May 8, 2010

more thoughts on gentrification

starting THE TABLE at JALISCO and continuing to work on the Damelo Todo movie has returned me to the question of gentrification- in fact it seems lately to be a main subject of the movie... funny cause most people expect a movie about trans folks would be about "being trans" whatever that means but actually this keeps coming up as being the most pressing, anxiety causing issue. and also more interesting for me to work with, cause it's like a way multi-dimensional issue.

was wildness gentrifying the Silver Platter?
is THE TABLE going to gentrify Jalisco?
is the movie going to have gentrifying effects on the Silver Platter? 
what is gentrification really?
i ask these questions now obviously NOT because it's the first time i'm thinking about them, but oppositely because these questions have affected every tiny decision i've ever made. so i continue to ask them all the time, again and again, always, and forever.

there is no simple answer, but i think all the answers are worth spelling out. in the overall grand narrative, one fact is that wildness is over, and the community of the bar remains. our presence did not destroy or displace anyone. we happened- and now we are something else, and still involved with some members of the bar (mainly Koky & Javier). the changes had nothing to do with us not belonging there. if anything, we ended because we were SO involved, we had real friendships and alliegances that made it impossible for us to remain as just a biznessstyle-party. and we were invited to stay...

i am returning to old criticism of wildness now because i anticipate it coming up again with THE TABLE. and the movie is potentially going to be an even bigger monster - i knew that from the first day i picked up a camera. representation. exposure. access. audience. format. it's always all been there, and it WILL have affects on how the movie ultimately exists in the world. and then also things we make are never fully in our control. i would argue the best things require giving up a lot of control, trusting your personal ethics, and allowing people the freedom to like make up their own minds. i mean that about making a movie, a party, any kind of creative thing...

these are all threads that i could say sooo much more about, but i'll try to get to the point mkaay

so there's this blog entry that was written a while ago, like over a year ago by an LA-based artist named michael buitron. it's totally obscure but at the same time emblematic from a lot of sentiment that was going on at the time. the entry is heavy with art language so i'll try to parse in the most simple terms, because i think his point of view (minus all the theory) boils down to a set of common reactions to wildness - and therefore likely to be relevant THE TABLE and the movie. so more orless in order, here are his main arguments, which are very familiar...

1. i've been hanging out at bars like the silver platter for a long time so i know these kids don't belong here - frequently our critics pull this kind of rank. in doing so they also are basically saying, it's ok for me to experience this place, but not for others. or worse, i have a more sensitive knowledgeable understanding of this place, that i need to "protect" it from others. or even creepier, this is my slumming territory, i found it first!

2. wildness is getting written about by XXX magazine/newspaper and therefore is threatening the existence of the bar. therefore exposure in itself = death. i guess i really question that. i question it based on lived experience. for example, our worst nightmare "best of LA" coverage caused a HUGE uproar within the so-called wildness community (ie people on the internet who had stake in what we represented, i guess?) - people were taking sides either for or against us, but in the end it did not noticeably change our clientele. occassionally every couple months a few random people would come out as having heard about us through the LA Weekly, but those people came and went, and did not affect the core of our community. in the end of that particular saga, the drama seemed mostly internal to the people who where invested in wildness (including the so-called "protectors") -and really not from the silver platter or the trans latina community in general. on the other hand i tohtally get that things do change when they gain popularity- many times for the worse. BUT i think that jaded attitude that if something's getting "famous" it's going to ruin everything- that perspective feels actually dated to me. it's something i've been thinking about a lot lately, i used to take for granted the idea that exposure = death, but i don't know if i agree that's necessarily always the case anymore, because of the way our culture is so super-saturated with hype and late capitalism and all that. but THAT is like a way huger topic than can be handled by this post- and sort of one the main questions of this blog in general. IS exposure inherently a bad thing- for a project and/or peoples? um i think no, and that is my experiment in general.

3. artists are evil colonizers. now this is an epically THEMATIC proposition. and it's like soooo complex dude. could it be more fair to say that the vast forces of urbanization, class movement, racism, and the shitty capitalist economic system often put artists in difficult situations, where they are both ostracized as "gentrifiers" and at the same time exploited for "taste" value, to make neighborhoods more "liveable"? in my experience (disclosure: i am an artist) it's not the artists that are the problem, it's the people who come after them. artists tend to be actually interested in nuanced things like history, locality, cultural difference, etc. they're usually not just there to TAKE and DISPLACE -or even if they are "taking" little pieces of their life experience to hash out for a specialized niche of the art world that is actually interested in monority/identity issues (and we know that the larger art world/market does NOT care about this stuff -and even if there is interest or support, there is definitely not a lot of money...) but the conventional narrative goes that artists "pave the way" for the people who DO take/displace/exploit. so my question is where can an intervention happen in this process?

