video in america: the cold mornings edge of the old viaduct
curated by christina vassallo
april 3 - 30, 2019
everson museum of art, syracuse, ny
The video works included in the cold mornings edge of the old viaduct touch on the notion of place-based dysphoria and were created by artists who are connected to Cleveland. The title of the exhibition is a line from "Cleveland Undercovers,” a poem by d.a.levy, who was both revered and reviled for the ways in which he captured the city’s burgeoning counterculture of the 1960s. Unlike many other writers, artists, and musicians who left to pursue success elsewhere, levy stayed, even after the mixed reception of his work caused him great anxiety and paranoia. levy’s stubborn commitment to Cleveland was described by poet Gary Snyder as “an almost irrational act of love.”
A wildly imaginative and restless poem, “Cleveland Undercovers” invests mystical powers in street names, dredges up complicated local histories, marvels at industrial decay, and staggers across distances.
Only Now (the revolution is already
happening) theres the Jazz Temple
(closed via bombing
and the Corner Tavern
and the Esquire Bar
and Leo’s Casino is still
around tossing those notes out
at Euclid Ave.
Here, levy references the racially motivated attack that signaled the Jazz Temple’s demise and cites Leo’s Casino, now shuddered as a result of disinvestment in Cleveland’s east side. Like levy, Cameron Granger addresses the disorienting psychological effects of racism in Cleveland throughout his video work, This Must Be The Place, composed of recent footage the artist collected from cities that he has called home—Cleveland and Columbus—and places where his subjects might find refuge. Granger writes: “The video revolves around this idea of Black folks as a displaced people, whose real connection to home was severed when they were forced on the boat and left with nowhere to return to, like a house fire.” The subtitled description of Granger’s run-in with Cleveland police, his commentary on Michael Jackson’s life and career, and his use of Barack Obama’s 2015 eulogy for the nine who were killed during the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, are interlaced within the context of Cleveland’s constructed segregation brought on by discriminatory housing policies, redlining, and predatory lending practices.
a bridge to a new sun is rising
and the grass at last is conquering
the ashes of the necropolis…
levy’s description of Cleveland’s natural environment as restorative is echoed in Kelley O’Brien’s We too, traverse the earth, in which the artist contrasts the women’s suffrage movement with landscape architect A.D. Taylor’s design philosophy for Forest Hill Park (managed by East Cleveland and Cleveland Heights) that was intended to promote harmonious social order. The narrator states, “Once women would walk down East Cleveland’s streets freely, following and harassing men…their desires were not bodily but rather the freedom to vote,” between shots of mushrooms, overgrown weeds, and barren trees. O’Brien evokes the work of suffragist, educator, and botanist Harriet Keeler, who argued for the presence of wild flowers in urban parks decades before Taylor devalued the native plant life of Forest Hill Park.
i can spend the rest of my lives
lost in the parking lot looking for
the death chariot of the sun.
Filmed in Cleveland’s Walmart Supercenter, Rachel Yurkovich’s Black Friday 2014 depicts the relentless forces of consumerism that continuously popularize new traditions while threatening to degrade our humanity. One can imagine levy’s dazed parking lot isolation while observing Yurkovich’s nearly eighteen minutes of uninhibited consumption unfold during the Black Friday sale, which started in the morning hours of Thanksgiving day. Frenzied shoppers, who are bathed in harsh department store lighting, establish a theatrical atmosphere where anxiety and gluttony are heightened during this deeply problematic holiday and related sale event.
These video works by Cameron Granger, Kelley O’Brien, and Rachel Yurkovich are shown alongside works in the permanent collection of the Everson Museum of Art. Selected by the Everson Curator of Art & Programs, DJ Hellerman, they illustrate the rich history of film and video in capturing the mood of a place.