Art? Poetry? What are you going to do with that?

“Art? Poetry? What are you going to do with that?”

Guest blog post by Sade Murphy

I have been forced to ask myself this question as I watch black people gunned down by a militarized police force and while intersectional feminists I know are sent rape and death threats on twitter. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about what’s going on in the rest of the world. Everywhere, violence. From environmental to economic, racialized, gendered and oppressively ubiquitous. In the face of the desolate present, what do I think I will accomplish in doing what most people consider to be interesting but unproductive?

My overwhelming response: “Burn this bitch down.”

I want my poetry to be an act of intellectual arson. I want to alchemize the words on the page into power raw enough to torch the internal structures to which we are shackled and made soulsick. I want to live in such a way that poet becomes an unquestionable political identity located in my body. And this seems to be my only viable recourse, the only way I can safely interfere with the dominant culture.

In Dream Machine, my first full length manuscript, I used prose poetry to explore violence and violation manifested against bodies real and unreal. I see my writing as wrestling with issues of selfhood, dreamscapes, encounters of trauma and violence. The concept of bothness. The coexistence of dichotomies and the interwoven nature of what is personal and what is historical. Dream Machine is poetry that is transparently and authentically embodied. These are black dreams, fat dreams, queer dreams, feminist dreams, depressed dreams, poor dreams.

I don’t really like to talk about my process because I think it’s boring. I slept, I dreamt, I woke, I wrote. I made many tedious neurotic revisions. I also feel like I didn’t know what I was making until I’d finished making it. The process is akin to when I’m silk painting in the studio at St. Margaret’s House. I work close to the silk while I paint and my perception of the piece as a whole is distorted. It’s not until the silk is held up for me to view from a distance that I can see and appreciate what I’ve done.

This is what reading Dream Machine to an audience does for me. I lose myself in the reading of these poems. I scry these words from the page, I ignite you. I keep writing to propel myself into the future, becoming a combustion engine against the despair and injustice that suppresses all light, all reason. I want to write poetry that does not shy away from reality. I want to create an aesthetic that keeps people alive and their bodies moving forward. My poetry is rooted in discomfort, and the endgame is not only survival, but justice.

MONEY, MONEY, MONEY, MONEY…MONEY.

Guest blog post by Hilal Omar Al Jamal (Night Auditor)

I’d like to imagine that this piece stands to initiate a dialogue that will prove fruitful to my community, that what I communicate here will contribute to a greater sense of transparency, respect, and fluidity in the relationships between those in my community who create engaging works and those who engage those works and help bring them to the public. So, please humor me. Myles asked me to write this piece, reflecting on my experience performing at the Birsdell on a particularly memorable occasion: Halloween. Another musician, Peter J. Hochstedler—for whom I have a great deal of respect—was also asked to write a piece in this vein. I read it and found it so compelling that it motivated me to conceive of my own piece as entering into dialogue with his.

It occurred to me to write about the reformation—or redemption—of a markedly bourgeois space, a space of Victorian decadence whose beauty has been enhanced both by its decay and, more so, by its appropriation not for the purpose of gentrifying a downtown South Bend community filled with good people hurt by economic and social inequality, but for the sake of cultivating a safe space for artistic and cultural production. My band Night Auditor and I performed at the Birdsell on Halloween to a packed house of creeps, like myself, celebrating, however indirectly, the resuscitation of a space for the good of our community. My experience was overwhelmingly positive. I had trouble sleeping that night; my body was so charged by the energy and imaginings of individuals investing in making South Bend a richer environment conducive to cultural and artistic production; it is worth noting that all of the profits from that party are being invested in the works of dozens of artists in residency at the Birdsell Mansion. Anyway, this isn’t exactly what I want to write about here.

Instead—encouraged by a local event organizer, LGBTQ activist, and friend—I would like to discuss, briefly, the issue of monetary compensation in light of the concepts of community and collaboration. First, as a relatively new addition to this community of artists and art aficionados, I want to thank those who’ve embraced my work. I’d also like to call your attention to those spaces, venues, and individuals who merit appreciation for the important work they do in this town to book artists for concerts, exhibitions, and other community-oriented events and to promote those events so that an increasingly wider audience can have access to this spring of culture. The conversation I want to initiate in this piece is one that I hope will have a positive influence on the dealings between artists and those spaces, venues, and individuals seeking to invest in local artistic production.

Here we go: monetary compensation. I know nobody likes talking about this; I sure as fuck don’t. Like most musicians in this community, I don’t want to have to put a price tag on something I want to share with everyone. But this music and arts shit is expensive. It puts us in debt to creditors. It makes us have to have difficult conversations with our partners in which we painfully explain that in order to make our art, which for whatever reason we are convinced we must make, we need to spend money we don’t quite have yet, but which we might recover by sharing our work with a community that supports us.

