Spoleto Festival USA 2001
Evoking History: Listening Across Cultures and Communities
Rehearsing the Past: Looking at the City from Another Direction,
"Colin Quashie's "Portal" project is on display and wins for getting to the point. He places unprovoking images with rather unprovoking text, and together they form a very provocative kick in the gut."
- Kristen Rhodes, Charleston City Paper
Artist statement on Portal:
There was little to no guidance given to the artists participating in this exhibition. Our ideas were to flow after an extensive series of workshops discussing uses of public spaces and their meanings. Through it all, I wanted no part of an internal exhibition, after all, the spaces - or non spaces - weren't in galleries or museums, they occupied our everyday lives, most overlooked and forgotten. So why not combine the two? Take the gilded frame, white wall and nameplates out of the museum and place it where the art really is. Take art to the audience and by a simple adjustment of perspective, make them see what I want them to see.
- Colin Quashie
LOCATION # 1
Mayor Joseph P. Riley Stadium
Fishburne St & Lockwood Blvd.
Who has the power to
erect their own monument?
"... I go not there to see him nor to hear of him; not from him who could not show no title to it but the deed which a legislature gave him."
- Henry David Thoreau
WHY THIS LOCATION? The stadium is named after Charleston's longest-serving mayor, Joseph P. Riley Jr., who was instrumental in its construction. Whereas the naming of sites after athletes, politicians, and personalities is nothing new, it does beg the question why the need for such immediacy. Legacies are often temporary and fleeting in life. The naming of public spaces should be done in a sober manner after leagcies are allowed to settle. What is important today may not be quite as important 10 years from now. We can wait.
LOCATION # 2
Laurens Street Pier
Who among us deserves a monument?
"... a pedestal waiting for a monument."
- Pierre Charles L'Enfant
WHY THIS LOCATION? For nearly two centuries, Charleston’s Mosquito Fleet - a group of hardy and fearless African-American men - braved the ocean to supply city residents daily with fresh seafood. The 'swarm' of boats coming over the horizon was one of Charleston’s most iconic sights. Because of the important economic role they played in the city, the fishermen were held in high regard. Gen. Charles Cotesworth Pinckney donated waterfront property at the east end of Market Street for their boats to dock. The end finally came with Hurricane Hugo in 1989, when the dock was destroyed beyond repair. Now, it is the site of a popular restaurant named “Fleet’s Landing.”.
LOCATION # 3
Hwy 17 through peninsula Charleston
How important are monuments to a community?
"Monuments? What are they?! The very pyramids have forgotten their builders or to whom they were dedicated. Deeds, not stones, are the true monuments to the great."
- Pierre Charles L'Enfant
WHY THIS LOCATION? This stretch of Hwy 17 traversing peninsula Charleston was called the 'Crosstown'. In 1978 it was decidated to the late civil rights icon Septima Poinsette Clark - however - the city of Charleston never bothered to change the name of the street signs, nor was the name change indicated on any city maps. It wasn't until 2017 - nearly 3 decades later - that the street signs were changed to reflect her name.
LOCATION # 4
King Street District
King and Spring Street
Who decides which monuments are erected?
"The King reigns, but does not govern"
WHY THIS LOCATION? In 1999, council member Wendell Gilliard established an ordinance to name Spring Street and Cannon Street the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial District. He proposed an MLK Park and statue of Dr. King as the centerpiece. To-date, the memorial is only identifiable by the two signs hanging on either end of the district. Of this location, writer Neill Bogan commented, "what does it take for African-American memory to find a physical space to show itself on the peninsula of Charleston? What will space for African-American memory mean in a locale in which there is no more space for African American life?” In a city that is being ruthlessly gentrified, the naming of a meaningless district where blacks no longer inhabit feels purposeful in its deception. Charleston would have done better to simply addend portion of its famed 'King St' ( named after King Charles II of England, and served as the main highway for the early settlement of Charles Towne )
LOCATION # 5
Can a monument's relevance diminish?
"Alas? How little does the memories of these inhabitants enhance the beauty of the landscape! "
- Henry David Thoreau
WHY THIS LOCATION? It' a city that been called facetiously “the Ellis Island for African Americans,” where 40 - 60% can trace their roots back to this location. Charleston aggressive attitude towards all things historic seemed to stop at slavery's edge where the need to diminish the horrors of 'America's original sin' was in keeping with a geocentric marketing plan emphasizing 'Moonlight and Magnolias' rather than simply revealing the facts. The Slave Mart - one of the few remaining barracoons was operated as a gift shop in private hands before the city decided to extend covert it into a museum in anticipation of an actual African American Museum slated to open in 2024.
