Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013

Sweet Water Organics Initiates ReciproCity

Art & Cultural Initiative Housed inside Sweet Water

By Peggy Sue
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Bay View’s Sweet Water Organics, a leader in urban agriculture, will be expanding to house an experimental art/cultural space directly inside the facility that already grows hydroponic crops. By naming the cultural undertaking ReciproCITY, Sweet Water plans to inspire artists, architects, media, scientists, scholars and a host of other interested professionals to push the cultural envelope. Ultimately, to discover new ways to transform the city, and eventually the Midwest, into as Sweet Water says, “from a rust belt to a green belt.”

In the process, the creative infusion would import artists and scholars from a variety of disciplines to reach this potential goal. In their plans for Milwaukee mentioned at ReciproCITY’s first “communiqué' on January 2, this might include residencies for regional, national and international artists at their center for extended periods of time to establish a flow of cultural ideas from around the world.

On ReciproCITY’s initial evening, two fascinating professionals opened the discussion. Dr. Alan W. Moore, a distinguished artist, professor and scholar, relayed the history of “Art Squats.” Squatting is defined as “occupying a vacant building or space without the individuals owning, paying rent or receiving permission to do so.” While a practice more prevalent in Europe, Moore traced the art squat history back to several prominent New York exhibitions, beginning in the 1960’s and 70’s. Afterwards, he showed a video on art squats that illustrated the different squatting movements present in Barcelona, Spain, more typical in Europe. 

Often art squats generate exhibitions tied to political and social agendas, or target specific vacant buildings to reflect a specific intent directed at a particular agenda. Many "squats" morph into social communes, where people live, socialize and work together for up to several years, and can often become community centers for the surrounding neighborhoods. Sometimes the squats then disband when evicted and move to another vacant space, or at others the neighborhood appreciates their contributions and they become legal and financially supported.

Squatting in the term's broadest sense also could mean occupying vacant land or space, where local gardens and urban farmers could produce crops, and overturn these lost properties to color them green. Moore mentioned the urban landscaping project Participation Park sponsored by the Baltimore Development of Architecture, which has broad implications for urban agriculture and locally grown food supplies.

Moore has also written several books on art squats and the squatting communities: The ABC’s of ABC: No Rio And its Times: An Introduction and Art Squat and plans on another book after traveling to Europe this summer to trace more history and present day squatting culture. He recommended the recently published book on the history of U.S. squatting by Hannah Dobbz: Nine Tenths of the Law: Property and Residence in the United States.

ReciproCITY’s second speaker, Sarah Daleidon, currently works as an Artist in Residence at the Lynden Sculpture Garden She spoke on her project MKE <-> LAX, or a reciprocity/connection between Milwaukee and Los Angeles artists. The projects primary focus relays “regional poetics, or how place (Milwaukee versus Los Angeles) reflects an artist’s poetic language.”

Daleidon also works with the art distribution process as she calls it, or how art can be bought and sold. While Los Angeles has a strong art gallery structure in place, Milwaukee uses less of this formal structure. Through her project she tries to dispel West Coast myths regarding the nature of Midwest artists while Los Angeles currently offers a substantial international marketplace for tourism and the entertainment industry. 

These enlightening discussions surrounding avant garde and underground art would be continued in a warmer location until the wee hours of the morning if necessary. The innovative ideas presented by Sweet Water prove to be very convincing and serious considering their progressive inroads into urban agriculture. Adding an art gallery to Sweet Water that focuses the synergy from all the arts and varied sciences would strengthen Milwaukee’s cultural underground and perhaps transform that “rust belt into a green belt.” Incorporating inventive ideas from all those prepared to uncover creative solutions for contemporary concerns. For further information or questions on ReciproCITY and to be placed on their email list contact: Micheal Carriere: carriere@msoe.edu or Nicolas Lampert: animaltrap@yahoo.com

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