaret talked about her interests in getting down — and out of the dark — with graffiti, what motivates her metro obsession and why a collaborative community art project hits so close to home. Check out an excerpt from the interview here.
Detroit Does It, Too!
The D.C. metro isn’t the only place where public art is pervasive. Earlier this year, art and culture magazine Juxtapoz highlighted an interview with the artists behind the Power House Project in Detroit, MI. A city hard hit by the economic downturn, Detroit has seen many of its residential homes left dilapidated and abandoned. Last year, a handful of artists started using these neglected spaces to re-engage residents with their city. Buying — and sometimes trespassing — into empty neighborhood houses, project participants — including street artist Swoon, turn these defunct residential spaces into off-the-grid, unconventional studios and exhibits. Click here to read more about Power House. Take a look at the rest of their work and tell us what you think about the sort of open house art that’s happening in the Motor City.
Red Eye: Private Time in Public Space
Riding the metro is a distinctly communal experience. Every day you have a chance to sit or stand next to someone new; your single self joins a crowd of city-bound strangers who are hearing, seeing and experiencing the same ride as you. Of course, the trip isn’t always pleasant, especially during those bum-rush hours … but on occasion, you get a little wiggle room to run amok. Check out the video to see what happened when one red line commuter discovered he had a train car all to himself!
The Inaugural Post
This is the space to discuss, comment and submit multimedia related to D.C. aesthetics,
public art and public transit! Share your thoughts on any new graffiti popping up on the
train or submit your own flicks of sights along the ride!
Welcome to The Red Line D.C. Project, a multimedia exploration of what happens when public space, public art and public transit collide. Share your thoughts — and photos — on metro graffiti and take a look at the trailer for the forthcoming documentary.