Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rust Belt Chic: Pittsburgh Limerence

Serendipity struck this morning in the form of an old acquaintance reinventing himself once again. Via my brother, I learned that a mutual friend is a practitioner of the green arts. Looking at a few samples of the work, I thought it very Rust Belt Chic. From the Green Art Manifesto:

We see ourselves representing a revival of the 1930’s arts and crafts movement, and like those dedicated artists before us, we create functional art — practical tools transformed into enduring aesthetic objects — that is handcrafted and affordable. You’ve seen us on the streets and farmers markets of New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta, selling our dresses sewn from recycled umbrellas and solar clocks milled from reclaimed wine tanks. What was our predecessors’ Depression Art is now our Recession Art.

As green artists we regard the rarefied “high” arts as long lost to the hollow galleries of commerce targeting only elites. We find diminishing inspiration in the 90 year reign of conceptual art, marked by its rejection of technical prowess, craftmanship, and social use. A movement sprung from Duchamp’s brilliance now wallows in the production lines of Koons and Hirst commissioning porcelain Michael Jackson sculptures never touched by the artist. For our generation, these precious efforts withered and died decades ago.

From the ashes of the old, our generation feels a fresh breeze animating our nascent green arts movement. We seek to blur the lines between craft and modern art, building pieces on the conceptual foundations of modernism — process, performance, and politics — while consciously limiting ourselves to sustainable, organic and recycled materials.

I think the aesthetic expressed courses through recycled cities such as Pittsburgh. Call it an urban utilitarianism. There is a rejection of greenfield economic development as well as a quest for authenticity. Implicit is a romantic blue collar image and German work ethic. We make things (to paraphrase Hunter Morrison).

Further meditating on the art, I'm more convinced that Rust Belt Chic is a Generation X meme. This demographic is the Rust Belt's Lost Tribe. We're Janus-faced, seeing the future in the past. Come to think of it, we easily switch hats and perspectives. Just when you figure out the Cold War World, the Berlin Wall falls. Thus, Justin Kownacki's confession of being a jerk (i.e. "hate-filled bastard") deeply resonated with me:

15-year old environmental activist Hannah Freedman took the stage and delivered an eloquent, well-rehearsed, mildly convincing argument for the importance of youth activism. I was impressed by her chutzpah, and I was clapping at all the times when I was supposed to be clapping.

And then I noticed the body language of the couple in front of me.

Slumped. Stoic. Slightly pained. They looked as though they wanted to be anywhere but here, and they projected a stark resentment of everything Hannah — and, by extension, Ignite itself — stood for.

This momentarily irritated me, and I thought about reveling in my ethical superiority for being able to appreciate something as fundamentally galvanizing as youth activism.

But then I tried something different: I adopted (what I presumed was) this couple’s point of view.

I sat there, slumped and indifferent, to see how it would feel to resent a teenager for having the temerity to care about her own future.

Putting that post through the prism of aforementioned green art, I connected the feelings to a glowing review of Aaron Renn (Urbanophile):

“Aaron Renn is one of the keenest, and most impartial, observers of America’s urban scene. Urbanophile epitomizes the basic common sense of America’s heartland cities – something sorely missed in the coast-dominated discussion of metropolitan areas and their future.” – Joel Kotkin, Distinguished Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and author of The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050

The word "impartial" gets my attention. I read Aaron as easily assuming the flip side of any pressing urban issue. I like this approach. Similarly, I've turned brain drain inside out. My views on globalization have done a 180 in about a decade's time. Ideology is as whimsical as fashion. You see brownfield; I see greenfield.

Rust Belt Chic.

1 comment:

The Urbanophile said...

Thanks for the mention. I am Generation X myself.

There seems to be a deep dualism like this lying at the heart of metaphysics. It's a well known proposition that everything implies its opposite, for example. Perhaps the Gen X experience lends itself well to seeing the world through this lens.