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of the Blue Meanie by Allan Cole
Chapter from Tales of the Blue Meanie by Allan
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Free Venice Beachhead Archives
Webslave's note: Each month, back
when I lived in Venice, someone from the Beachhead Collective would
drop off a bundle of a hundred copies at my door, and I would distribute
them house-to-house around Oakwood. My way of continuing to be a Beachhead
volunteer is to resurrect and re-type selected articles from its past
(pre-computer) issues, for which the Beachhead has graciously granted
The Big Brush-Off
by S. E. Mendelson
April 1981 #136
"Often the test of courage is not to die
but to live."
Alfieri - Orestes
Despite two attempts to cover it with gray-green paint,
the mural on the Dell Avenue wall of what was formerly John's Market at
318 South Venice Blvd. remains intact.
The first attempt came around six a.m. Wednesday, the
25th of March. Two men, one of them wearing a ski mask, appeared before
the mural with a spray machine, and quickly covered it, leaving only the
faded "Pepsi" advertisement showing on the upper right hand
Paul Roberts, a witness who lives across the street from
the mural, phoned neighbors. 6 or 7 of them showed up almost immediately.
They determined that the paint used was water based, and were able to
clean most of it off with scrub brushes and garden hoses.
The second attempt came at 5:30 the following morning.
According to Paul Roberts, this time 10 to 12 men and a squad car arrived.
Three or four of the men stationed themselves around the periphery of
the market, and they and the police in the squad car acted as sentries
while the others painted the mural over, this time with oil based paint.
It was around six when the squad car and half the crew
pulled off. Those who remained apparently did so to make sure the paint
dried bought to resist any attempts to remove it. Then they too moved
In the next six hours, the people of the Venice community
responded in numbers and with outrage. Using paint thinner donated by
canal residents volunteers saw the mural slowly reappear, looking a little
grayer, al little older.
Then, around noon, it was covered with a graffiti-proof
coating, which was donated by the Social Public Art and Resource Center
Meantime, investigative efforts had been launched by
members of the community and reporters: who was responsible? and why had
this particular mural been singled out for destruction? were the questions
The answer to the first came from inside the market.
Managers Young and Sak Lim showed a copy of a letter they had been given
by a canal homeowner. It was signed by Margaret Kang of Dallas, Texas.
She and her husband own the store.
The letter reads, "regarding of homeowners of propertys,
if you wants clean up the wall of my property located 318 S. Venice Bl.
I have no objection, without any pay, thank you for your good work for
It was addressed to "Mr. Collman."
Henry Coleman, producer of "Love Boat," is
the president of Venice Waterways Association, a group of homeowners in
the area who favor developing the canals into deepwater docking berths
for pleasure boats. (The theme the mural depicts is a canal lifestyle
of the late '60s and early '70s which was then being threatened with destruction
by a group of homeowners, speculators and developers known as the "Venice
Canal Improvement Project," whose goal was the same.)
When reporters attempted to phone Coleman, his secretary
told them that he was "swamped with meetings." He failed to
return any calls.
But on Thursday morning, when people of the community
were cleaning the mural with paint thinner, Coleman called the police,
who showed up only to "preserve the peace, because it was a civil
matter," as Sgt. Dave Nichols of the Venice Division explained.
In a phone call to Texas, Margaret Kang explained that
Coleman, in a letter, said that "he wanted the area cleaned up. He
said the people who painted it left already, and that it was pretty rotten,
and had bad words on it."
Thinking that "cleaning up the area is good,"
Mrs. Kang sent back her letter of approval.
When her phone started ringing with complaints from angry
residents, Mrs. Kang said, "I really am sick about it. What am I
to do? I will follow majority, they should have meetings and find out
what majority wants."
In the store itself, when manager Lim was asked what
customers wanted, he answered, "Most people want it to stay."
When asked about Coleman, he replied, "Mr. Coleman,
he not shop here much."
Friday, March 27, was a quiet day for the mural. Taped
on to it was a letter written by Wendell Jones addressed "to whom
it may concern." It reads in part like this:
"Mrs. Kang...gave permission to clean her wall,
but never agreed to the destruction of her mural...
