To sift: To make a close examination of all the parts of something in order to find something or to separate what is useful from what is not
Sifting the Inner Belt is a year-long, site-specific social performance and research art project that consists of a series of performance interventions and performance-based research projects, which closely observe and examine, i.e. sift, the South End neighborhood with an emphasis on creating emotional, conceptual and physical bridges between the Boston Center for the Arts (BCA) and the Berkeley Street Community Garden (BSCG). The project echoes artistic movements, forms, and interventions from the last 50 years combined with recent technology. The project is built based upon ideas of audience (community participation), relationship, communication, and political intention. This project is constructed with collective narratives and examines what social performance art means.
Conceived by Jeremy Liu and Hiroko Kikuchi, this project was developed as a collaboration of artists, activists and community residents: Jeremy Chu, Catherine D’lgnazio, William Ho, Natalie Loveless, and Kim Szeto. The final exhibit in the summer of 2005 at the BCA and BSCG includes a series of performance events, site-specific installations, video projection, sound, photography, written documentation/books and a display of final and in-progress research.
The “Inner Belt” refers to the ill conceived and never completed highway project from the 1948-1971 that would have created an inner beltway highway around downtown Boston and between the South End and Lower Roxbury. Perhaps the most significant Urban Renewal project in Boston’s history, the Inner Belt, and associated projects, resulted in thousands of families displaced, millions of dollars of land takings, and a legacy of “renewal” through displacement that still exists today. The term “renewal” lost its way in the 60’s and 70’s in the U.S. So much of the urban “renewal” actually destroyed thriving, functional communities. The verb “to renew” can yet be redeemed by returning to its roots defined often as “to make new spiritually” or “to re-establish on a new, usually improved, basis or make new or like new.” Sifting the Inner Belt is a social and creative approach to renewing “urban renewal.”
Multiple impacts of highway, public works and infrastructure projects have created layers of both physical and emotional construction, destruction and redevelopment. The BSCG is a microcosm of the South End and exists on land that was taken for construction associated with the Inner Belt project; in the process, hundreds of homes were destroyed, many families displaced, and yet, because the project was stopped, over 100 gardens have sprung up. The foundations of these homes, the spirit of these families, and the legacy of this sort of impact remain today.
“Community doesn’t mean understanding everything about everybody and resolving all the differences; it means knowing how to work within differences as they change and evolve.”
–Lucy R. Lippard
Our approach to this project is process-oriented with clearly defined intentions. Every-day small activity is very important. We are interested in experimenting with organic growth as ideas emerge from our discovery of the sites, often times, with the community residents and individuals involved in local businesses (restaurants, nail salon, Villa Victoria, etc). We anticipate that our simultaneous process streams will weave and recombine as we proceed. We are creating works of art that are autonomous from, yet relevant to the community-at-large and the time we live in.
New paradigm public art, as Lippard writes, is about “laying out the ingredients but still looking for the recipe.” We believe that the community members in and around the BSCG and BCA will create a variety of recipes in order to find the ways to taste the real, rich, and rewarding flavors of the community itself. Our interventions will mainly lay out the evidence and materials of our work for people in the neighborhood to weave into one thread.
Sifting the Inner Belt is defining a new paradigm for social research. We are using performance art as a methodology that rejects the validity of “non-participant observation” and the false power and relationship structures created by “ethnographic research.” While there is a good body of theory and work around “participant action research”, we believe that it ultimately reinforces the boundaries between life and academia, bring the folk into a research structure and solution rather than vice versa. Our work, which we call “social performance art”, instead seeks to create change via observation, to instigate participation rather than insulate against it, and to embrace social (and in this case neighborhood) processes in our search for meaning, understanding, and change.
Neighborhood processes are already about understanding and seeking solutions. Through Sifting the Inner Belt we are using the conceptual and historical strategies of Performance Art to find meaning via these vernacular processes.
Sifting the Inner Belt’s Social Performance Art embodies situationalist art, fluxus, environmental research, social research, urban planning/history, public art, and agricultural/culinary marketing and market research. As Heisenberg uncertainty principle describes, at the quantum level, the observation or measurement of an event changes the event. Sifting the Inner Belt intends that our social performance art will create change through our observation and measurement.
Who is involved?
Aside from the project artists, this project involves a local arts organizations (Boston Center for the Arts), a local community asset (Berkeley Street Community Garden), and others. But most importantly, Sifting the Inner Belt, involves individuals and institutions already extent in the neighborhood, and already present as various constituencies. For Bitter Melon Week, restaurants and restaurant-goers alike will participate in a social performance art eventcum- culinary promotion festival. For the Nail Salon Exchange, every single gardener at the Berkeley Street Community Garden will be offered a free manicure to take place in the exhibit at the Mills Gallery. For Soil Translations, residents of the South End neighborhood will be encouraged to bring their “weeds” from their yards and replant them in a “weeding room” in the exhibit, where prerecorded neighborhood sounds will “feed” the weeds.
Relationship to the Community
In particular what are the “legacy outcomes from it you expect to have…what impact on the area might it have?” Sifting the Inner Belt is creating new avenues for connective community adaptation to the changing nature of the city and the South End neighborhood. Because Sifting the Inner Belt’s situationist approach is so unexpected the typical “automatic force fields” that isolate between class, ethnicity, economic status, and sexual orientation are disarmed.
Sifting the Inner Belt will help to protect what is best about the South End neighborhood – its diversity - from disappearing, and at the same time bring neighborhood folks together so that they may collectively change what needs to be different – reducing inequities of gentrification, averting cultural homogenization.
- Bridging Performance
- Nail Salon Exchange Project
- Name Tag Project
- National Bitter Melon Council
- Pointing Pictionary Guidebook
- Soil Translations