“Lights, Camera, Astoria!” and “Single Stream” at the Museum of the Moving Image

I love books. I live on books. I relish the smell of paper, and I love the dry, soft feel of the spine of an old book. Tablets are, for me, a sacrilege, and, until recently, I rarely, if ever, watched movies.

Now, however, I am absolutely obsessed with film; I want to know everything about it. How are actors chosen? How are scenes filmed? How is everything sewn together?

What, you ask, triggered this new fascination? Simple: I visited the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria, Queens. Here, I learned the how, and, more importantly, the why of filmmaking; indeed, I was readily, and happily, converted.

What did I enjoy most? I was absolutely enthralled by the collection of old film-equipment; I marveled at the bulky antique televisions; excitedly, I made my own stop-action films, and clowned around in front of an actual movie-grade apparatus. The exhibit on film in Queens – aptly titled Lights, Camera, Astoria! –  was particularly informative; I really had no idea that Astoria was a cinematic and artistic hub. I was fascinated, indeed, to learn that independent filmmaking has always flourished here; Astoria was, and is, a place of experimentation, rebellion, and vision.

I admit, however, that I was most enthralled by what I first saw – namely, the film which plays on the front wall of the museum’s lobby, right in front of the concierge. I must’ve spent at least half an hour staring at this film; I was in a total trance.

The slow, dry groan of metal; the wail of gears; the pale, sharp crush of glass and plastic and paper. I realize that I am looking at a garbage dump; I really should not be this interested. And yet, I am fascinated; I, with eager eyes, watch the tubes, the pipes, and the devastating elegance of the yellow-streaked forklift.

What makes a work of art beautiful? Compelling? I am not sure. I do know, however, know that this installation – Single Stream – has broken my eyes wide open; it has sparked in me a world, a gray, shifting landscape of thought and imagination and retrospection. What does it mean for a society to produce so much garbage? What is beauty? What is excess? What does it mean to be thrown away?

This museum is an absolute treasure; I strongly encourage everyone to visit. I, for one, will return – that is, once I’ve finished watching my pile of newly acquired movies!

For more information about the museum, click here. Hint: admissions for students is only $9!

5 Pointz to be Demolished?

Art is what we say it is. Art is what we do, what we live. Or is it?

I am not a veteran of the art world; I admit that I am just a beginner. I do know, however, that art is not a spectator sport. Art is something we work at, something we fight for.

So, it’s official: 5 Pointz is now slated for demolition. All of that history, all of that paint and brick and sheer, unadulterated will – all of this, and more, is to be utterly, and thoughtlessly, destroyed. It will be torn down in favor of a luxury apartment complex; we, the people of Queens, will be left with rubble, with the gutted remains of art and work and dream.

5 Pointz.

5 Pointz. Image from www.theguardian.com.

Will we allow that work, that struggle, to be destroyed? Will we be silent as that monument to “everyday” art is taken from us? Will we allow art to privatized and gentrified? Will we allow Queens to be privatized and gentrified?

Art is something we fight for. Or is it?

If you are at all concerned about what is happening to 5 Pointz, get involved: sign the petition, visit 5 Pointz, and talk to your friends. Get involved – some things are absolutely worth fighting for.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College

I was planning to visit a few galleries this week; I did my research, prepared my notebook, and got my MetroCard ready. My body, however, had other plans, and I woke up on Friday with a major cold. Headache, sore throat, congestion – I was seriously suffering.

And so, as I was leaving the library that afternoon, I was a bit worried; I wondered what, if anything, I could write about for this blog without leaving campus. And then, as if by a potent and colorful magic, Projeto Morrinho appeared; it was a blur, a castle, a city growing out from the stone of Rosenthal Plaza. Now I knew, indeed, what I would write about.

Projeto Morrinho is an artistic recreation of a favela, and, more broadly, of Rio de Janeiro. It was built by a group of visiting Brazilian artists; this is its first U.S. installation. Here, recycled materials, bricks, plastic, and colorful styrofoam constitute a miniature city; rickety slums grow alongside skyscrapers and statues; an entire socioeconomic, political, and cultural universe is encapsulated in an arrangement of trash, of spare parts. The colors are beguiling, and yet disturbing; it is beautiful, yes, but jarringly so, thoughtfully so.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College. Image from www.cuny1.edu.

Projeto Morrinho at Queens College. Image from www.cuny1.edu.

Projeto Morrinho inspires us to think, to reconsider our definitions of cities, and of slums; it urges to confront the realities of economic disparity and deadlock. The little favelas are dwarfed by larger structures; their frailty, and their power, is evident to us. What does it mean for a city to have slums? For people to live in slums? What does it mean to struggle in a divided society? An unequal society? What are the consequences of poverty? Of inequality, of differential powerlessness?

All art is political, but political art is rare. What, you might ask, is political art? It is, for me, art which challenges our societal notions; it is art which forces us to think about our world, and our place in it. Project Morrinho is, then, a deeply political art; it is an art of location, of confrontation, and of dialogue. Ultimately, it is beautiful, horrible, strong; it is both manifesto and masterpiece.

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To learn more about Projeto Morrinho at Queens College, click here.

To learn more about the Year of Brazil at Queens College, click here.

Definitely check this installation out – it’s right by the library!