The Slave Mart
LOCATION # 6
The Hanging Tree
Ashley Avenue and Fishburne Street
How important is the accuracy of our monuments?
"The image is not intended to represent the thing itself, but, rather, the reality of the force the thing contains. "
- James Baldwin
The Price of the Ticket, Princes and Powers
WHY THIS LOCATION? It is reported to be the infamous location of Denmark Vesey's public execution and served as a lynching tree. However, city records dispute that version and show that Denmark Vesey and his co-conspirators were executed in Blake's Lands on 2, July, 1822. The original tree was uprooted by Hurricane Hugo and another replanted by the city. What is the truth surrounding this piece of real estate - and does it really matter? Or is it more important to recognize factual violence even if attached to a fictional source. Local historian Damon Fordham offers a sobering analysis at the link below.
Can a grocery store or a barber shop
be considered a monument to the community?
"Every goodbye ain't gone: Human history reverberates with upheaval, uprooting, arrival and departure, hello and goodbye."
- James Baldwin
The Price of the Ticket, Every Goodbye Ain't Gone
WHY THIS LOCATION? Whaley's Grocery, Mr, Lee's Barber Shop and Martha Lou's Kitchen are but three African American businesses that held long standing presence on Peninsula Charleston. However, the changing demographics and rising international stature has seen a rise in more boutique industries that cater to the gentrified inhabitants. Is there no room for acknowledgement of what was in a city rife with remembrance?
Embassy Suites Hotel (Old Citadel )
Meeting and Hutson Street
Can a monument reflect contrasting viewpoints?
"We don't need to build a monument for Denmark Vesey - he already has one.The Old Citadel was erected to house the monumental fear he generated in the white community."
- Colin Quashie
WHY THIS LOCATION? From the 1990s, African-American activists in Charleston proposed erecting a memorial to Denmark Vesey, to honor his effort to overturn slavery in the city. The proposal was controversial, because many white residents did not want to memorialize a man who they considered a terrorist. The original statue was intended to rest in Marion Square, home to the Wade Hampton (SC's largest slave owner, and John C. Calhoun, a virulent racist. The owners of Marion Square refused. The story of the Citadel and Denmark Vesey are one. The Citadel traces its origins to an arsenal constructed by the state of South Carolina to defend white Charlestonians against possible uprisings of enslaved people following the thwarted Denmark Vesey rebellion of 1822. It eventually was placed in Hampton Park, ironically, about 100 yards from the entrance gates to the new Citadel. This was the only location that the Portal was vandalized.
10th Avenue and Hester Street
What are the effects of a monument's removal from a community?
"They are trapped in a no-man's-land between black humiliation and white power."
- James Baldwin
The Price of the Ticket, The Dangerous Road Before Dr. King
WHY THIS LOCATION? Charleston, SC: Rated # 1 for gentrification by Realtor.com. Gentrification potential achieved: 62.5%. Median home price increase, 2000 to 2015: $152,100 to $270,000 (+77.5%). The issue of gentrification exploded in Charleston in 2001, when Shoreview Apartments, a large, low-income housing project home to 440 families, were given 30 days to relocate before it was razed to the ground to make way for an upscale community of single-family homes. Other neighborhoods that had long been solidly African-American working class also saw a shift toward white, middle-class families. Since 1990, Charleston’s black population has declined from 42 percent to 23 percent, according to the Census Bureau. “
POST AND COURIER
Quashie’s Portal: Looking for meanings in monuments
Wednesday, June 6, 2001
The Spoleto exhibition titled “Rehearsing The Past: Looking at the City from Another Direction: includes the works of 10 artist contributors. One of these works, Colin Quashie’s “Portal,” is a serial art sequence part performance, part participatory art, part site-specific work, which is literally dispersed all over the city of Charleston at different times and at different sites.
Quashie has approached the challenge of considering the social role of ‘the monument’ with characteristic wit and acerbity by using a provisional frame to highlight specific sites, objects, buildings or existing monuments, which serve to crystallize social or cultural issues of both local significance to Charleston, and of larger, conceptual import, pertaining to ideas of how we use, exploit or manipulate power, politics, community, humanism and These issues are raised as a sort of tongue in cheek series of ‘cool’ visual jokes, which offer at their core sometimes disturbing, often insightful, but always intriguing observations on local popular culture.
For example, the first use of the “Portal” (an ornate gold gilded frame mounted on a vertical, white support, with an opening placed at approximately 64 inches from the sidewalk surface on which the upright support rests) is intended to imply a mobile museum, or the creation of a painting, or perhaps a kind of generic symbol for the idea of a work of “art”. The scene which the spectator is able to see framed by the “Portal” is being viewed as art as the result of being seen through this viewfinder, a metaphorical window into the artist’s perceptual distillation process.