"I represent the Social Public Art and Resource Center and the artists
who created the mural. We do not know why the mural was defaced, or who
was exactly responsible. We do know defacing private property without
owners permission is vandalism.
"We have an interest in protecting the murals painted by our artists
and are prepared to file charges against any person who vandalizes them.
We have discussed this with the police."
Finally, in passing, when this writer appeared on the
scene, early Thursday morning, one of the men who was watching the paint
dry (he was later identified as Reid Monroe, former head of the Venice
Waterways Assoc.) was asked by an angry protester why he didn't like the
"Because nobody in it is smiling," he answered.
by Lynne Bronstein
#139 July 1981
I'm glad you have finally published an account of the
mendacious actions of Beyond Baroque vis a vis Manazar, Obras magazine
and the Third World. However, I felt Beachhead readers should be
informed that there is more to Beyond Baroque's snobbisme than
First of all, in addition to firing Manazar, BB also
expelled the Venice Poetry Workshop which had met at BB for 12 years!
Somehow one can't help feeling that BB was dismayed that the Workshop
was being run by people who were not on BB's staff. Acting President Jocelyn
Fisher also informed Dave Smith who had been running a film program and
emceeing monthly open readings, that it "would be best he withdraw"
from these activities. No new film program has been established; a new
workshop "for serious students" has been started.
Secondly, my observation, based on years of attending
BB events and hobnobbing with other poets, is that Beyond Baroque tends
to shut out anyone (regardless of race) who isn't writing according to
a certain narrowly defined aesthetic. At present this aesthetic seems
to be that those who are not accepted by the high and mighty of the Los
Angeles literary "scene" simply are not to be considered, no
matter how great their number, venerable their experience, or loud their
protests. For a lowdown on this attitude you can read BB Poetry Readings
Coordinator Dennis Cooper's comments in the current issue of the literary
magazine Bachy. Cooper's statement reads in part:
quot;I want Beyond Baroque to have the feeling of being
a place where you can go to watch poetry being read as Art, not where
you go to see someone in the neighborhood read poems and merely feel happy
that they've expressed their feelings in a nice way......I just don't
want to make it a forum just for every Los Angeles poet who happens to
decide they want to read there."
Cooper is incorrectly referred to in your article as
a "Venice poet," but from this statement it should be clear
that in addition to not living in Venice, he doesn't know Venice at all.
He betrays his lack of knowledge of the neighborhood in which he presents
his readings by dismissing as the "expression of feelings" the
artistically rendered expressions of thought and feeling by poets who
were active in the Venice poetry scene when Cooper was in grade school.
A good example is Bill Margolis, a poet whose involvement with the Beat
Scene, literary magazines, the underground press, and various reading
series, stretches from the late Fifties to the present. Although Margolis
is a nationally known and respected poet, he has not read at Beyond Baroque
for at least five years.
Of course by neighborhood I also mean Los Angeles, and
in regard to poets not known to Cooper (or not regarded as "important"
by him), I also mean the poets who have to publish their own books, the
Third World poets, the poets who write in more traditional forms, women
poets -- Beyond Baroque presents about seven male poets for every female
poet -- you can look at their schedules for the proof. While a wealth
of local talent has been ignored, Beyond Baroque has presented poetry-lovers
with "the best" in the shape of the best-known poets,
the currently accepted "Masters" who, at their featured readings
have read to audiences from their boring diaries, signed autographs, and
plugged their new books. You can get to see the famous at B. Dalton took
And I could go on and on. Beyond Baroque's poetry newsletter,
allegedly started for the purpose of offering reviews of books (especially
small press books) instead wastes space on lists of certain"in-crowd"
poets' influences -- which have included the National Enquirer and Talking
Heads. A flyer for a recent BB reading advertised a poet from the Northwest
as a "raunchy street poet" -- wasn't "street poetry"
what Beyond Baroque was trying to save itself from by getting rid of Manazar?
Beyond Baroque is now sending out brochures written in fluent Newspeak,
hyping their new policies as if they had always existed, and trying to
get money from the public to save themselves from the encroaching government
cuts. They're offering several strata of Foundation Memberships based
on the amount of money donated -- $100 or more will get the donor "reserved
seating" for all events. Like a box in an opera house. Well, there
goes the neighborhood!
