Ryder Henry, an Ithaca-based artist and friend of mine, has built a giant model city out of cardboard and other post-consumer waste. It consists of an eerie combination of architecture of the past’s future, the present’s future, and future’s future. Also, a scale model of their house is there (I bet you can pick it out). Here’s a video of the city: I think the Serbo-Croatian language tape adds a really nice touch.
I tricked you, it’s not really that big. The entire city sits on the kitchen table at Ryder and his girlfriend Maya’s apartment. I took photos of it for an hour or so, and kept on finding new interesting spaces. I imagined myself to be an aerial photographer.
This city reminds me, in some ways, of the Situationist architect Constant Nieuwenhuys’ New Babylon- a city of slow and continuous flux, displacement, and constant drifting through space. What if we had a city where our lived space sustained constant programmatic shifts? Would it push us into a ludic state of constant creativity? Could we imagine a city that was disruptive and playful, predictable only in its unpredictability? Whoa dude.
I worked at the cafeteria of Powder Ridge Ski Resort in Middlefield, CT for the winter of 2002, one of the warmest winters that I can remember. There was never more than one slope open, which nullified my hopes that working a minimum wage job would allow me to ride the snowboard park with a free lift pass. I passed that winter being subjected to a soundtrack of Puddle of Mudd, Staind and other bands with extra D’s. More than anything else, I remember this time period as a musical void- a shitty soundtrack befitting a shitty situation.
I recently came across some websites that document this site as the locus of a turning point in hippie history. The ski mountain (read “hill”) was home to a music festival that wasn’t- the Powder Ridge Festival- in August of 1970. The festival was canceled due to a court injunction, but some 30,000 hippies swarmed there anyway. This festival has been maligned as an out-of-control bacchanal, representing the impending collapse of the groovy sixties mythos.
The Wikipedia entry on the festival quotes a New York Times journalist who compared this festival to Woodstock:
“The gentle euphoria—the grins, small smiles, and exchanged ‘V’ signals— of people milling through the muddy fields of Bethel seemed to be missing at Powder Ridge. Instead, last night and this morning, the major pastime here was often shuffling walks along paved roads by grim-faced young men and women who looked remarkably similar to old people moving slowly along the boardwalks of the Rockaways or Atlantic City.”
I don’t believe that the transformation from Woodstock to Powder Ridge could have been nearly so epochal, nor do I think that the attendees had become wandering geriatrics, wondering what had happened to their generation. If anything, this event attests to the fact that music festivals amount to more than the clichéd scene of a crowd of patchwork dresses gyrating, endless dandelions falling from swaying heads, making a plush carpet of grooviness.
Music festivals represent something much more than their names suggest. Their sites become temporary settlements where people camp, get fucked up, and imagine themselves as being free to shed their inhibitions. Maybe, then, music festivals are not about music; maybe music is just a convenient excuse to gather. Another New York Times article seems to hint on this. “They could take down the stage and everything – they could shut off the electricity and take out the phones,” said a deeply tanned young man from New Haven who was wearing only a leather belt and a bead necklace. “It’s the people who do it. The music doesn’t make the festival, it’s the people.”
Convergences such as this provide stints of anarchy that allow people, at least for a few days, to experience fleeting moments of utopia and dystopia. Maybe we need a place in our society for open drug consumption, skinny dipping, and sex with strangers. While some people may be injured, exponentially more people may fall in love. Does this sort of collective release simply allow people to carry on with the banality of their daily lives? Perhaps it exposed people to the excitement and danger of true freedom. There were no security guards to protect attendees from themselves, and yet it doesn’t appear that anything horrible happened.
For the entirety of my time there, Powder Ridge was a blur of grease traps, melted artificial snow, and middle school ski outings- more Frialator than free love. In 1970, on this same 300 acres, people in this “natural amphitheatre” were drinking “electric water,” a free cocktail of hallucinogens of unknown concentration or consistency. Was there some sort of cosmic residue left in this territory of rusted ski lifts and gravel parking lots? Had trace amounts of electric water seeped into the aquifer? Whoa dude.
A recent visit from a good friend prompted the creation of an impromptu, non-virtual Flickr set on my apartment wall. A collector of found images, my guest is most interested in family snapshots and poorly printed or otherwise novel postcards. Most pictures bear the scars of water damage, poor print process, time, or all three. All told, some 150 images were uploaded to my non-multitouch interface viewing surface with eraser-putty and artist tape. The concept behind all this was merely to see all the images next to each other, without their being any contextual relationship in their placement, so as to examine their collective attributes. In the course of this process, a number of interesting and contemporarily-relevant questions arose.
1). As our visual memory is increasingly replaced by photography and the amount of photographs we take keeps apace with booming imaging technologies, are we diluting our cerebro-visual faculties? Is the imagination becoming little more than a Rolodex for a pool of external photos, or will the proliferation of LCD screens and image-sharing networks work to the benefit of collective creativity?
2). Assuming whatever entity out there that is spidering the Infobahn and backing up every page and image (there is such a thing, right?) survives the apocalypse, what will our descendents/aliens make of our digital leavings? What picture will the MySpace portraits and Flickr sets of nations paint for future archaeologists? Will they think we are vapid, trinket-obsessed, globalized zombies, or will the weight of billions of jpegs preserve us as remarkably as the pyroclastic flow of Vesuvius?
3). What is the importance of things that suck? Some years ago, before Irony bore so heavily down on popular culture, the avant-garde contingent adopted the role of its anti-heroes as a kind of performative critique of normative society. Inevitably, the trappings of this playful yet effective role-reversal were stripped of their conceptual fabric, diluted and re-sold en masse to the public under the “Hipster” trademark. Despite having lost some of its inertia, does the purposeful and conscience adoption of the “sucky” aesthetic still hold an important place in the conversation of contemporary culture?