The frame / portal was first situated before the Joseph P. Riley Stadium to highlight the presence of this monument, and its political ramifications in the city where the mayor for whom the stadium is named still actively serves in an official capacity. By implication, one of the principal issues addressed is one of who has the power to create, or implement creation of their own distinctive monuments, and where might such monuments be placed?
The second appearance of the “Portal” was at Laurens Street at the Cooper River, where the frame highlighted an unprepossessing view of the closed docking areas which had served as home to the so-called Mosquito Fleet, small business fishermen, independent entrepreneurs, who were part of the lifeblood of the Charleston economy, but who have been forced out of the entrepreneurial field of competition by larger, more efficient, better equipped private corporate fleets. Here, the artist memorializes the desolate site, which shows only where the once-teeming small fishing industry had gathered in the past, but we are confronted with what is now an abandoned site. Thus, transition, social change, economic and cultural factors have served to transform the character of the city’s cultural life, leaving nothing to remember this aspect of Charleston’s earlier history and wealth base.
The third placement of the “Portal” was opposite the granite rectangle, reminiscent of a gravestone, which is dedicated to Civil Rights activist Septima Clark, at the Septima P. Clark Expressway, officially named in 1978, but which continues to be referred to as simply “the Crosstown” in common local parlance.
This implied an ongoing neglect of the memory and appreciation of Clark, who has her monument, but whose full acknowledgement is still forthcoming. Is this neglect intentional, benign disinterest, or an oversight? Quashie’s highlight of the incomplete acknowledgement raises the appropriate questions, which of course lead to further questions.
The remaining placements of the “Portal” highlight local instances of what the artist considers to be worthy of a memorial, or indeed may already show phenomena that have been memorialized, but which for a variety of reasons amplify the often unspoken issues reflected in our natural dialogue on economics, race and culture. Each of these remaining sites offers subtle and thoughtful insight into the nature of local politics and value systems that enlarge our understanding of Charleston’s ongoing cultural evolution as a microcosm of America as a whole, but also embraces the regional specificity of our Southernness.
Today and Thursday, the Portal will be located on Cannon Street across from Felix Street; Friday and Saturday at the corner of Meeting and Ashmead streets; and Sunday at the corner of Hester and Alberta Streets.
The “Portal” is in part a commentary on painting, a work of sculpture, public art, art as social commentary,art as tourist diversion, and art as politics, fused into a single performance, but it is in any case an intricate, complex, deeply thoughtful, yet simultaneously glib and jocular consideration of a typically American series of cultural problems.
- Frank Martin
Post and Courier Reviewer
THE CITY PAPER
An Ambitious Project: Rehearsing the Past Raises Questions
- Kristen Rhodes
JUNE 6, 2001
Rehearsing the Past part of the Listening Across Cultures and Communities phase of Spoleto Festival USA’s Evoking History project has taken more evident shape in the past week or so.
An exhibit at 474 King Street gives concrete evidence of the “dialogue” a group of artists has been engaged in the past few months about the issue of monuments.
Rehearsing the Past includes a moving exhibit, broadsides (i.e. posters) around town, a participatory marker at the old jail, and a community gathering. This project is very ambitious, and where it will ultimately lead is unknown, but the experience of the space at 474 King St. offers no more clarification. The more I learn about it, the more confusing Either it is a case of “too many cooks,” or it’s the airing of many different ideas and philosophies, which may someday congeal into something truly fantastic. If it’s a baby, we’re at the end of the first trimester – too early to tell the sex with an ultrasound.
The exhibit at 474 King is titled ‘New Monuments for Charleston’ and includes a model of the Shoreview apartment complex and “From a Jail to a School” by Gwylene Gallimard. “New South Silence” by Aaron Baldwin and Neill Bogan, “Elizabeth Bishop and the Monument in Charleston” by Darryl Wellington, “Whose water” by Jean Marie Mauclet, and “J.C, Calhoun: Context/Reflect” by LaVerne Wells-Bowie.
In addition, Bogan has hung large broadsides – an 18th century way of publishing news and advertisements – in spaces around news town with quotes from the artists’ talks on “monuments in Charleston.” Those broadsides have been made into smaller versions and are on display at the King Street exhibit (and at Clara’s on King Street). Dave Costopoulos has also done broadsides on his project. “What is the Future of Your Neighborhood?”, which was held last Sunday at Tony’s New Orleans Connection. Finally, Colin Quashie’s “Portal” project is on display.it gets.