Beyond Baroque's real goal seems to be gentrification
-- a shutting out of all people who don't have the money or the
proper status in the literary hierarchy. Such an attitude is, in my opinion,
contemptuous of human potential and does not deserve financial or emotional
support, certainly not from the "neighborhood" so maligned by
Cooper's remarks. When artists (or others) confuse exclusivity with integrity,
we're in for big trouble.
Bi- Coastal Art Works
by Wendy Dishman
If you are one of those who believes in "art for
art's sake," your opinion will be challenged by a stunning exhibit
of public and political art opening May 30th at SPARC's Old Venice Jail
Gallery. "Los Angeles/New York: Urban Activist Art" is undoubtedly
an art show with a conscious intent - to wake us up, to make us feel our
connections with each other and inspire us to regain control over our
lives through collective action and community involvement. Some of the
works in the show have been part of actual political struggles, such as
the mural-like banners by Peter Gourfain which were used in demonstrations
in El Salvador and Northern Ireland.
Photographs, banners, murals, collages and installations
by artists and art collectives from New York and Los Angeles command the
viewers interest in a range of local and national political issues - gentrification,
displacement of the poor and elderly, health care, police brutality, racism,
urban ecology, pesticide poisoning of food and nuclear war. The urban
landscapes of New York and Los Angeles are vehicles for conveying the
message behind these varied art forms and topics: our lives are in danger,
they have been stolen from us, we must act now!
One of the most impressive displays of collective art
is a painting collage put together by a public school teacher from the
South Bronx, Tim Rollins, and his 35 teenage students, most of whom are
poor emigres. "The New Wack Times" is a scathing, yet whimsical
attack upon the New York Times, media ideology and capitalist inequities.
As part of an assignment to improve language skills, each student took
a page from the Times and painted it to expose the real message. On many
pages a single word blocks out the page. Fifteen year old Israel Melendez,
who cannot read the classified ads but wants to be a mechanic, paints
a huge blue wrench over the entire classified section. Another student
writes the word INFLATION in giant letters across the New York Stock Exchange
Jerry Kern's photocollage entitled "Ed Koch: The
Acting Mayor of New York" shows the Reaganite mayor with jubilant
outstretched arms standing in front of a crumbling brick tenement. "DECAY"
is stenciled across the building in giant letters, having been put there
already by activist artist John Fekner. Fekner's anti-nuclear stencils
which have been put on abandoned buildings in New York are also part of
An inspiring part or the show is the collaborative work
of the art collectives. The collectives' works illustrate how effectively
art can serve to benefit minority communities and instill pride and hope
in people. The Little Tokyo Art Workshop posters, silkscreened in brilliant
colors and designs, address the issues of community health, senior citizens,
poverty, Japanese internment camps, and Japanese New Year. Two of the
posters announce the annual pilgrimage to Manzanar, the internment camp
where Nisei were sent during World War II.
The Visual Communications collective also documents the
plight of the poor and elderly in Little Tokyo. Their project statement
embraces the attitude of a number of pieces in the show, "We have
a right to healthy communities. The growing resistance to corporate-government
expropriation of communities disguised as redevelopment is symbolic of
Asia-America in movement." A similar struggle in New York's Chinatown
is documented by artist Corky Lee.
Compelling images of people coming up from under the
thumb of oppression evoke anger and love and give the exhibit a positive
and energizing feeling.
In addition to the visual art, the exhibit included a
performance and installation by Marguerite Elliot and the Sisters of Survival
at the opening of the show on May 30th - the installation will be a permanent
part of the show. The Sisters performed "Shovel Defense," an
anti-Reagan, anti-nuclear work made in response to a Reagan administration
statement that "all you need to survive a nuclear war is enough shovels
to go around." On June 27th, Judy Baca will conduct a tour of the
"Great Wall of Los Angeles" Mural, cost is $5.00. On June 30th,
Visual Communications and Midnight Graphics will present films.
