Monday, January 18, 2010

Lure of the Local, Pt 1

Over the last couple of weeks I've read a book so startling and thought provoking that I've decided to do my book review slightly differently- as a series of essays inspired by the book. I mentioned Lucy Lippard in a recent blog when I really was just getting involved with the book (I know, like a new boyfriend!), and now that I've finished it, I've thought so many new things that I've almost forgotten all of the other things I wanted to say. So I'm starting with the book I read the day before I picked up "Lure of the Local."

I picked up "Border Film Project" at Pendragon Bookstore on the same day I found a used graffiti book- I love when I hit the jackpot like that. I really had no idea what I was getting, and it sat on my bedside table for months. It turns out that the Border Film Project is a group of people who got together and gave disposable cameras to two important groups who are the story at the border, though they're rarely listened to: the "minutemen" and the migrants crossing (and being uncrossed) on the border. The book consists of colored photos with small numbers under them and some short captions next to some of the photos. Pictures of Hispanic looking people readable as migrants/immigrants and of white people in camo, readable as vigilantes or minutemen, are mixed up together. There is no preface or opening remarks- the book opens with photos. In the middle of the book is what could serve as an introduction: brown paper with text on what the project is. The small numbers next to the pictures are the camera that the pictures came from, and the text explains that the cameras were given to migrants and border monitors that were willing to participate. There are diagrams of how the project worked, and of where the cameras were mailed in from. The remaining half of the book is more photos, captions and small numbers.

I read the book front to back, "reading" each photo, caption and number. The book is powerful and eyeopening. Even with my biased views, the photos humanized the vigilantes, whose pride of place is clear: the land is what they have. In my urban life, the romanticized fantasy of the movie father saying "son, watch out for the land," or the history book saying how much pioneers valued their land- these pictures, taken of minutemen by minuteman showed a subculture who still live it. And the pictures of the migrants, in their dusty towns, crossing the border, cleaning toilets, drinking out of water tanks in the desert, faces in the water like dogs- who isn't moved? I guess people who feel these people should stay "home" and make it work there. Boot strap it someway or another.

The day after I finished this book, I started Lippard's book, subtitled "Senses of Place in a Multicentered Society." Lippard's book is also laid out unusually: the book is square, and above the main text is a margin with smaller text. This small text is Lippard's own personal narrative that relates to the chapter below, always about her adopted home state of Maine, and her reminiscences/experiences there. Also, on most pages, there are large black and white pictures of some "public art" (as defined by Lippard, to be discussed later) piece, with a long caption describing the piece. Basically, each page is cut in three: story that runs along the top of the pages, narrative that runs like a normal book, and large photo with long caption. I chose to read the main narrative first, take breaks to read the photo/caption built into the page, and come back at the end of each chapter to read the Maine story. In this way, Lippard grounds you in the "place" of the book as well as making the book "multicentered"- forcing you to read the book in multiple ways, similar to the "Border Film Project". You could read the book as I did- front to back, or jump straight to the text in the middle, then back to the photos, or look for pictures from specific cameras or regions.

Lippard's book is about place, local, landscape, and how art fits in. It's complicated, but from page 7, I felt that the "Border Film Project" was a project that Lippard would appreciate. Lippard writes:
This book is concerned not with the history of nature and the landscape but with the historical narrative as it is written in the landscape or place by the people who live or lived there. The intersections of nature, culture, history, and ideology form the ground on which we stand- our land, our place, the local.
The cover of "Border" is a brown piece of cardboard with two round circles cut out onto two photos. The top circle frames a what man in a cowboy hat holding a walkie-talkie in one hand and a telescoping lens in another. The bottom circle frames a brown-skinned man in a beanie and jacket, backpack slung over his shoulder. When you open the cover, you see them in their landscapes- the white man leans on a rock, framed against blue sky and desert- lots of rocky, mountainous desert. The brown man appears to be walking in a flat, brush filled desert. Both suggest culture and history. Even without captions- the viewer can guess at both, framed only by the title: "Border Film Project." There is desperation in both men: the need to keep "them" out, in the first, and the need to get somewhere- to water, to el norte- in the second.

We are living today on a threshold between a history of alienated displacement from and longing for home and the possibility of a multicentered society that understands the reciprocal relationship between the two...In the case of a restless, multitraditional people, even as the power of place is diminished and often lost, it continues-as an absence- to define culture and identify. It also continues- as a presence- to change the way we live.
Contrasting a "home"-centered people with an "alienated" one, the Border Film Project suggests a new way to understanding, one Lippard's book proposes will help us all move forward to an understanding of multicentered society.