sites of memory|
Landscapes of Race and Ideology
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In 1961 the Experimental Band began to operate on Chicago's South Side with the intention of exploring new musical ideas through a form of collective improvisation learned through written arrangements. Internalized, this language, providing both stability and a call for open potential, renewal, extension, and variation, enabled musicians to build, in performance and without scores, "long multisectional compositions defined by elaborate instrumental variety; rapid and abrupt rhythmic, dynamic and textural successions; with emphasis on multiple, disparate, instrumental voices that obscured any clear sense of tonality."1 The tension of sounds within a space, the force of silence, the use of space as a medium of suspension, and ideas of autonomous improvisation were some of the musical explorations conducted through these techniques. In 1965 this band provided the core membership of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Inc. (AACM), a non-profit arts organization founded by Muhal Richard Abrams, Phil Cohran and Steve McCall. From this collective numerous voices, such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago, emerged and became internationally recognized as principal contributors to the development of modern improvised music. This musical achievement makes the AACM and its base of operation, the Abraham Lincoln Center, significant to the cultural landscapes of jazz and Chicago's South Side. This achievement is also significant for its redefinition of efforts the prevailing concepts regarding these musicians and the spatial realm in which they operate.
The development of its complex ensemble relations and music were reflective of an interdependence of musical and social factors; the collapse of performance venues coupled with the emergence of black nationalism during the Civil Rights Era. In response, the AACM sought to establish a more self-reliant community of musicians capable of offering an alternative to the established structures of the music industry. Community centers, churches, theaters, university campuses and coffeehouses were developed by the AACM as new sites for improvised music. In these new venues, the music was no longer bound by traditional concepts of entertainment nurtured by club owners, promoters, and agents.
The AACM offers a unique opportunity for considering the architectural implications of many of the processes that facilitate musical improvisation. These include concepts such as moment by moment continuity, variable temporal flow, and complex ensemble relations. In its efforts to redefine music and space through improvisational techniques, the AACM extended those processes to its navigation of the city and offered a noised consideration of space.
1 Ronald M. Radano, New Musical Figurations: Anthony Braxton's Cultural Critique. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993) 79.
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'It is the thing that is most perceptible and least material. It is the archetype of the vital element. It is the first condition and the hallmark of art, as breath is of life: breath, which accelerates or slows, which becomes even or agitated according to the tension in the individual, the degree and nature of his emotion. This is rhythm...it is composed of a theme-sculptural form-which is set in opposition to a sister theme, as inhalation is to exhalation, and that is repeated. It is not the kind of symmetry that gives rise to monotony.'
Imprisoned by four walls
(to the North, the crystal of non-knowledge
a landscape to be reinvented
to the South, reflective memory
to the East, the mirror
to the West, stone and the song of silence)
I wrote messages, but received no reply.
Memory: the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained, especially through associative mechanisms; a capacity for showing effects as the result of past treatment or for returning to a former condition.
The precise relationship between memory and architecture is difficult to define. The word itself suggests an intangibility, an immateriality, a certain prescence in the mind's eye...clearly a phenomenon that is more cerebral than physical. Architecture, although rooted in the cerebral, is traditionally made manifest in the material, physical world. In Body.Memory.Map, I propose to look at the question of 'sites of memory' through the eyes of the one group in the United States for whom memory-both literally and conceptually-remains problematic: African Americans. Within African American culture, memory plays a crucial, fragmented and often contradictory role, not least because '[it] is also a struggle of memory against forgetting.' Severed from the mother culture(s) through slavery and colonialism, notions of 'self', 'home' and 'place' have become hotly contested terrains in which memory plays an increasingly complex role. Who remembers what? And how? The museum and the art gallery are not the only available architectural options for the exploration of memory and never have been.
In many traditional African cultures, there is one site into which many of these issues-memory, history, language, home, self and place-collapse: the body. Oral history, bodily art practices, tribal affiliations, architectures based on social-as opposed to formal-relations are all manifestations of a deep, spiritual and aesthetic covenant with the body as the primary site of memory and expression. Ironically, in the history of African Americans in the United States, it is again the body that has been the primary site of experience and pain.
Body.Memory.Map is a visual and text-based exploration of the black body as the repository of this history. Through a combination of photographs, texts and photo-montages, the project offers a re-interpretation of both 'site', 'self' and 'space' as these relate to the African American experience. It uses the traditional and familiar tools of architectural investigation-scale, form, material, occupation, program, etc.-to suggest new and often unexpected relationships between race, space and architecture.
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Wrapping the Curtain: Resistance and Identity in the Permeability of Streetspace
William Wesley Taylor; Assistant Professor,
College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, University of Cincinnati
Place located identity is contingent upon the particularization of space and the maintenance of spatial boundaries. This paper focuses on place-making dynamics in highly stylized public attitudinizing carried on by small groups of black American youths in public interaction. While this activity is manifested in some form in virtually all cultural groups, it is believed that black youths, reacting to the disenfranchisement of age and racial designation, reveal in this specific behavior a transcendent mechanism -- the ability to make identity reinforcing places regardless of material circumstance.
It is argued that the idiosyncratic posturing exhibited by black youths is a form of existential, collective dwelling engendered and maintained in collective place located identity. In particular, this examination looks at how the very nature of this activity and the accumulation of spatially located memories simultaneously define and reinforce the participant's sense of infra-group (place) "insideness" and extra-group "otherness." By providing a description of a specific mechanism reflective of place making activity, this paper will attempt to show how this "permeable curtain" mechanism serves as a metaphor to the behavioral transactions and dynamic dialectics carried on between the posturing group and the surrounding social collective to further define boundaries.
Thus, existential place identity becomes the consequence of on-going activity in which the complex dynamics in the relationships between spatial differentiation, place perception, and identity reinforcement are located. The boundary that separates insider from outsider; belonging from not belonging; sovereignty from would-be interloper; must then contain the mechanism that facilitates continuity of place identification against the onslaughts of time and changing circumstances.