Parasites Cash In
by Elizabeth Brody
"Parasite" is the first American made 3-D monster
movie and it is now showing in Los Angeles. The story, set in 1992, tells
about an American biologist, a deadly strain of parasite that he creates
and a U.S. government bent on using it for lethal purposes.
But the real story of "Parasite" is the one
behind the movie - the story of three young Venice residents who wrote
the script. Originally the are all from the South: Michael Shoob from
Atlanta, Alan J. Adler from Ashgoro, N.C., and Frank Levering, who grew
up on an orchard near Mt. Airy, N.C. Each grew up with a similar dream
that would eventually weave their destinies together - the love of film
that lures so many young to Hollywood - by way of Venice!
After college Frank and Michael set out to show Hollywood
what they could do. They wanted to rock the film world with their talent,
to write the next epic, to make the modern Midnight Cowboy - and so they
headed west. After one unsuccessful foray into movieland they found themselves
back East - Levering attending Harvard Divinity School and Shoob waiting
tables, driving cabs, and painting houses. In 1979 they tried again. This
time they stayed. They lived in Venice writing, hustling, presenting,
writing and writing. They became known about town as good writers but
none of their scripts were produced and no money came in....
Almost a year ago to the day Shoob and Levering attended a Hollywood party
where they met Levering. They discussed Shoob's idea for a film which
he called Parasite. No script yet existed. The three writers hit it off,
sequestered themselves off for five days, and created "Parasite".
The screenplay was registered with the writers Guild and bought by Irwin
"Holloween" Yablans who produced it in 3-D. It stars Demi Moore
of General Hospital and Cherie Currie of Foxes.
Statistics attest to the odds against making it in the
movie industry - 15,225 screenplays were registered last year but only
300 movies were actually made. While Levering, Shoob and Adler admit that
"Parasite" is not a literary masterpiece, they're happy for
the chance and the start. Currently Shoob is a fellow at the American
Film Institute, Levering is a freelance journalist working on a play to
be produced this summer, and Adler has two films soon to be released.
If "Parasite" is a hit, the three writers may
be contracted to create "Parasite II." Who knows. Maybe it will
be filmed in Venice. Maybe the parasite will be released here. So beware.
February 1983 #158
Murray Schwartz and Joel Everston opened their Kroma
Gallery in Venice about five years ago. They got a lot of help and support
from their friends and neighbors. Both men are 'regular' fellows, nice
guys. Murray is a terrific, prolific master glass designer and inventor
with a background in high technology optics. He left the world of windowless
laboratories and began to make windows of his own, beautiful wonderful
windows. He is a local boy, having been brought up in Ocean Park.
Joe comes to Venice by way of the Melrose and Bimini
Baths. He apprenticed with Murray and is still, in his words, an apprentice.
About ten years ago Murray began to specialize in a stained
glass technique called "kroma." The method is one in which
glass is stained or layered with a thin film of metals, together or in
separate applications. The various metallic layers have their own special,
natural color, and this color is refracted and therefore revealed to the
eye of the viewer when light passes through the coated glass at a specific
angle. Murray says that there are Laws of Refraction which operate between
the air, glass, and metal layers so the visual/light/color impressions
can be anticipated and created by the artist-craftsman in the Kroma workshop.
Kroma Gallery is one of the beautiful things about Venice.
It is open every day, its hours are irregular. Tourists, passersby, or
neighbors are often to be seen browsing in the store or peering in through
the windows at some of the most colorful and cheerful works of art in
glass this side of the Renaissance. Murray and Joel extend an invitation
to all to come down and enjoy their gallery, workshop, school, and abode.
The Kroma Gallery is located on Pacific Ave. Venice.
Webslave's note 2008: Kroma
has since relocated to New Mexico.
The April Venice Beachhead carried an announcement
looking for local artists to participate in a show. When painter Dale
Hartman called the phone number given, he spoke to a person who agreed
to mail an application. When the application arrived, the accompanying
letter described the proposed art festival, to be held at the Venice Pavilion
on May 29 and 30, as "part of a growing program" sponsored by
the Venice Beach Foundation. On April 28 Mr. Hartman returned the application
along with a $25 fee (it would have been $50 for two days) to the Festival
Director, Ocean Front Productions/Venice beach Pavilion at P.O. Box 112
at the Venice post office. The check was cashed on May 7 at the bank of
issuance endorsed by Stephen Tompkins.
