Max C Lee is an artist getting his MFA in New York City at the School of Visual Arts. He was in town over June 5th and 6th for a show he booked at Unsmoked in Braddock over a year ago. Since scheduling this show he has developed a performance piece revolving around the many conversations held about the city.
This conversation is about critique, how (or even if) artwork functions in a space, and gentrification. We talk about Unsmoked and Braddock community but I will say upfront here that neither of us live there or work their—therefore we can’t speak with any authority about the issues or concerns that the people of Braddock face and personally I don’t think it appropriate for me to do so. We talk briefly from our very limited perspective about what we have seen and heard in the news and learned in private conversations.
This chat also focuses on Lee and his performative and interactive work. Beginning with interventions in comedy clubs and publicly on the streets of New York City, he explores the boundaries of his personal influence with people and the effects of propaganda-like language. He’s young, he’s experimenting, and he’s learning about what his white privilege looks like. If talking about the obvious systematic advantage that being young, white, and male in America bothers you and you don’t think you can handle uncomfortable conversations then maybe skip this chat… No hard feelings! In the type of interactions that Lee is participating, he is learning about people’s assumptions towards him—both good and bad.
THIS WILL TOUCH SOME NERVES. I’M NOT GOING TO DO THIS RIGHT BECAUSE THERE IS NO RIGHT.
The subject of gentrification is a super complicated one that I don’t have the answers for and neither does Max. I will say that it’s okay to critique. It’s ok to ask questions, it’s okay to say you don’t know something or admit that the topic is uncomfortable. It’s ok to not talk and just listen. If we don’t have even the beginnings of a conversation we don’t really get anywhere. Personally I believe the most important thing to consider is the story from someone you don’t know. Learning and listening to someone else’s perspective instead of closely guarding your own makes you a more empathetic human.
I’m a real dumbass for not knowing about Latoya Ruby Fraizer. I’m not apologizing for not knowing about all the artists ever, but I will apologize for not looking her up while Max I talked because I’ve been missing out. Her work is really intimate, powerful, and very much worth your time to explore. I’ve been reading through her website and I usually am not super impressed with people’s artist statements. Her’s is, simply put, the best I’ve ever read. Stripped of pretentiousness that most statements suffer from it reveals enough about her and the focus of her artwork but leaves enough room for you to discover more as you look through her photos, installations, and videos. Flipping through the photographs of her site the first thought I had was how small institutions make people feel. The shiny appeal of revitalization and the big dramatic
Correction: Superior Motors isn’t the most funded thing on Kickstarter.
Finally, it’s okay to critique. It’s ok to ask questions, it’s okay to say you don’t know something or admit that the topic is uncomfortable. It’s ok to not talk and just listen. If we don’t have even the beginnings of a conversation we don’t really get anywhere.
The city of Braddock is understood through a dense filter of what is being said about it.
The Project Person Project: Brought To You by the #ENDOFNOW is a reflection of this filter and the confusion it causes.
Originally, THE END OF NOW (and its leader, GUY) was an entity unrelated to the city of Braddock. It is a fictional and vague organization that mirrors contemporary propaganda (and makes its own) in order to re-contextualize the forms that aggressively engage us as consumers, Internet users, and interactive people.
The opportunity to show this work in Braddock, however, shifted the focus from general propaganda to the propaganda associated here. A simple Google search will prove just how dense the narrative is and how many people want their opinion heard.
The Project Person Project is a way for GUY and the THE END OF NOW to question the forms that the people involved (more specifically, the movers and shakers who want to save it) in Braddock have chosen to use.
It aims to point to the problematic: depictions of power, nostalgia, socio-economic roles, and the ever-complex question of who should feel responsible.