Illuminating Hidden Histories with the Greenpants Collective
The Occupy movement is many things; on one hand, it is a mass movement of protest and occupation, on the other a cultural phenomenon producing countless small projects, affinity groups, and organizing efforts. Baltimore's Luminous Intervention, a combination of performance, projection, street art, and storytelling launched by a new collective called Greenpants, is of the latter. The group uses a massive mobile projector to "bring to light the hidden histories, practices, and envisioned futures to provoke dialogue" in Baltimore.
I had the chance to catch Greenpants' second Luminous Intervention and talk to some of their members about the project. While their first projection was stationary, taking place in a partnership with the United Workers, a low-income organizing effort at Baltimore's Inner Harbor (a video of that projection is here), this one was mobile, visiting and "illuminating" a number of sites in Baltimore's Lexington Market neighborhood.
The images, some of which were animated - others still -, lit up the sides of entire buildings with both historic imagery and scrolling sentences helping explain each stop on the tour. While the overwhelming focus was the failed, pro-business development history of the City in this area, it was interspersed with Civil Rights era history, architectural observation, and other anecdotes that made for an multi-faceted and interesting walk to the 30 or so folks gathered.
Much of the social and political history was provided by a speaker from the Baltimore Heritage Society, which works "to preserve and promote Baltimore’s historic buildings and neighborhoods." The Heritage Society helped give the historic context for the area while others from Greenpants spoke to the develop angle. The group also partnered with the experimental art festival Transmodern, which was taking place right up the road.
"We plan to partner with different groups for each project," Hannah Brancato of Greenpants told me. This way, she explains, the group can expand not only its reach, but also provide layers of context and meaning to their projections.
"We can't know everything, so why bother trying," another Greenpants member Jenny Graf says of the partnerships. They "keep [the projections] as a skill-share too, so we are learning as well," she says. She adds that the group is open to ideas and to crowd participation. Indeed, at one point in the walking-tour the space was opened for anyone to share stories from their experiencing in the Civil Rights years in Baltimore, as the crowd gathered in front of the old Read's Pharmacy, site of the 1955 sit-in that forced the pharmacy to integrate and served as the first sit-in of its kind nationally.
Greenpants, which has 8-10 members, intends to host two projections per month through the Fall. Other upcoming topics include the War of 1812 and the massive City/Hopkins-orchestrated clearing of East Baltimore's Middle East neighborhood.
The project, in their own words, "is committed to using art to address these and other issues of social justice impacting Baltimore City" and says it "responds to the choices made by the city to employ a kind of 'urban renewal' that is unhealthy, unsustainable and inhospitable to its residents." Graf adds that an important aspect of such artistic intervention is that art has the ability to "translating the way you feel" onto new terrains, and can help catalyze social and political understandings.
Certainly the project has the ability to bring people out into public space to for a fresh, visually pleasing educational experience. And its a really great way to bring people together to learn about both the politics of development and public space in their city, and their shared histories as residents of these areas.