In the third week of May, Mr. Hartman received a letter
postmarked May 20, dated May 16. It stated that die to major construction
in and around the Pavilion, the even was rescheduled for June 19 and 20,
and that further information would be mailed, and was signed Stephen Tompkins.
On June 14, Mr Hartman received a letter stating that
the event was totally canceled, due to inability to get the proper permits.
A week or two later, not having received a refund for the entry fee, he
called the Venice Beach Foundation which had meanwhile acquired a new
phone number and an answering machine. His call was returned by Stephen
Tompkins who said that the organization's accountant had fallen behind
in his duties because of a daughter's graduation and that a refund check
would arrive by the end of the week.
It is now July 12. Subsequent calls have reached a taped
message that no longer introduces itself as the Venice Beach Foundation
but merely states "You have reached 396-****." Frequent messages
left with this machine have not resulted in calls being returned.
The Foundation's stationary is imprinted with its address,
1530 Ocean Front Walk, which appears to be the empty space between the
boardwalk and the Fall of Icarus mural, where vendors set up their tents.
This information is offered as a public service. We are
interested in hearing from any other artists who may have had dealings
with Stephen Tompkins or the Venice Beach Foundation. A copy of this letter
has been sent to the postal authorities concerned with the investigation
of mail fraud. Pat Robinson 396-****
by Arnold Springer
October 1982 #154
Claire Falkenstein was the first of the now successful
group of Venice artists to make their homes here. She came in 1963 when
Venice was red-lined by the banks, when a City code enforcement program
had depressed property values, when old time residents were selling out
cheap and real estate operatives were stockpiling the properties that
would make them rich ten years later.
She found a place on the Ocean Front near Park, an old
wooden beach house. Eventually she tore it down and slowly accumulated
the funds to build a house, studio, and tiny little sculpture garden on
it. She remembers how she was harassed then - by neighbors (they were
alarmed at her 'parties,' she was an artist and that meant she was suspect,
perhaps even a radical!) and by the building authorities who pronounced
that because she used an acetylene torch, cranes, saws and hammers, that
in fact she was engaged in light manufacturing - and that was verboten
in the C-2 zone!
Claire Falkenstein is, in fact, one of the world's most
celebrated woman sculptors. And she is still in love with Venice. An acknowledgment
by the late Peggy Guggenheim in a book about the museum in Venice, Italy,
which bears her name, reads: "To Claire - in her other wonderful
In the world of art Claire is celebrated, sought after,
and much honored. In Venice, she is practically unknown. She is sometimes
to be seen on her front porch having dinner with several friends, practically
cheek to jowl with the Boardwalk and the sea. But this past summer, 1200
local lovers of art trooped through her studio and home, heard her speak
about her art, as part of the program put on annually by the Venice artists
to support the Venice Free Clinic. It was in part for such activities
that she received her award.
Claire was born in Coos Bay, Oregon, graduated from U.C
Berkeley in Art, Anthropology and Philosophy. She went to Paris in the
early 50s, stayed for some years and made a name for herself. She maintains
a studio in Paris to this day.
Previous awards include: Honored Woman Artist (National
Women's Caucus for Art: San Francisco 1981); Women of the Year (Los
Angeles Times 1969). She has taught at Berkeley, Mills, San Francisco
Art Institute, Cal Poly Pomona, and U.C. Davis.
The historical injustice suffered by native Americans
represents a continuing concern for her. Early on she says she came to
believe that genocide was practiced against them. One of her most memorable
experiences was working with native American students at Sepulveda Junior
High in Los Angeles, helping them to create a sculpture to accompany her
work, "Homage to Tecumseh" (1975 private collection).
by Lynne Bronstein
John Lennon's many faces stared out at us from a mural
on the beachfront lawn. British bespectacled schoolboy, mop-haired teen
idol, bearded blissed-out guru, radical, Yoko's husband, house-husband.
