Old Man Hill/Wilkommen

by devinking

My buddy Ben Judson has a nice piece up on his blog describing the last screening at a San Antonio drive-in of Edgar Arceneaux’s video “Old Man Hill.” You can read about the details on Ben’s site, but I’m interested in Ben’s idea of translated loss, initially brought to mind by his viewing of the performative translation of Arceneaux’s words “Old Man Hill” into Serbian:

The translation of [these] words hinted at another translation: the bombed-out hills of Sarajevo where snipers once found cover were translated into a theater in San Antonio, equally desolate, undergoing a wholly other kind of violence. This isn’t to equate the devestation of war to the disappearance of a drive-in, but to translate loss between cultures. Nearby the old theater, the Mission San Jose holds memories of a violence closer to that of Sarajevo: genocide, slavery, subjugation. But to most of us living in San Antonio today, the loss of place is felt more fully than the tragic, large-scale loss of life experienced by those who lived in Sarajevo in the 1990s or San Antonio in the 1700s. The slow erosion of the identities of our cities happens to be the kind of loss we are stuggling with now, the loss that we still don’t quite know how to grapple with.

It’s good that Ben is uneasy about comparing genocide to the loss of movie theatres–we’re comparing human life to a white screen– but I wonder if part of the unease doesn’t also come from a realization that our cultural inheritance as Americans doesn’t, necessarily, come from the family or any togetherness built around blood and the tribal self. Rather, we’re stuck with these projections on a screen, many of which we probably aren’t all that interested in. “Old Man Hill” are the only words Arceneaux knows about his grandfather, and the piece (as Ben describes it) seems largely about translating this smaller familial loss into a cultural one (both Serbian and American) in an attempt to reclaim a familial sense of identity that has roots in a tribal self, albeit a tragic one.
Hiroshi Sugimoto-Union City 1993

I was recently asked to give a lecture on geography by my buddies S/Z at Incubate. I took as a beginning a list of closed movie theatres around Chicago my friend Nate had come up with:

There is one on Pulaski just south or North ave by Jennings – it is orange rated….
there are the two on Chicago – the old Hub Theater and the VIP Theater….there is one on Milwaukee Ave where Shovog Shoes is now….the Chopin Theater used to be a cinema…as did the Bank of America on the north west corner of Ashland and Milwaukee….there is a biggish one on Fullerton of Armitage…

I initially wanted to frame a discussion around these locations and their transformations but realized that I had no real connection to these places; any relation to these theatres, now long gone, were only my relation to my own projection of the loss that these places represented. The tension between a shoe store and a movie theatre seemed silly when I had entered neither except for the purposes of transformative recognition–would I be actually using the space(s) in any real way, or would I be merely detailing the superficial changes of surface?

Add to this–I could speak, as a dilettante (surprise surprise), about my own identification with loss of place, but couldn’t find a place to turn this into a moment of interest/empathy for an audience without referencing larger cultural movements: pop music, the game theory of Dungeons and Dragons and Ultimate Fighting/WWF wrestling–these were what created a meeting-place for myself and the audience (although, to be fair, this could be my own inhibitions talking, there was another very moving lecture by Andy Yang about how geographical space was defined by familial relations). In other words–even though the movie theatres had changed into other stores and homes and meeting-places, I still had to use them as a projecting screen. Even if I had stuck to my original plan and engaged with a more specific and historical discussion of the change of the place, I think I would have still run into this problem.
Joel Grey-Wilkommen

I think Ben’s right on about our current struggles to grapple with the loss of the identities of our cities, and the recent move towards relational art seems to speak to one type of new identity creation; The Green Lantern has a show up where the audience is encouraged to draw on the walls to create a new version of Providence, RI. But I wonder if these sort of works aren’t just replays of Ben’s experience of loss–kids standing in a field in San Antonio watching silver balloons float up and out into the sky.