Dear Connie,by Claudia La Rocco
I’ve been thinking and thinking how to answer your impossible prompt. How to talk about a place, or even know what a place is, in 2017, and then to further isolate what it might produce? Especially considering I only moved to this place in 2016.
I’m in the middle of editing a new magazine issue for Open Space, one that attempts to get at something(s) about the West. We just figured out our title, and this maybe says something about my thinking on place these days: West coast is something nobody with sense would understand. That’s a line from the poet Jack Spicer, who, as you probably know, was born in Los Angeles and died in San Francisco. I almost said “here,” instead of SF, but that is not here, which is Oakland, where I live and where I am typing … such very different worlds, in fact, despite the waters they share…this “Bay Area” business is misleading.
Maybe I should start with you, with us. It’s funny to consider that you opened your essay with the (given the context) rather provocative declaration that you and Bill are New Yorkers—that’s true, of course, but even though I once had the honor of sharing a poetry bill with Bill back East (where we all kinda met, so briefly; I was intimidated, trying to play it cool), I only really met both of you a few years ago in San Francisco, when I was considering moving to California. We were at a small dinner party: I remember thinking, “I would live here, with these people.”
I think my ideas about a given art scene and what it produces turn immediately to the social aspect: who’s in the room, what sort of room. Maybe that’s because the art form I grew up in and around (dance) is inherently social. That was in New York. And now I increasingly find myself spending time around music, and specifically the improviser community in the East Bay. Another social world, and in fact a world that shares a lot with contemporary dance in NYC. They’re both inward-looking, both fiercely critical and deeply supportive—in a cranky, fractious, family sort of way. Their rock-star elders are called by their first names: Pauline (Oliveros) and Trisha (Brown), to name two recently departed giants.
Generalizations are silly, reductive, and limited, I know; they’re like so much of art history, defining and demarcating at the expense of complexity. And yet, the correspondences between these two creative and rigorous scenes make me think it’s something other (smaller? more elusive? less geographically bound?) than a city that makes a group of artists come alive.
And what of the individual artist? I have no answer for you. I think I am happy to have no answer. But I can say this: I was at the opening for the gorgeous Miyoko Ito show at BAMPFA the other night. The curator, Jordan Stein, talked about how Ito (who was born in Berkeley, and spent most of her adult life in Chicago) didn’t have a gang. The artists who got out of Chicago, he said, as in got recognition, got named and labeled and entered into the official, important ledger, tended to have gangs. And here (there?) Ito sits, shimmering in a splendid isolation, troubling the history books. Nobody knows what to do with her. How great.