Quintessential Queens: Interview with Paolo Javier, Queens Poet Laureate

I’ve always lived in Queens. I was brought up in Bellerose, Queens; I went to high school in Fresh Meadows; I do all of my shopping in Jackson Heights, and a lot of my dancing in Woodside. I’ve taken every Queens subway line, and I’ve suffered for the Mets.

Yet, I can’t say I know Queens – I can’t say I’ve seen it all. Queens, I think, is endless; every day, it shows me a new face, a new set of steely eyes; every day it grows, a protean city. I went to the Quintessential Queens Conference to learn more about my borough – and that I did. I learned, for example, that Queens was, at first, a rural area, and that Queens is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. I learned about the roles Queens played in numerous conflicts, and about demographic changes within the borough.

Indeed, the conference was as abundant, and as diverse, as the borough it celebrated; lecture topics ranged from demographics to jazz music, from The Great Gatsby to environmental science. I, however, was most interested in learning more about the Queens literary scene. I wanted to know where Queens poetry was, and what it looked like; I wanted to know what it meant to write, to work, in Queens today.

I was able to sit down with Paolo Javier, Queens Poet Laureate and presenter at the conference, to talk more about writing in Queens, and also about his own role in that abundant process.

Elena: You are the current Queens Poet Laureate. What are your goals? What do you hope to achieve?

Paolo: I guess it’s still in the present tense, even though I’ve got ‘till December. Well, my goals when I set out to become the Poet Laureate haven’t really changed much. Really to explore and locate poetry in Queens. I mean, where poetry is written, where the poets are, where the venues are that foster poetry. It’s as much a selfish act as it is a selfless act – I wanted to really see where poetry was at in Queens. It’s another way of really understanding the literary spirit of this borough that I have refused to leave for the past 14 years. I remember when Brooklyn was being built up as this cool literary space, and I’ve always been in Queens. My family is living in Westchester, and we didn’t really explore another borough but Queens. What I can do is really try to find poets and poetry, and hopefully present it, represent it, draw attention to it through my visibility as Poet Laureate. But I also didn’t want to be self-important about it: Queens has very working-class roots, immigrant roots. We know what we’re about; we don’t really need to prove it. But did want to know where they [the poets] were… As I said on stage before, I’ve just scratched the surface. It’s a big, big borough; there’s so much poetry across the borough, and so much literary history… I still have to put my feet in that geography.

Elena: What, in your opinion, does it mean to be a writer in Queens today? What does it mean to create in such a vast and disparate borough?

Paolo: I don’t know what it means, generally, to be a writer today, but I can tell you that for me, writing, living in Queens has been nothing but hospitable and generative to my writing. I’ve written two books, two of my three full-length books, in Queens, and most of my chapbooks that have been published… I’ve just finished another book that’s coming out, collaborating with another artist who’s my neighbor. I think this ties in to the second part of the question: I like the anonymity that living in Queens affords you. I think we have a really amazing literary history in Queens; On the Road was written in Ozone Park; we have hip-hop being born here in Queens and Brooklyn; Malcolm X had a house in Elmhurst; The Beats made their way here; Joseph Cornell was in Flushing… I’m aware of that, but I also like the fact that Queens is vast, it is huge, the literary center is not stable… it’s not like everything’s happening in Jackson Heights, everything’s happening in Sunnyside… I like that quality. For me, that is a strength, rather than a loss, that I don’t know where the scene is… and that does have to do with the fact that Queens is vast, it’s huge. I’ve got to tell you, I’m overly familiar with Western Queens; I’m not as familiar with Eastern Queens. It’s been my goal from day one as Poet Laureate… I’ve made my way out to Jamaica, I’ve made my way out deep into Flushing, but I still need to go to St. Albans, and other places. It’s still a borough I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface of, even though I’ve been a long-time resident… I like that.

Elena: Awesome. In what direction would you like to see the Queens literary and art scenes grow? How can Queens College be part of that growth?

Paolo: I think poets – I’m very poet-centric, because poets, we are so marginalized in this society, and yet we’re so fundamental to this culture, so I will always champion poetry first. I say poets should stand up and say they’re from Queens. I should also say that poets who do stand up, who do have access to capital and to cultural institutions, should be about their neighborhoods, should be about the communities that these cultural spaces are in, and not try and match Brooklyn or Manhattan – which I see with a lot of new organizations and poets who are coming to Queens. But not all of them. And I think that having a child’s view, a beginner’s mind about being an artist and a poet in Queens, and responding to Queens and allowing Queens to be in your work, in whatever way, shape, or form that takes, is critical. And explore Queens – don’t just be in Western Queens! Try and read out in St. Albans, or locate the Polish center in Ridgewood, or the Guyanese community in Richmond Hill, and reach out to them, and work with the Queens Library… I don’t want to say this sounding prescriptive, because to be honest with you, as Poet Laureate, I realize I still have a lot more to know about this borough. But those are a few things, and I think, more importantly, just create in this borough, write in this borough… and avail of the resources in this borough, like the Queens Council on the Arts, reach out to Queens College. I think you have an amazing MFA program, and I know you guys do wonderful things. Seeing the MFA program connect with the Queens Council on the Arts or even the Queens Museum… which is easier said than done, it’s hard… But I see it. And I think, more than anything else, trying to be aware of the history of this borough, the literary history.

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Paolo Javier is our current Queens Poet Laureate. Check out some of his work here. Also, he has a new book out – definitely look in to it. Paolo is amazing!

Also check out the Queens Council on the Arts, and the Queens College MFA program, for information on writing in Queens.