Saturday, August 11, 2012

Providence RI Update - RISD Museum, New Urban Arts, AS220 and more

 At about 2am Saturday morning I pulled into the beautiful Providence Rhode Island and parked The Bus in front of the Art Museum at Rhode Island School of Design.  The campus is beautiful even at night and when I woke up and took a stroll through it I totally fell in love - we have nothing like this in San Diego: old beautiful buildings of various architectural styles, trees covered with vines, narrow windy streets, etc. etc.  All of it reminded me a bit of Russia and some things I remember from my childhood.  Here is the parking spot that Gilli spent the night in, tell me that's not a gorgeous little street:

  I did alert the folks at the museum of my immanent arrival, so when the time came for the staff to come to work I had a nice little wave of visitors and among them a very kind lady named Lani, who works in the PR department there.  She fought long and hard to get me into the courtyard of the museum (located on the opposite side of the museum from the street I parked on) but all her efforts were in vain as there were art deliveries scheduled and there was no way to have room for Gilli there.  She was, however extremely helpful in suggesting to me the next to places that I contacted where I did have a lot more success.  Plus she brought me a pass to the museum and following is the review of what I found there.  Lani rocks and she is a great conversationalist - we met up at the end of the day and had a wonderful chat at a local bar.

Museum Review

  The museum is apparently a lot bigger than one may think at first glance.  It is reportedly the 20th largest museum in USA and consists of 6 levels.  No photography is allowed, so I can not entertain you with images of what I saw and you'll have to turn your imagination on full-throttle.
  The floor which one encounters upon entrance currently features an exhibit by a contemporary American painter Dan Walsh.  Large gridded abstracts are not my cup of tea in general, but these seemed very pleasant.  I'm a terrible art critic - that's all I really can say about them: harmless.
  The rest of the museum gave me personally the feeling of a large beautiful art-storage unit - there were a lot of various exhibits ranging from porcelain figurines to 21st century art, from video installation of people staring into their own computers (video from their webcams) to classic and neoclassic paintings.  Surprisingly I found myself enjoying the 20st century room the most - as cluttered as it seemed I liked the fact that in the same room I could find a large mobile by Calder and an original book by Mayakovski (the text of the page it was open to contained a very interesting revolutionary fable-poem with an ending I found rather enigmatic).  There was Warhols and Rothko, Steichen and Sugimoto, Picasso and Pollock and many many more familiar and unfamiliar to me names.  I did find myself wanting to find a theme more unifying than simply 'art of the 20th century', but perhaps that was just a yearning left over after seeing such a coherently organized Ansel Adams show in Salemn that I described in an earlier post.  
  I was indeed worried about getting a parking ticket as by the time I got into the museum I have already been parked in the 1hr zone for 3 hours, so I speedily ran about and collected a little list of photographs that I found at the museum upon my visit.  Last names of the artists who had photographic prints there include: Bravo, Callahand, Cameron, Sugimoto, Siskind, Steichen, Kiefer and Winogrand.  Some of the photographs were hidden among other themed exhibits and there were too many of them for me to recall here.  
  I was informed that starting in September the museum will have a large photography exhibit centering on American landscape imagery - that should be interesting and to my photography-inclined readers I would recommend a visit at that time.  That exhibit will run through January.  It is also possible that they will host a Magic Lantern show by the American Magic Lantern Theater - watch out for that on their calendar and when you see it do come by as seeing that is a real treat.  I have seen a special Valentines Day show by the same troop and I can tell you that it's a special experience that you will not soon forget.
  When I exited the museum I found the meter maid circling Gilli and assured her that I'm clearing out the spot in a minute or two.  She was nice enough to let me slide, but did remark that she saw me there since 8 and it was past 12:30 at that point...  How nice it is to travel in a school bus - officials treat us as one of their own.  Go Gilli!

  After the museum I contacted two places suggested to me by Lani - an art collective called AS220 and an after-school program by the name of New Urban Arts.  Both of them said they'd be happy to meet Gilli and me.  I headed to the New Urban Arts locations first as they said that at about 2:30pm they would be able to bring a group of students on board The Photo Palace Bus for a quick lecture.  

  New Urban Arts is a pretty great place that, unlike AS220, is easy to explain - they offer after-school arts education for local high-school kids.  They have a neat little space right next to downtown Providence with a digital lab, silk-screening room capabilities, all sorts of other art supplies and books AND (my favorite part) a neat little darkroom, which they diligently moved over from their old location to the new one.  The darkroom was very clean and the students who showed me around in it were pretty well-informed and enthusiastic about analog photography.  Here are a couple of images to give you an idea of what the space looks like.

