Month: September 2014

Kyle deCamp, Urban Renewal: A Multimedia Solo

The choreographer, performer, urbanist Kyle deCamp performed a piece on urban renewal on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 7pm, at Barnard. I participated in a panel after the performance, along with Robert Beauregard, Reinhold Martin, and Mabel Wilson.

Kyle de Camp’s Urban Renewal brings together personal narrative, history and memory, with acuity to movement and place. This is a theater piece, but de Camp began her career as a dancer, and I think that perspective seeps through the entire project. Moving through projections on the floor and up the back wall, de Camp puts herself into outlines of her family home. Sketches of furniture move; rooms scroll up and away; she is moving in place. Read more…

Yes, And: Thinking about Cities

I had the pleasure of reading Aseem Inam’s new book recently. I am not an urban planner nor an urban designer nor an expert in urban policy. But looking at urban issues in the past ends up touching upon all of these fields. I approach current books in these fields, then, with some hesitancy as I come to it as an outsider of sorts, informed by a different training and bibliography. So one of the many reasons Designing Urban Transformation was a pleasure to read is because I forgot my trepidation. The book is for people who care about cities.

Read more…

Bodies in Motion

As shocking as the balloon nudes of Matisse and fractured bodies of Duchamp were, at least they stayed on the canvas. There bodies remained odd, perhaps unsettling but still. Bodies dancing on stages and in dancehalls outside of the Armory Show, however, were vibrantly – even dangerously — on edge. At the time of the exhibit, a dance craze was sweeping the nation, lifting young men and women off their feet, toward each other, and in pursuit of pleasure and escape. Read more…

“The Rite Of Spring”

Spring 1913: artwork that caused outrage, derision, acclaim, and confusion. Movement never seen before: feet pounding, torsos thrashing, limbs akimbo. Sounds never heard before: violins used like drums in relentless pulsation, full orchestra instrumentation loud and moaning, little melody or harmony to blunt the onslaught of percussion.

Now considered a masterpiece. Read more…

Why do people move to the city?

It’s no surprise that 9/11 caused me to wonder why I live in New York City. I don’t have a job that is easily movable, but still: why stay in a place where your chance of being caught in a terrorist attack are exponentially greater than in Bowling Green, Ohio, or Eugene, Oregon? While the attacks caused personal consternation, they also prompted intellectual ones: why do people move to the city? Read more…

The First Day: Two Truths and a Lie

I have eaten at a diner in all 50 states; I helped start a company; I have jumped out of plane. Two truths and a lie: it’s a common “icebreaker,” an informal game used to create connections and foster familiarity. In this one, a person comes up with two truths and a lie about herself and the group has to figure out which one is the lie. Read more…

Aims of Education

Convocation address, The New School, September 2009.

I am on my fourth career. I think it’s going pretty well, but I’m not ruling out a fifth, or a sixth. I got started on careers early. As family lore has it, I told my parents at age three that I wanted to take ballet classes. A random class at the YMCA around the corner became five times per week with multiple performances by age ten. At fourteen, I was auditioning for the prestigious summer program of the New York City Ballet. This entailed hiding my mother who barely topped five feet to maintain the illusion that I might just reach the short end of the range of a City Ballet dancer at five feet four inches. (I continue to live in hope.) I graduated from high school at sixteen with the intention of never going to college. After a woeful year at Cleveland Ballet, I landed at a small liberal arts college, hours from a major city or any ballet company. I told my parents that I was just going to see how the year went, that I might return to the world of dance. Instead, I never brought up the prospect of leaving college again. Read more…

Sailors, Fancy Free

Exhibition Object and Text, Masterpieces of Everyday New York: Objects as Story (Kellen Gallery, Shelia Johnson Design Center, The New School, 2013)

In the ballet Fancy Free three sailors burst onto the stage, liberated from duty for a short leave. Leaning against a lamppost outside a bar, they wait for the city to happen. A woman passes, and action begins. Three ply their charms on her, one tires of the game, and another woman saunters by. Competition grows between the three men for two women, resulting in dueling solos. The fight amongst the sailors takes over, the women realize they have been forgotten and stride off, and the men find themselves where they began, waiting for something to happen. A third woman saunters by. Read more…

Seeing the City: West Side Story and New York

The movie West Side Story opens with an aerial panorama of New York City, starting from the southern tip of Manhattan with a view that encompasses the divide and coming together of the Hudson and East Rivers, moving over the concentric circling entrance ramps of the Triborough bridge to the dense skyscrapers of Midtown, patterned scape of Columbia University and Stuyvesant housing complex, and then following the diagonal cut of Broadway in the grid to swoop down to the street, to a worn concrete basketball court. The Jets begin snapping their fingers. Read more…

From Coney Island to Lincoln Center, From Strangeness to Fantasy

Cornell University Architecture Workshop (2010)

Architects know that the built environment can evoke fantasies. But what happens to those fantasies over time?