All these faces belonged to one man, a songwriter who lived through the
60s and 70s as though sampling every possible opportunity of these two
We were gazing at the mural at a Birthday Party for John
Lennon, sponsored by the Alliance for Survival. On October 9th, Lennon
would have been 42. He'd just turned 40 - the mysterious middle age -
when a crazed fan shot him down in front of his New York apartment house.
Survival and renewal, however, were the themes of this
party. At sunset, on the lawn by the Santa Monica beach, people gathered.
So-called old hippies, guys who still could hum along the harmony to every
Beatles song, mothers who had probably once stood in line to see the "Fab
Four," now bringing their toddlers to share in the prayer for peace.
People sang Beatles songs and Lennon songs, the old love songs, and the
later, more obscure political songs. Activists like Kerry Lobel and David
Wayte spoke about the issues of Lennon's and our time: nuclear proliferation,
gun control, the draft. A children's choir sang "Give Peace a Chance"
as the partygoers lifted candles and filed slowly away up Ocean Park Boulevard.
Strange to say - it felt a little like a Be-In. How many
of us were remembering? Was it a bittersweet feeling to be singing and
celebrating a touch of the old Beatlemania, the feeling of the days when
"All You Need is Love" seemed more of a possibility? Maybe we
were in a Time Warp after all and had never grown up, and that slogan
appearing on a move ad: "We are the future - Nothing can stop us"
still applied to us. We were still 16-year-olds, fervent with life,
pure in intent.
What music you loved to listen to at 16 can stay with
you to influence your moves at 32. Sure, there's plenty of noise around
now, junk, punk, synthesizer, and cacophony from all sides. But what,
tell me what, was the music that the candlelight marchers heard in their
heads as they made their way through Main Street and turned the corner
to the Church in Ocean Park?
A megaphone was heckling: "Why are you celebrating
John Lennon's birthday? He's dead, man. Jesus is the one you should
be following. Jesus is the only way." Three street evangelists hovered
behind the marchers, shouting about Communism and Jesus, hoping to inflame,
if not convert, these misguided flower children.
But the candle bearers fell silent and stayed silent,
concentrating on the ommmmm of a gong player at the head of the crowd.
And eventually, the Jesus freaks slipped away. The songs and celebration
Imagine all the people sharing all the world.....
Venice Theatre Project Thrives
December 1982 #156
We at the Venice Theatre of Performing
Arts have been involved in a video and theatre workshop over the past
year. This is a beginning actors' class where we teach a variety of
techniques in acting, modeling, dance, makeup, singing, video and stage
production. In regard to the program, participants are taught live performances
and video taping. (We are working with an instructor from UCLA Theatre
Dept.'s Masters Program, Sherry Baily.)
The workshops are being held in Westminster
Elementary School Auditorium, 1010 W. Washington Blvd. in Venice. The
times are Tuesdays from 12:30 PM - 3:30 PM for children up to the age
of 12, 4:00 - 6:00 PM for teenagers and on Fridays from 5:00 - 8:00
PM for all ages.
As the directors of our workshop, we were
ourselves inspired by doing workshops until chosen from the same Theatre
of Performing Arts. And now we have a very good community response.
Children from all over Venice have participated, and all ages from babies
This project entails quite a bit and has
brought about many positive reactions and adult appreciation as well.
We would like to give thanks to the principal, Mr. Klein, and Vice Principal,
Mr. Miller, and to the staff, who have been very supportive of our efforts.
This is only a token of our deepest appreciation
for being able to do our live performance at Westminster School, and
a very fine performance it was. We also do live video taping in the
Venice area on a weekly basis. Productions are very well prepared, and
we are excited about our next project.
We'd like to give our special thanks to
our sponsor, Beau Bridges, and all the participants who have worked very
hard to make this our success.
Ellis Ware, Robert Shipp
Changing Venice: Community or Commodity
by Wendell Jones
Free Venice Beachhead
January 1983 #157
In 1982, photographer Linda Eber decided to document
the community of Venice, California, a community in transition, a community
under attack. Like many of her contemporaries living in Venice, Linda
wondered if Venice could survive. Under siege from the modern plagues
of Reagan America, unemployment, crime, pollution, war, and at times a
horrible feeling of alienation and powerlessness, Venice has been visited
with a set of problems.