  By the time the students were ready to come on board The Bus a photographer from the biggest local news paper called Providence Journal (for contacting whom I once again have to thank the all-mighty Lani from RISD) and he hung around taking pictures and a bit of video and here is a resulting blurb, which appeared in today's (August 11 2012) paper on third page.
   The kids were really cool and were excited to see the layout of historic photos that I presented to them.  They were very interested in the various Polaroid techniques and were blown away by the darkroom itself.  I enjoyed myself very much as well and talked myself into being hoarse.  Afterward Sandor (the news paper reporter) did a short video interview and that might appear on the papers website sometime soon.  I do wonder if it'll go through though - I was looking pretty scary and my voice was going in and out, so let's see if the censors will let it through...

  Afterward I headed to AS220.  That place is enigmatic and without reading the website it is difficult to understand what exactly that they do other than 'they are involved in art'.  Apparently they are a community-oriented art organization with rental spaces including a community darkroom, print shop, galleries, bar, performance space, lofts, retail spaces and much more...  Seems like they got themselves into to many areas of activities and were too busy to really devote and attention to Gilli and me.  A gentleman named Chris did devote a few minutes to showing me around and I was sent there because they have a darkroom, so here are some pictures and the little review of it.

  After being told of all the fund-raising activities that they do and all the various fees that are charged for use of the facilities I was rather surprised to see how dingy the darkroom actually was.  The equipment is old and pretty beat up and the whole place smells almost as bad at the darkroom at UCSD Craft Canter.  The one good piece of equipment there was the 20x24 ZoneVI print washer and it sites inside a pretty small sink - I wonder how one can actually fit 3 20x24 trays in there to produce prints of that size.  At the time I was in there someone was using the 'personal darkroom', a single enlarger room, so I can not comment on it as we couldn't get into it.  They have an old Century studio 8x10 camera with a reducing back of which they are pretty proud - when I saw it the lens (old Bausch and Lomb with no shutter) had a very heavy layer of fog on the inside of one of the elements (possibly from condensation, but I am not sure, I think it's permanent).  I really hope they got some decent pictures from it today as they were using it at yet another one of their fund-raisers (called Foo Fest) to take Fuju Polaroids for $5 each.  
  In the evening I was asked by Chris to volunteer and document their artistic performance show that happened to have been planned for that night.  As I have never experienced such an even I was happy to oblige and here are some images from there (taken with a Canon 5D II and a self-made 'lens baby' lens ripped off from an old folding Agfa).

  All I'll say is that it was worth seeing it, but I am glad that I didn't pay whatever was charged for admission.  Also, according to the announcer (appearing in the second image) - 'every performance is better after a few drinks'.  Perhaps I should have followed his advice, but I don't like to drink while taking pictures (especially with this lens), so I saw the event sober. Afterward I definitely felt like a beer to wash down the aftertaste of that event....  Luckily it was then that Lani met up with me and our conversation helped end the day on a high note.  BTW, I'm always very impressed with people who can trace their lineage back in history further than a few generations - Lani said that on her mothers side she can follow it back to the 11th century! Wow - I'd love to see that family tree.

  This morning I parked next to the AS220s Foo Fest event, but because I had no space reserved on the inside of the venue I had to keep moving Gilli from one spot to another to avoid the fierce parking maids that rule the streets of Providence.  It appears that the entire city has extremely harsh parking rules, so I decided to go back to NY and my friends Mahandeeps house.  Before I could take off a couple of people did manage come on board and bought a few prints.  Most interestingly, one of them is a sponsor a Maker's Fair (I'll have to go into details on what that is later and will definitely have to visit one or two of those during my travels) and he actually produces daguerreotypes!  We had a lovely little conversation while Gilli was powering up and I hope to see him on my next run around the country and, hopefully, learn that amazing process from him.

  At Mahandeeps place a Tele Rolleiflex repaired and outfitted with a bright focusing screen by Harry Fleenor at Oceanside Camera Repair is waiting for me and I can't wait to be reunited with it.  Also there are 40 rolls of Verichrome Pan 120, which my mother was kind enough to send this way because I am running out of film and would like to continue shooting during this trip as much as possible.  Mahandeep is in Brooklyn until tomorrow night, so I'm headed to New Paltz NY to spend the Sunday there doing impromptu lectures to the interested tourists and locals and, hopefully, selling some of my prints.  

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