In the case of Coney Island, strangers at the turn of the 19th to the 20th centuries sought belonging in an escape to the beach, outside of the dense overbearing industrial landscape of Manhattan. There they found white castles, whirring rides, log chutes, and steeplechases. The fantastical world of such amusements heightened fears of a city – acrophobia, claustrophobia – in an attempt to ameliorate them. Its decay throughout the 20th century may be an indication of the changes in our fears – and the fantasies we need to confront them. What phobia could restore the need for Coney Island now? Read more…


Part of “This is Your Exhibition,” on view on 3rd Floor, 66 W. 12th St.. Image source: MoMa 

I grew up loving ballet, hating modern dance. Ballet was beauty and grace personified. Modern dance was so defiant and earnest. Wasn’t art about transcendence? A course in feminist philosophy in college, however, shifted my perspective. Now I saw ballet as frivolous and modern dance as ideas in action. At the center of the shift: forceful, demanding, jumping women. Celebration indeed. Read more…

Democratizing the Archives

Co-authored with Claire Potter

What’s in an archive? This was the question that brought Claire Potter’s class, “New York Activists and Their Worlds, 1968-2000,” to the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the New York Public Library (NYPL) on February 19 for the first of several workshops. After a few lessons on how to behave—checking our coats, washing our hands, and keeping things in order—Thomas Lannon, Assistant Curator, began to dip into boxes. During this first workshop, students were able to view a photo album of gay writer and activist David Feinberg. Preserved for their enduring value, photos in the album are as Feinberg left them, unlabeled and undated. The class also looked at clips of ACT-UP oral histories, and learned how to navigate the Library’s finding aids as guides to additional archival collections. Read more…

Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects

Theaster Gates received the first Vera List Center Prize for Art and Social Justice in 2013; this essay, with others, on Gates’ works in Carin Kuoni, ed. Entry Points: The Vera List Center Field Guide on Art and Social Justice, No. 1 (Duke University Press, 2015)

Theaster Gates himself and the spaces he has created are inspiring. Interrogating absence – identifying what’s missing – and harboring what’s thrown out, fills the places and allows us to see “what could happen.” There is more deliberation in the filling than this explanation of the process suggests, however. He generally has filled spaces not with whatever is thrown out but with resources of value to African Americans, whether past issues of Ebony and Jet or the records of Dr. Wax. He wants to see what happens in a largely overlooked neighborhood that is populated by 99.2% African Americans, 72% who are under 18. This is crucial to the art and the impact, and yet how race and youth structure his practice is rarely articulated. Read more…

Lincoln Center, The Rockefellers, and New York City

Rockefeller Archives Center, Research Report (Fall 2005)

Rockefeller explained his interest in Lincoln Center both by the particularities of the historical moment and the legacy of the arts beyond those particularities. He reasoned that postwar society in the U.S. was in an era of prosperity, with more leisure time available to more people than at any other time in history. The arts served to fill leisure time fruitfully, and spiritually. For while economic needs were being met and scientific advances in medicine had increased longevity, people’s spirits were diminished, and the arts could satisfy yearnings for fulfillment on a deeper, more meaningful level. Rockefeller also noted that famous cities in history – Rome, Athens, Paris, Kyoto – were known for their arts, not their political, economic, or business successes. Rockefeller was also concerned with the international dimensions of the United States’ power and recognized that most countries did not think highly of America’s culture. In his view, Lincoln Center would feature the best of the performing arts from the U.S. and provide a place to present the best of the performing arts from countries around the world to U.S. audiences. For Rockefeller, then, the performing arts in the 1950s fused the specific needs of the historical moment with a long-lasting, worldwide legacy. Read more…

Dance and the City

Festschrift for Rüdiger Kunow (2013)

All great art is born of the metropolis. — Ezra Pound

For some years now I have been pondering the ties between cities and the arts. This pondering began from one of those seemingly random questions in the oral defense of my dissertation on the development of modern dance in the United States in the 1930s. As I was articulating the Americanism of modern dance, a committee member asked, “But is New York American?” With a righteous New York manner, I defended the Americanism of my new home, contrasting its immigrant and ethnic pluralism with the homogeneity of the often valorized heartland. But I knew his question uncovered something I had not thought enough about: that the dancers I researched and wrote about almost all lived in New York, even if they toured the United States and sought national acclaim and nationalist meaning in their dance. Read more…

“My Feet are Again on This Earth”

in African American Art and the Julius Rosenwald Fund, ed. Daniel Schulman (Spertus Museum and Northwester University Press, 2009)

“My feet are again on this earth,” the dancer Pearl Primus exclaimed upon receiving word in May 1948 of the Rosenwald fellowship granted to her, “and my preparations and plans are being made with great care.”i Dancers regularly leap off the ground and Primus was well known for her gravity-defying jumps–but the wonder in Primus’s exclamation expressed another kind of buoyancy: encouragement and financial support to a genre of the arts that was most often fueled by sheer determination. Read more…

A New School Minute (or Two)