It had the misfortune to be one of the last undeveloped
beach-front areas in Los Angeles County. This made it a prime target for
land developers. In the late seventies and early eighties, a frenzy of
speculative buying and selling erupted. Real estate was purchased, not
for a home, but as a short term investment that would double in value
and quickly be resold. Ghetto neighborhoods where people had lived for
decades were intruded upon by upwardly mobile middle class young people,
"urban pioneers" hoping to share a bargain before land values
had escalated beyond their reach.
Those in the know told us that local representatives
no longer were concerned with the Black vote in Venice, because they were
convinced "There will be no Black vote in Venice" within the
next few years. The local Tenant Action Center was flooded with people
being evicted to make way for the new order.
The Survey Begins
In the face of this reality, many of us wondered whether
Venice could survive. Many of us felt the time had come to document our
community while we still could, as if the Venice we knew was an endangered
species, already mortally wounded.
When Linda began her photographic survey of Venice, it
was already 1982. She started about her work in an almost clinical manner.
She wanted to show many aspects of Venice, the many ethnic groups, the
disparities of income, the injustices, the possibilities of resistance.
Although her passions for her subject were deep, at times fierce, some
of the first photographs seemed stilted, forced, lacking the spark or
emotional component that had fired much of her earlier work.
"What Makes Art Work?"
Immediately she found herself grappling with the fundamental
questions political or documentary artists must confront. How do you determine
what images best reflect the realities of people's lives? How do you best
serve the people in the community you are documenting? What is the purpose
of documentary art, can it benefit and interact with the community it
In her first few months work, I spoke with Linda many
times as she began to question the adequacy and later the purpose of her
project. Sudden afternoon phone calls, late night conferences. We began
to delve into the old question, "What makes art work?" It was
clear to me that among the initial photographs were many powerful images.
The people of Venice were emerging on paper.
And yet, Linda wondered whether these were just another
series of interesting character snapshots that could come from anywhere
in the country. Some of the best appeared to have no political content.
As one colleague indelicately phrased it, "I've considered you more
a community artist than a real political artist." This infuriated
Linda, and she was forced to question over and over again what she hoped
to accomplish with this show.
Early in the project, Linda made an important choice.
She decided to quit trying to make each shot an explicit political point.
She decided to approach Venice from as many directions as possible, through
streets, back alleys, people's homes, rooms, ethnic communities, age groupings,
community activities. She let whatever meaning was to be found in Venice
of the 80s evolve through the photographs. She tried to *see* Venice.
What Linda has attempted to do is what the best political
thinkers have done in the past, to look at concrete events from as many
perspectives as possible, and draw conclusions from those events, instead
of going to reality with a series of neat slogans and theories and then
organizing reality to match a prepared model.
I was fascinated as the images multiplied to see how
few involved the Windward arches or idyllic canals, and yet there was
Venice, emerging on paper. In the homes, on the back streets, near abandoned
cars, I saw my community and I was reminded that we are remarkably diverse,
with unusual strengths and creativity.
If she did not find a militantly organized community,
prepared to fight for survival, neither did she find a demoralized people
ready to submit to whatever those who would turn our city into an exclusive
resort might wish.
Whether it was a Black matriarch refusing to sell her
home (developers had offered $40,000 cash. She needed the money desperately,
but she refused,) a Latino family emigrating to California in search of
treatment for their daughter's cerebral palsy, artists in studios, families
in their homes, or a waitress taking a weight off her heels, Linda found
strength, diversity, and a spirit that is remarkable.
A Testimony to Spirit
While the traditional media has had a field day describing
how apathetic and alienated our people have become, these photos show
another reality. They testify again to our spirit, a spirit that Reaganomics
cannot cage, that no quick political analysis can render. It is interesting
to watch as many of the new chic shops and plans for development flounder.
Venice may be harder to merchandise than anticipated.
I do know from experience that even if we are all dispersed
and bought and sold again a dozen times, this spirit will regroup, reshape,
and continue somewhere else. And it is this spirit that gives us hope
for change. Clearly this spirit lives in Linda's photographs. It gives
them context, a meaning, a vision, and it is this spirit that renews our
best political instincts one more time.