That these artists have given a huge amount of thought to the project is clear. But looking at how well this exhibit communicates itself is not so clear. Colin Quashie wins for getting to the point. He has been placing his gilded frame, “Portal,” around town at various locations with a different question and quote for each spot.
In case you missed any of the “Portal” locations, the exhibit at 474 King Street has all of these scenes pictured in smaller gilded frames. These pictures send a powerful message with questions like “Who has the power to build their own monument?” placed below the frame outside the Joe Riley Stadium, and “Who deserves a monument?” looking out at Laurens Street where the old Mosquito Fleet used to dock. Quashie’s simplicity is a much needed respite from the noise within a verbose project. He places unprovoking images with rather unprovoking text, and together they for a very provocative kick in the gut.
While the other projects tend to leave question marks, Quashie leaves a period – or perhaps an exclamation point. Question marks might be the point, the project is trying to raise questions after all. But too many questions can lead to paralysis.
The main question is, what are the answers? At the root of all of the problems brought forward is racism, capitalism (or rather gentrification), and apathy. And with foes like these, there is no room for vagueness.
Engaging people in the community to ask these questions is needed, which was the aim of Costopulos’ gathering for residents of the Spring Street Corridor last Sunday. The problems are too complex to be fixed with one meeting, since there are many folks in Charleston who have been ignored for too long. But hopefully, seeds will be planted from this entire project and real communication can grow. ‘Rehearsing the Past’ gives hope that art can actually become relevant in Charleston someday.
Spoleto Festival USA 2001
Listening Across Cultures and Communities
Mary Jane Jacob and Tumelo Mosaka,
Charleston is a city rich in history, yet there are aspects of history that remain little known even to long time residents and, like everywhere else, personal and social circumstances play a role in creating meaning. In a strange way the evidence of history is both visible and invisible, depending on who's telling the story and to whom it is being told. One gets the sense that there is a lot that still remains unsaid for many reasons, one of which is grief. For African-Americans, it is the grief for suffering the Middle Passage through slavery, while for the white Southerners, as Neill Bogan comments here, it is for the Confederate dead.
On the surface, the city seems to be sanitized from its contested history of violence and brutality. This grief remains unacknowledged and hardly is articulated in a manner that addresses the deep scars felt by many Charlestonians. This unresolved historical legacy has become hereditary, differences and inequalities have become an unquestionable reality that for many seems to be tradition now. The path to changing these attitudes is a long and narrow one, it needs sensitivity and patience. It is no accident that art has been used as a tool to initiate ideas and communication across race, gender, and ethnicity. "Evoking History" has adopted the approach of listening across cultures and commutities as a way to engage these conflicted histories.
Occasion of the festival's 25th anniversary, the Spoleto Festival USA launched "Evoking History," a three-year initiative. Its first year centered on three projects, each based on personal narratives and manifested in a play, workshops and exhibitions, installations and a garden. In each instance, the lead artist, selected and commissioned by the festival, enlisted a team of community persons to collaborate with them.
Ping Chong's Secret Histories explored the effects of history and the displacement of peoples through contemporary testimony. Its genre of documentary theater was developed around five Charleston-area women who are not actors by profession but who stepped on stage, moving out of their ordinary roles, to share extraordinary stories from their own lives. During the collaborative process, Chong, as director, and Talvin Wilks, as playwright, interviewed nearly thirty members of the community; each individual came from a different background, embodying in his or her own unique way, the complexity of cultural identity in today's world. Arriving at the final casting, the content and subtexts their individual narratives evoked were interwoven, drawing parallels and resonances among their experiences. In offering a different perspective on the history and culture of Charleston, their compelling stories of real-life experience became the start of a community dialogue-spoken and unspoken-between the actors and audiences. This production became at once a transformative experience on both sides of the theater: actor Luanne Edwards wrote that this experience "validated myself by claiming it publicly," while spectator Kendra Hamilton shared "that experience seems to have completely healed the wounds that I've been carrying around in my heart from growing up in that sick and seductive city since childhood.”
In a different scenario, Lonnie Graham-an artist, photographer, and educator-developed the The Heritage Garden Project on Charleston's Eastside at Wilmot J. Fraser Elementary School. Honoring the rich agricultural history and its African roots, Graham collaborated with horticulturalist Harry Noisette whose vast knowledge about plants, together with his passion for and willingness to share his knowledge, made the garden a place that attracted a wide range of people. As teacher La'Sheia Oubré shared: "He was the embodiment of the garden; he possessed all that the garden had to teach us.” Guided by Noisette, the children planted traditional crops such as corn, beans, radish, peanuts, and okra from a variety of heirloom seeds from the eastern part of the United States. Endowed with historical significance, the garden was intended to impart a deeper knowledge of the connection between the Lowcountry and the African continent. Graham and Noisette worked with the school children and local residents to cultivate foodstuff for the purposes of educating and developing intergenerational dialogue between youth and adults that continues to grow, making this a story only partly told. Furthermore, this project was developed into a living laboratory for the teaching of science, math, English, and history.
