Since the housing bubble burst in the mid-aughts, countless stories have been told about families with no roof over their heads, tales of the formerly flush reduced to life on the streets. As part of this year’s Fringe, artist/activist Vashti DuBois looks at the problem from the point of view of those left behind: the houses themselves.
“Unlike a lot of other commentaries on foreclosure and eviction that are told by the displaced family, this show is really the home’s story,” says Brooke Whitaker, co-curator and project manager of DuBois’ EvictionProof PeepShow Home. “It looks at how useless the home will be.”
The multi-disciplinary show takes place in DuBois’ own Germantown house, which she has long opened to fellow female artists as a retreat known as FortMom. For this piece, a number of artists are creating room-specific installations that DuBois and her family will occupy as a Greek chorus of memories.
“Everyone has been foreclosed on in a relationship or been evicted from a job,” Whitaker says. “We’re using the metaphor of the house as a way to discuss how people are displaced and how that affects the things that they’re displaced from.”
Artist/activist Ashley Hunt was conscious not to emphasize beauty over struggle as he documented the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That concern led him to transform what might have been another tragic film into the “live documentary” Notes on the Emptying of a City. “The piece deals with what it means to be a witness,” Hunt says. “I felt that it was important is for me to be present and accountable to what it is that I’m describing.”
Hunt’s piece deconstructs the idea of documentary filmmaking and implicates the usually detached narrator in the act retelling and translating the events he caught on camera. Invited by prison-reform advocates to help document the city’s refusal to evacuate prisoners in Orleans Parish Prison, Hunt spent four months filming the prison and its surrounding communities.
“Observing this disaster zone and evacuated city was radically different from anything I had ever encountered,” Hunt says, “but at the same time I found a strange familiarity to communities that had been ghettoized and undermined. It felt like the South Side of Chicago, it felt like Detroit, which didn’t have hurricanes but had gone through these social processes.”
Where Hunt found a displaced city, Marc Bamuthi Joseph found himself considering the prospect of a displaced planet. Realizing that sustainability discussions rarely penetrated the inner city, Joseph initiated a series of environmentally oriented “LIFE is LIVING” festivals in several urban centers. His show red, black & GREEN: a blues grew out of that engagement.
He says that while the “Whole Foods/Toyota Prius view” hasn’t much taken hold in these communities, it’s nonetheless a vital concern. “The historical truth is that folks without means have always behaved with a conservationist ethic, born out of necessity. The future-facing truth is that if we don’t educate ourselves, if we don’t prepare, and if we continue to compartmentalize environmental action along economic lines, ultimately we all suffer. But poor people suffer first.”
EvictionProof PeepShow Home, Sept. 14-16, $15, FortMom, 4613 Newhall St. Notes on the Emptying of a City, Sept. 11, free, Broad Street Ministry, 315 S. Broad St. red, black & GREEN: a blues, Sept. 21-22, $35, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St.
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