Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Geographic documentation

Sunday, September 13, 2009



“San Francisco is a city of neighborhoods -- Pacific Heights, the Mission, Nob Hill, Hotel Row, Car Nation, the Frontier. The last three won't sound familiar. That's because they aren't on any official map. They exist only for those who live on the street, and they are not just neighborhoods. They are among the 16 "territories'' of the homeless -- defined by geography, drugs, services, panhandling opportunities and the need for personal safety.” (Fagan, K. - SF Chronicle, 2003).

The presence of the homeless is so pervasive in the City’s urban landscape that can become banal if it were not for the constant turning away of the eyes of people who, like children, think that if they don’t see them, maybe they will cease to exist. Nevertheless, homeless men and women are present in the most busy and touristy neighborhoods of the city – impregnating these public spaces with actions that normally happen in private spaces: washing clothes, hanging them out to dry, or sleeping on sidewalks and benches. These individuals form a netherworld at odds with the normal life around it.

Personal Geographies researches the urban map of the city, and how citizens use their “assigned” urban territories, how each social group exerts its territoriality, and how the majority residents and visitors react to the constant reminder of a misery they ultimately share.
The performance shows the human face of a population that is both extremely familiar and painfully foreign. It focuses primarily on the women population who inhabit the streets of the Tenderloin, re-enacting their gestures, attitudes and behaviors, forcing the eye that refuses to see, to see things in another light. Although believing that it is harder to ignore someone once you've heard their story, Personal Geographies doesn’t aim to present moving narratives or invoke disciplinary measures. It is an invitation to listen, perceive, re-create and artistically actualize life events to create a parallel territory, a new geography that comprises potential and provocative networks of social relations.

It identifies the usual triggers that send people onto the streets, or into behaviors that are out of the norm, and guides the audience through unstable territories, hopefully provoking a reflection on the myriad of emotional and financial losses by people from diverse social strata, many with high education, who previously had a family, money, and status, and suddenly see themselves living on the streets.

As an alert to social inequalities, the performance proposes to redefine new and less distant limits between “us” (the collective, the included) and “the others” (the outsiders, the excluded), increasing the awareness that “this can happen to anyone”, a phrase constantly repeated in the interviews that informed the performance.

Building on the premise that reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information effectively, Personal Geographies reenacts in movement the concept of cartography: dance as a drawing that is created along and according with the changing movements of the landscape. It traces the homeless’ walking paths and uses the locations where the performer and the audience meet as triggers to draw fleeting maps of ever-changing territories, new maps that redesign the streets of the TL as urban spaces for the expansion, contact, sharing and crossing of subjectivities.

While the performer walks the TL streets, the borders between art and “real life”, private and public, inside and outside, artists and audience is blurred, the performance is constantly redesigned to include the unknown that arises from the encounters with people, and with the spaces she finds. Body/space connections - in these performing bodies, history and geography become inseparable, and the paradigm of us versus them is reduced.