I literally invest the strength of my limbs, my sweat and blood, what little time I have on this earth, in my music. I do it willingly, and I love that I feel that I have no other choice. And when the time comes for me to act on recouping my investment—I hope those words leave as shitty a taste in your mouth as they do mine—I feel embarrassed to have to ask questions like: “How much did we make at the door? What are you paying the DJs? We got a big draw tonight, right? Did the touring band ask for a guarantee? Are we doing an even split? Is the headliner getting paid more than us? How much is the venue keeping? What are the room costs? Why are we being paid so little?” It is fucking embarrassing to have to ask these questions to event organizers. Why?

I think that many of us are learning to have these conversations. I certainly am. I want to learn to have them; I want us to learn together. My experiences in this regard so far have taught me that transparency and planning are key. When I am asked to play a show, I want the event organizers to tell me very early in the process of arranging the performance exactly how compensation will work. I know that as artists we don’t want to have to ask, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t. And event organizers please work with us to figure this out and understand that our need as artists and musicians to supplement our incomes—I really doubt that anyone in my community is profiting obscenely from music—by charging for performances should not reflect negatively on our musicianship or our ideologies. I did not choose capitalism—in fact allow me to echo the words “Fuck Capitalism”. Unfortunately, I create in a capitalist context, which means that a lot of what I produce and my means of production will cost me money, just as all of my basic necessities cost me money: food, housing, transportation, etc.

You might want to know why I think this conversation is relevant to the task at hand? There was some confusion on Halloween night about payment. The house collected a good deal from the door; there were a lot of people involved in planning and preparation, contributing selflessly to the mansion’s transformation into what it was Halloween night; there were disparities in the distribution of the proceeds. We resolved that confusion by engaging, embarrassingly, in a conversation that we should have already had, a conversation that both parties failed to initiate. We resolved things by negotiating with the aim of minimizing disparities in terms of compensation, aiming to achieve relative equality among musicians and acts based on a number of factors relevant to our particular circumstances. More importantly, we had that difficult conversation and there were no hard feelings at the end of the night. I want to encourage transparency, collaboration, negotiation, initiative, and consideration in the ways we approach arts programming in Michiana. I hope you feel me.

Standing On the Shoulders of So Many Bodies
Guest blog post by Peter J Hochstedler

A Reflection on Dream Machine and Necrobisect, as performed at the Birdsell Mansion on October 18, 2014 by Sade Murphy and Peter J Hochstedler, respectively

There are few things I would rather do on a Saturday evening than perform a set of new songs alongside writer Sade Murphy in the ballroom of an unused mansion for a hundred people. A couple weekends ago, I got to do that. Sade, Dream Machine is fearless and intense and funny and devastating and so are you. Thank you. Thank you Myles, Nalani, and the others of the Birdsell Project for hosting, Steve for your hospitality, Bethy and Matthew for joining me for my set, Meghan and Matt for being the most encouraging, awesome sound techs, and everyone who came. I hope you enjoyed the show as much as I did. 

Much is being made of the future of South Bend, Indiana:

city

Dream Big® is a registered trademark of Viagra®, used with permission

This vision of the economic future is not merely bold: It is admirably masturbatory. Will massive steel erections soon surround the former Chase Tower’s boyish protrusion like bullies in a locker room? Will David Guthrie finally fly his sweet red sperm-ride towards McCormick’s as if there were no bridge? (But there still is a bridge?) I am sure I am missing the point of the illustration.

My point is: who wants to live there? That city is butt-ugly. It is the domain of super-villain megalomaniacs, a place where police are more powerful and more corrupt, a place where money is hyper-stratified. Haven’t we watched a goddamned movie?

I prefer old, dead money for my playground. I prefer my carousels spinning ’round the ruins of capitalism. I prefer money that leaks out of the cracks in the toilet pipes and floods the floor below in shit. That kind of money has no pretense: It was ill-earned by greedy fuckers on the labor of the subsisting class. It is a corpse. (Let’s be birds of prey!) It lives on in its dead image, the hauntings of a drafty house. Let’s not reiterate some sick nostalgia for the “glory days.” Rather, we can try something new in the shell of the old: we can, in the spirit of the Birdsell Project, make new meaning in the vacant spaces of old, monied myths. The bodies have rotted; let’s have a dance party in the gorgeous mausoleum.