For Alumni Day on May 11, 2013, the Alumni Office asked twenty faculty and staff to give a 60-second lecture. Tasked with the topic of “New School History,” it was quite a challenge! The results are available here. I started off with a longer version that better encapsulates my theme — I hope we’re still a school rather than just a university. Here is that longer version. Read more…

Offense + Dissent: Image, Conflict, Belonging

Exhibition at Kellen Gallery, The New School (2014); Curators: Julia Foulkes, Mark Larrimore, and Radhika Subramaniam

Twenty-five years ago, a furor erupted at The New School when Sekou Sundiata, poet, performer, and professor, at Eugene Lang College, stung by an image exhibited in the Parsons Galleries, scrawled his dissent across it. His “X” inspired others and soon there were over 40 signatures covering the image. Read more…

The (Rural and Urban) Lives of Bees

I had the privilege to go to Mildred’s Lane on a work retreat recently. Founded by the artists J. Morgan Puett and Mark Dion, Mildred’s Lane is a farm by the Delaware River at the border of Pennsylvania and New York. (The nearest town is Narrowsburg, NY.) The farm hosts multiple buildings, most of them small installations with room enough for a bed and an imagination. I was lucky enough to nab the Grafter’s cabin put together by Morgan and dedicated to the beekeeping traditions in her family. Large netted hoods hung above my bed; the walls were plastered with waxed pages of Maurice’s Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee (1901); and the doors opened on to a vista of garden, field, trees – and nearby compost heap, which might attract “a parade of critters,” according to Morgan. Read more…

Dancing in the Streets: The Arts in Postwar U.S. Cities

This collection of essays on the arts in postwar U.S. cities offers a historical perspective on the contemporary embrace of the arts as a tool for urban place-making, neighborhood revitalization, economic boosting, and market branding. Urban historians can add a longer perspective to this trend to explain not only the roots of its current popularity but also more detailed measures of the arts’ impact. These essays look at arts institutions, artists as residents, and artworks themselves from the 1950s-70s to uncover the entangled intersection of arts and urbanization – before the arts became a touted salvation for stagnant economies and run-down neighborhoods. (Introduction [pdf])

Journal of Urban History, November 2015, edited with Aaron Shkuda. Photo: circa 1950s, The Vintage Project

Again Please, Anne

A tribute to my father, who died in 2012.

I had never watched someone die before. Tracy Atkinson was killed in a car accident at age 14. Chip’s paramour-in-mind hung himself from a belt over a shower curtain rod. Grandparents disappeared, transforming from material to vapor over days months years, in meandering suspension, like a balloon that loses air through its rubbery membrane rather than by a pinprick. You, though, died. Over six days. And I watched you mark the destined decline, checking off items on your last list, from growing weariness to shuffling a few steps to looking out from the bed at the forest that beckoned. You bent to the side, arched over an ache. “I think that’s my spleen breaking down.” You said you weren’t scared. “I know I’m just going off to la-la land.” You twitched awake from an unbidden stupor to see me watching you. “You are an angel.”

Read more…

Arts and Social Engagement

A poem can change the world. Or just one person’s life. What explains the connection between an artwork and an individual, a wider public, a world? This course serves as an introduction to a pathway of courses that investigate this question by examining the variety of ways in which the arts make and meet people.

Read the syllabus here.

Art + City

Cities are hubs of artistic activity. People are drawn to cities because of their artistic offerings and they are the place where the majority of artists live and work. But how and why did this intertwining of art and cities come about? And what effects has it had on cities and on the arts? This course investigates the art of urban life (such as the development of bohemia); genres of art that arose in and of the city (photography, the Broadway musical, hip hop); spaces of the city that become identified as an arts enclave (SoHo, “museum mile”); and the municipal policy and politics that both support and confound the arts in cities (public art). We read first-hand and historical accounts of artists in the city and analyze artworks for their portrayals of the ties between urban life and artistic vision.

Read the syllabus here.

New York City: Past Present Future

New York City exists as a physical and imaginary place, both a dense concrete maze and a blowzy personality. This course examines the many contours of this phenomenon by looking at the city across time; we explore specific historical moments for the intertwining force of politics, economics, social struggles, and artistic and cultural flowering, and consider those dynamics in planning for the future.

Read the syllabus here.

U.S. History in 13 Acts

Most of us learn a straightforward narrative of the history of the United States that begins with the arrival of colonizers from Europe and ends with the current presidency, presented with a coherence that obscures the messiness and contradictions experienced by the historical actors. This cohesive story omits consideration of possibilities that could have led to very different outcomes and also the contested interpretations of what happened and what it means. This survey course offers an alternative approach to U.S. history by organizing the subject into 13 “acts” and investigating each in depth.

Read the syllabus here.

Who New? A History of The New School

In 1919, the New School for Social Research opened with courses in the social sciences, social work, and public affairs. The school was not quite a university: it did not offer formal degrees. The founders thought that people would come to the school for “no other purpose than to learn.” It sought to make education relevant to the issues of the day, to remain ever new. In this course we look at what ideas defined learning here, from psychology and the arts to politics and design.

Read the syllabus here.