Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Visit To An Outsider

I drove a friend to the Mall of America to buy dress clothes. On the way back we passed the outsider-art house at 33rd and Bloomington. I remarked on the installation, saying that it was ugly. Steve said that that was my opinion. I disagreed, and we dropped the subject.

The installation is a front yard full of cast-off dolls, furniture, and painted hoses. Think of the ditch where everybody in the county tosses their old bed springs. My friend Steve is an outsider himself, given to producing zines full of redundant neologisms and often correct but usually unsupported assertions. Everybody is entitled to his own pattern language, but understanding requires coherence, and something there is that doesn't love a mess.

And yet... My urban permaculture plantation must offend some minority among my neighbors, and ears there are that don't hear what I think coherent.

I went by the installation yesterday afternoon with my camera, and got a tour from the artist. I didn't take pictures, and I didn't ask the man his name. He is a tall black man of fifty or so, lived between the ages of sixteen and twenty-six in prison for  B&E,  and affiliates with the Black Panther Party. The word "gentrification"features prominently in the installation, painted in letters eight or ten inches high on the upstairs porch's asbestos shingles. A nylon tarp covers the front yard, and is covered in turn by painted lettering making connections between racism, war, economics, and community development. Red-painted pipes and hoses run between each other and various dolls, masks, and cabinets. A retail display case contains a Hilary Clinton puppet, and a cabinet television which plays a tape loop of the World Trade Center attack. There are concealed speakers which play crowd noises, including screams. The video and audio were not on during my visit.

According to my host, people who benefit from injustice have no reason to end it.

The artist was coherent, but not receptive to ideas which from me would have been supportive and informative. We parted easily, the ease making me feel a little objectified: I was an audience, someone who needed to be informed, and with no dimension or importance of my own. He wasn't going to miss me. I'm not going to judge somebody who has probably felt like that a lot, himself, but it stung a little. And, if I lived on the same block, I would think that my freedom was limited by my neighbor's vehement exercise of his.

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