Graham also explored the theme of the Middle Passage in an installation linking the formal dining room with the slave quarters at Historic Charleston Foundation's Aiken-Rhett House, an urban plantation built in 1818 that is a complete document of antebellum life. The work, entitled A Recollection of Tomorrow, was an act of acknowledgement to those ancestors who came to Charleston and found themselves in servitude to others. Their dreams, according to Graham, have become our reality, the present is the dream of the past. By projecting images of contemporary Charlestonians and Ghanaians onto the layers of history still evident in the walls of this house, Graham metaphorically connected Charleston's historic legacy to the history of the African Diaspora. A red cascading velvet drape puddled onto the floor, evoking images of blood and beauty. Underneath lay the dreams: simple, elegant blue sheer curtains embroidered with the design of the constellations of the Northern Hemisphere, to which many looked for freedom and hope. This work in a second phase became collaboration with Jerushia Graham and a nearby community of quilters; they are transforming this luscious drapery into a commemorative quilt, appliquéing the dream designs of Fraser School students.
Finally, Graham completed his trilogy with a work entitled Sentinel at Drayton Hall, an outstanding example of Palladian architecture in America and one of the oldest surviving plantation, completed in 1742 and built by both European and African slave craftsmen. Here he invited self-trained artist Thaddeus Mosley to create an installation in an unmarked African-American cemetery. Mosley created an installation of memorial markers recalling the carved pole figures found in burial grounds in Zaire and Africa-American slave grounds in Georgia. In the accompanying words of scholar James Wylie, they “represent our eternal legacy."
Historical legacy in Charleston is made visible by monuments, but they only celebrate and commemorate the history of white Southerners. Writer-artist Neill Bogan approached the difficult subject of monument making and its function as civic marker. His collaborative project Rehearsing the Past: Looking at the City from Another Direction, undertaken with nine area-artists, a poet, architect, videomaker, and youth educator, was aimed at providing new visions of monuments and memorializations in the city through multiple modes of expression. Bogan workshopped the project over a six month-time period, leading group discussion on a myriad of related ideas. The creative group became charged with reinterpreting Charleston's past through their own works. Over the course of their meetings, they continually challenged each other with questions surrounding the use of public space for memorialization in Charleston—"Who deserves monuments? Who decides? And how does your family reference the past?"-which were core to understanding the political nature of making monuments.
The responses presented included a storefront exhibition of artworks; broadsides with questions, dialogue quotes, jokes, poems, and statements on present and future expressions of Charleston's past which were placed throughout the city; a movable wall that allowed passersby to examine nine familiar Charleston sights in a new way; community conversations about the changing demographics within the peninsula; and a tour on the Schooner Pride to look at the city from another direction, revealing views and visions for Charleston's rich harbor and long history with the sea. Bogan believes that a significant cultural barrier exists in America in how people honor and formulate the past. This project aimed, on the one hand, to expose the problem of creating exclusive histories through commemorative symbols and, on the other, to imagine something more.
Rehearsing the Past, Frank Martin has written, "thrust the spectator into a philosophical and speculative quagmire for which,” he feels, "the American educational system has failed to prepare its general public. There is no answer to such a question; the point of this exercise is in the simple contemplation of the question; its consideration becomes its value.”
Histories, like art, change meaning over time, from person to person and place to place. The artists this year-lead artists Ping Chong and Talvin Wilks, Lonnie Graham, and Neill Bogan-came from different artistic traditions and modes of expression. Yet they brought to this investigation a common artmaking process that enabled a wide and uncommon spectrum of individuals to become engaged in art and ideas. Critical to this process was the ability and interest to listen and to reflect in communal ways-through art and dialogue-upon these issues of heritage today which "Evoking History" projects continue to explore.
A companion aspect to "Evoking History” was a series of "Stakeholder” Forums- a curious appellation, yet one that well describes the urgency with which persons in the Charleston area are invested in their place, its meanings and heritage, and a need for exchange and change. They were joined last spring by national stakeholders, professionals from outside the region who share, in their work and in their communities, many of the same goals. An excerpt from one of these forums—a discussion that took place at l'On in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, at the conclusion of the festival-gives some insight into the vitality of these dialogues. And they continue...