There are people who stand to gain monetarily from the emergence of a new creative class in and around downtown South Bend. These people are, by and large, not members of the creative class themselves. They are entrepreneurs, developers, dealers in capital. Their clientele, those with some money to spend, has in the past been either too scared or too bored by downtown. But they see young hip people doing artsy things and they are drawn like grandparents to a flea market, like my 3-year-old nephew to the monkey cage at the zoo. The artists might be poor but they are not the frightening kind of poor people. In fact, when they are done playing rock n roll, they will make you a latte.

I write as one who no longer lives in South Bend and who has only a sentimental stake in the matter of its future. I also write as a member of this so-called “creative class.” We create like children create, out of love for the work itself. Perhaps we make a little money, perhaps we don’t. But while we do it, however radical we may be, we create value that can be monetized by those with capital. This is particularly true for those of us creatives who are white—who, by our very presence in a so-called “bad” (low-income) neighborhood (of color), increase the potential value of real estate.

Perhaps I take personally the inequities of being a tool in the hands of capital. But, for me, there is a far more urgent wrinkle in the contracts of progress: When money moves in, those with neither money nor social capital must move on.

We might imagine that, prior to 2005, nobody was downtown and nothing was happening. But downtown has for decades been a hub of so many people living, surviving, being themselves. Perhaps they were invisible to you; they wanted it when no one else wanted it. Non-profits and government assistance agencies wanted downtown so they could be close to their invisible, unmonied target populations. And of course there have always been creatives in South Bend; there have been other art scenes and other visions of other futures.

Money (capital) and its human displacement will be justified on so many grounds. “Look what a beautiful city we have created!” they might say when the last of the ugly people can no longer afford to live there. Or, even better, “Look how we have taken people who were once ugly (unemployed) and taught them to be beautiful (tax-paying) people, so they can fit into our beautiful city!” And we continue to make one another in our own image, an idol, a “success story,” a testimony carved into the temple of the Great White Cock of Capitalism.

I know that I am not alone in my concern. The movers and shakers of the new South Bend are, by and large, a people of good will and social conscience. And the creative class, holy fuck, is inspiringly, resiliently DIY and collaborative. We do not need capital to do what we want. To the extent that we are privileged by the capitalist system, we must push back against its unleashed violence. We must imagine a future in which humanity is not bought and sold, in which we are not afraid of people who do not fit our respectable vision of a thriving city.

And so I submit, for your perusal and enjoyment, my Personal Manifesto, Autumn 2014 Edition:

Fuck respectability.
Fuck the police.
Fuck capitalism.
Fuck the hip.
Fuck “culture” and its centers.
Fuck me and fuck you too.

Let what is brokenhearted and desperate inside draw us toward those whose brokenness, whose marginalization, whose pride and desperation we cannot fathom. Let us tend wounds if we can; let us listen and be changed. Let us learn acceptance from whom we find hardest to accept. But let us not think, O White Savior, like Columbus before us, that we have discovered anything. We are only witnesses.

The Birdsell Project – Call for Entries

We are curating an exhibition in one of the historic mansions in downtown South Bend and are looking for a diverse group of local students, artists and professors who may be interested in participating. Please help us get the word out by sending this request on to any colleagues, artists, and students who may want to apply.

Birdsell Cover

The Birdsell Mansion, built in 1898, is a historic building in downtown South Bend, Indiana. The mansion has been unoccupied for many years, but will soon undergo renovations. It maintains the majority of its original floors, woodwork, plaster and fireplaces. Before construction on the space begins, the mansion will be transformed into an event and gallery space for artists and musicians to showcase their work and talent.

Artists will have just over two months to create and install work for the exhibition. Artists will have the opportunity to install their work in one of the many historic bedrooms or in larger shared spaces.

Throughout the installation, the preservation of this historic space is paramount. However, much of the space will be undergoing renovations after the exhibition is over, so artists will be given as much freedom as possible when installing and transforming the space.

We’re looking for artists who are passionate about using this opportunity to make site specific pieces or to exhibit work that relates to this unique experimental space.

Artists who are interested in participating in this exhibition should submit 5-10 images of their previous work (images should be no larger than 1 MB and should include the dimensions, medium and title for each piece). Artists should also submit a written statement about their work and how it will relate to the project and this historic space.

The exhibition is open to artists of all media.

The project will be coordinated and overseen by local artist Nalani Stolz and community organizer Myles Robertson. Please contact us with any questions at birdsellproject@gmail.com.

Project Timeline:

September 28th – Submission deadline

October 1st – Artists will be contacted about the exhibition

December 11th – Last day to install work

December 13th – Opening Reception

Exhibition will run from December 13th – February 13th