Friday, April 23, 2010

Maintenance Required at Arlington Arts Center

Early last autumn I learned my work, Maintenance Required, was selected for the Spring Solos, on view through June 5, 2010 at the Arlington Arts Center, Arlington, VA.

Beginning in late March, 2009, I began taking walking and driving tours of various neighborhoods throughout Washington, DC, documenting my tour and the various broken hydrants I found along the way. Since 2007, Washington has come to grips with the state of repair of its fire hydrants, determined which organizations were responsible for testing and repairing the hydrants, and set out a plan to replace about a quarter of its 10,000 hydrants in the next five years. According to a message I received from the DC Water and Sewer Authority, as of the beginning of March, 2010, DC WASA has replaced approx 3100 hydrants, which is well ahead of schedule.

189 Hydrants, 2009-2010

While my tours were initially devised to find as many hydrants as I could, I very quickly realized that though I had been in these neighborhoods many times before, I knew nothing about them. The work became as much about getting to know the neighborhoods as it became about finding the hydrants.

Seeing the educational possibilities of the work, for this installation I wanted to turn the gallery into a classroom. I painted a 70' chalk board across four walls of the space and framed it with base board. A mini gallery (of sorts) existed in part of the space, and I thought it was a fitting location for a bulletin board closet for 189 of the nearly 200 hydrants I had documented since the beginning of the project. (Why 189? Well... the 190th probably got misplaced along the way by the printer between the cutting mat and FedEx.) The bulletin board is nothing more than wrapping paper and some cheesy border trim I found on line through a teacher's supply warehouse.

Throughout the building are fire hydrant sculptures in various states of repair (tacked together with wood, duct-taped, stapled, stitched, filled with HVAC foam). Located near each hydrant are call boxes. People walking through the building can push the call box buttons and listen to a little clip about my reflections on the project, DC, and hydrants.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reflections on JOBs at the Capitol

What a disappointing day!

Question: how many JOBs did law makers and their staffers make today? None. And, the sad thing is they didn't have to debate, didn't have to vote, and didn't have to worry about deficits or tax-payer money. They simply had to pull a lever twice – more times if they wanted to make more JOBs.

I set up my little stand on the corner of Independence Avenue and 1st Street, SE, between 7:55 and 8:00 AM this morning. "Business" was at a trickle. Eventually a walker passed and asked a few questions. "Is this some sort of right wing thing?" "No, sir." I replied. "No right wing. No left wing. Just makin' JOBs."

See... if you drop your Gs, people think you are folksy and can relate to you better. At least, that's what I've heard.

He chuckled and made a JOB, and then took another JOB for a friend.

Then the Capitol Police showed up and asked me for a permit. I stated that I did not have a permit, but that I did receive permission from Officer... McDonald, was it?... on the phone last week.

"You mean O'Donnell?"

I suppose that was her name, I responded, and fiddled with my audio recorder, trying to get it in my pocket.

"Can you please keep your hands away from your pockets, sir?"

So, there I was chatting with one officer, arms akimbo (or on my pedestal), while the other officer radioed in. Fun times. I was told about the things "I wouldn't believe" people do while they are on patrol. Apparently one time this officer was asked for directions while he had a gun on a suspected felon, patting him down for a firearm.

I had to move. I could not be on the sidewalk. I had to be on the grassy area. So, I moved away from the street into the land of little traffic and no interest. A couple of staffers, when asked if they would like to make a JOB, declined saying, "No thanks, I already have one."

Nice. The JOB is for you to make and give to someone, not for yourself.

To paraphrase James K. Polk, people in Congress busy themselves with making jobs, and then hurry to fill them themselves.

Other Capitol Police approached. Some walked away. Officer Gallagher talked to me for a while and told me where I was supposed to and not supposed to be. However, since I was one person (and since I was leaving at 9:30), I could kind of be wherever, so long as I was in the grassy area.

There seemed to be a lot of foot traffic near the middle, and I asked if it was okay to move over there. Sure! Then, Officer Gallagher made a JOB and took another.

I moved toward the middle, and once there people were a lot friendlier. Of course, by then I was calling out to passersby like Dan Ackroyd with a Bass-O-Matic (minus the cocaine buzz). People smiled, laughed, said "good one!"

Still... only one other couple made a JOB. Vacationing tourists are more interested in making JOBs than people walking past with badges and pins on their lapels.

So it goes.