Relational March: Columbus, OH

Relational March Day 3: Columbus, Ohio

Everybody, regardless of categorical identification across racial, class-based, cultural, and lingual differences agrees: young white people from the Midwest do not belong in Brooklyn. Go back to where you came from, take your contact mics and your kale-chips and get the f*** out. We’re serious.

This is partly why we’re trying to out-drive a snowstorm, crawling at 30mph towards Columbus, Ohio. Getting in around midnight, we are warmly invited into a full-swing birthday party, eavesdrop on a conversation in which a huge white guy brandishes a very real army combat knife, then head to the farm where artist and musician Ben Bennett lives. There is no heat in the old farmhouse. After smoking a J in the car and watching an incredible video by Brian Bress, we sleep under a pile of dirty blankets and curtains.

PPL are from Michigan (Brian) and Indiana (Esther), F-DT are both from Nebraska. Here in Ohio we might expect to feel at home within the culture we abandoned when we moved East in eagerness to throw our white bodies against some gallery walls and get gritty with it on the streets of hyper-gentrifying Brooklyn. Our accents are normal in Ohio. The Marlboro 27s are cheap. In the morning though, we stop at a diner and earn suspicious stares. We then head over to a coffee shop where we can use the internet before performing at Skylab. The Midwest is not a monoculture, its residents are incredibly diverse, our entire country is fraught with politics of race, privilege and the lack thereof, matrices of perspective and identification constructing anxiously embodied private and public experience. Could we live here? Should we live here, would it be more politically and socially responsible for us to live here? Our senses or non-senses of belonging have been split into hundreds of significations. We, (not alone) are auto-marooned by our own prejudices, expectations, and desires, which remain, in confusion, in flux.

At around 1:30pm, Brian gets an email that Robert Ashley, the artist who captured the spirit of the Midwestern USA via speech patterns and rhythms, poignant narratives, and sincere respect for the daily details of Midwestern life in Perfect Lives, has died at home in New York City.

The truth is, we can’t compare and contrast Columbus, Ohio and NYC without talking about a very complex global economy of cultural capital. There are excellent artists here, like Ben, it’s not a question of space or the ability to make art here. The only real difference—and why “gentrification” is not an issue in Ohio newspapers—is that nobody is fighting over Columbus (this is a lie: see Flag Wars). Brooklyn’s most valuable exports are cultural, made by artists, value generated by a hard-won and now-historicized authority to produce culture itself. Operating largely outside mainstream media via alternative structures including marginalized industries (across art forms), and actual, underground “subcultures” alike, Brooklyn-grown forms and styles are demanded by the mainstream for commonsense consumption, earning their original producers a lot of bank in addition to the power to really say and do something. Historic economic and political colonialism is paralleled by colonialization of intellectual and creative capital.

It is arguable that Brooklyn’s cultural capital is authorized by cultural conflictuality and struggles for aesthetic and political dominance, that art is at its most culturally influential when it emerges from hybridity. Hybridity emergent from fraught cultural conflict, according to Homi Bhabha in his The Location of Culture, alters monolithic colonial power and cultural imperialism. However, theoretical views such as Bhabha’s are in further conflict with the realities of rent-paying and the ways in which developers and other entities in power capitalize upon economic differences and systemic racism (and help to maintain the complicated co-constructive relationships between these). As with classical imperialist colonialization, Christopher Columbus’ individual sailors may be less the problem than the monarchy of Spain.

Dear Andy: the right to life, love, and the pursuit of happiness is, within post-consensual capitalism, a privilege authorized by dominant sensibilities, it can’t simply be seized. The fact is, if you are pursuing your own basic rights, you are probably being allowed to do so and are hence complicit within a paradigm that is destructive to others. Is that true?

It is the promise of performing mutiny from this deterministic sailing ship, of refusing to play the “role in society” that one was drafted into, that Brooklyn offers. People are drawn to Brooklyn as a place where humans have and can continue to work together towards obstruction, deconstruction, construction and dissemination of modes of sense which re-frame and re-invent cultural activity. In Brooklyn, nothing is inevitable, lifestyle is impermanence itself.

Our desire to be a part of cultural change and to be able to change cultures (i.e. to move between cultures freely, despite the color of our skin or our place of birth) is as much a will to power as it is an ideological purpose. Maybe the “best” thing to do would be to step back, to separate our young Midwestern selves from Brooklyn, to respectfully excuse ourselves from the table. Perhaps it is unfortunate that we can’t do this. We are invested in our lives now and we also don’t have the money to move. Further, we believe that all of the problems of society belong to every member of that society, regardless of their current-context identification. To believe otherwise would be to segregate, retreat back into social conditions wherein class and race and gender firmly divide the interests of our species along constructed lines. Arrogance is violence, empathy is self-authorization.

Photo by Brian McCorkle

Photo by Brian McCorkle

The people at Skylab are friendly and open, educated, stylish, articulate, up on art, no hint of philistinism at all. This would be a comfortable place to live, and we wouldn’t be raising any rents in Bushwick by living here. The artists living at Skylab and running the gallery pay less than $200 per month each and the space is gorgeous. Here is a video of PPL performing at Skylab in response to these thought-processes, missing Brooklyn and feeling marooned, and in mourning of Mr. Ashley, the great American composer and a fellow immigrant to NYC from the Midwest, a man of tremendous influence on us and the experimental opera makers of our generation:

Here is wonderful, simple performance by Ben Bennett:

And here is Future Death Toll at Skylab:


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