4. so this one was hard to paraphrase, i'll just quote directly: "In the era of globalization, we can't have hermetic cultures absent of cultural mixing. At the same time, I really believe there are some fragile cultural spaces that warrant a bit of respectful isolation. The feelings, sights, smells, and testosterone vibe of a sex club would be lost if the space was infiltrated by art patrons sipping glasses of white wine." - maybe this statement is like - can radical queer culture mix with the art world? 
then he goes on to talk about the difference between a mapplethorpe PHOTOGRAPH versus sighting random art celebrities (including Zackary!! squeal) at a sex club. ok so really he is asking should these things be mixing in real life? and it sounds like he thinks that art should stay in the art world, and radical queer people should stay in the clubs. or maybe that it's ok for freaky club people to try to make it in the art world, but art people should stay out of the clubs. but isn't that kind of privileging the art world? like putting it above sex clubs, as though we are all clamoring to try to get up in there, and that art people have to mobility to go (to descend?) anywhere they want? i find that people in the art world often have this kind of narcissistic perspective - that if they are venturing outside of their immediate scene then they are "observing" or "infiltrating" or merely performing etc. when i first crossed into the film world i think i was guilty of doing a little of that myself - as IF the artworld were a NEUTRAL place from which to critque. PUSFFFFTTT!! (do you hear the sound of me DIIEEING?) i would like to think that there could be a more egalitarian way to think about difference, that maybe worlds can be mutually exclusive, or that they can even overlap, and have totally separate codes and values, etc. AND that one can't negate another, you know what i mean?

OR MAYBE he's just repulsed by the idea of CLASSES mixing in general (white wine and leather?). that's another big thematic one... to be tackled!

lastly, there were 2 comments - one person i think intelligently pointed out that the real question was, "whom is queer art for? Does it define a community, and if so, is it for the sake of that community or for others or both?" i agree with those questions. GOOD QUESTION!

then the other comment basically said "Wildness should be ashamed of themselves" specifically targeting at the fact that some of us are artists and/or were art students.
What's worse? That Wildness has cheapened what was once a rich and specific community, casting a freak-light on the bar's longstanding clientele -- all under the umbrella of an art project?

Or their childish smuggery as self-defined ambassadors to a tranny hooker / john community that they don't really understand beyond art school trans-politics?
i'm kind of weirdly satisfied to end on this note, because there you have it: the whole pendulum of wildness critique - from abstract theoretical criticism to straightup hater. all of it bearing the weight of partial truth and deeply flawed untrue judgement. and like truly sad and painful and everything.

WHOOPS, this really turned in to an essayhay didn't it? goddddd i try not to be such a long typer mm, but sometimes things just need hashing out. this is all to say i believe the michael buitrons of the world have some valid points, and also their invalid points reveal other fucked up inner workings of the world. but it's easier to mount a defense than to craft an argument, so i have the upper hand here. in general my mode IS to try to put my shit out there, but sometimes you just gotta deal directly with what people are sayin. just sayin. i am MOST DEFINITELY taking it all into account.


  1. hey wu,
    i know this is way old....
    just wanted to add a few things to this dialogue...

    -there is an ease probably for some people, like myself that it isn't shying away from this while it probably makes other people incredibly uncomfortable, probably those that don't really challenge their comfort whether its thru race or class privilege or all....not at all excluding gender privilege in any way either.

    was wildness gentrifying the Silver Platter?
    yes, to a certain degree it was. i dont think that was the "aim" of the wildness and certainly i still think there was a beauty in wildness and the collaboration that fostered new dialogue that wasn't happening,even for myself. there is always these complications in art, people that think they make or make "subversive art" and organizing.

    i for one, feel much more comfortable talking about these things i think as a result of the la weekly debacle etc. but to bring up the la weekly shpeal...that was a time when i went every week and there was a definite shift even if it only last a bit...but it was was definitely when i realized that people who came to the space were just as capable of being sleezy and hitting on whatever crew i was with...

    and jalisco, wayyyyyy more than silver platter had been on its outs for some time and prevails hardfuckinfcore!!!! that area was where skid row began at one point.
    but now...its not just the smell, its the hip....make that yuppies, pizza places with woodfire whatever and the fact that downtown, city council members like jan perry and the historic core have gone out of their way to support not just "gentrification" but mass sweeps as a whole

    my point is that is an area thats nearly come full circle and no one has built (crossing fingers) a condo loft contraption at 7th and rampart, close by but not yet...

    i think that if when you wrote this you were anticipating criticism, to a good is what every promoter, artist etc. should be doing.

    as for artists...the evil implied in being one or questioning the people that come after not so sure of. i think that by being part of the art market, we inevitably invite those attitudes. maybe the more and more that its infiltrated it might be different but i have doubts about that too. we may decide who we think is a lesser of an evil etc but we also take jobs within institutions or attend institutions etc....

    when i reflect on what was wildness at one point that i went was that....largely white but largely not sometimes....that was always interesting to me, it was a total toss up. it made it difficult to judge in that way .

    lastly, should wildness be ashamed of itself? or shall we look at this comment?
    "What's worse? That Wildness has cheapened what was once a rich and specific community, casting a freak-light on the bar's longstanding clientele -- all under the umbrella of an art project?"

    my answer is the person who wrote this should be ashamed of themselves. "rich and specific"? sounds pretty fetish and racist to me...sounds like they dont wanna fess up to being a gentrifier themselves. we are all guilty in my mind, no doubt. i used to wonder if " we" would come up with an answer, a better way of doing things and i think if anything good has happened with an economic downturn, oops make that dead end...this might be it...its literally forced us to stop spending money on stupid shit.

    ill be curious too to see how damelo todo ends up wu....but i have hope that this has all happened for a reason and that obviously you have not shyed away from accountability...the sad thing is that people that say stuff like that will continue to never be accountable.