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Harry Kollatz Jr.
Sarah Cunningham talks about “The Metaphysics of theCreative City.
This image came cross the virtual transom today: that of the Virginia Flaggers who want to commemorate their idea of the legacy of the Confederate States by shoving it in the faces of motorists on Interstate 95.
I will forego some of the usual arguments against this strange display. I mean, it remains a nominally free country. Anybody ought to have the right to say whatever they want. And that means anybody. We went through the neo-Nazis in Skokie (and a multitude of others) in proving that point.
My question is: Why now? What’s the urgency in this late hour that surpasses any other time? I mean, this is Richmond, Va. — the four terrible years of the mid-1860s have managed in many minds, here, and elsewhere, to eclipse the other 400 years during which time numerous important things occurred. You know, like ratifying the U.S. Constitution (which we then sometime later violated).
Here we have a city spiked by monuments and perforated by plaques honoring “the glorious dead,” and we have museums and hallowed halls where the proper obeisance may be made to these memories. We are often smothered, at times almost to immobilizing constriction, in the gelatinous embrace of ghosts from that belligerent era. The vicinity’s fields, no less than our psychology, remain torn apart by the conflict. How will this abrupt appearance of a massive Confederate banner be useful to us as a community working to get past an inheritance of rancor and division? The flag is supposed to fly in whatever weather every day and night. Which I don’t get. Bothers me to see these perfunctory U.S. banners hanging everywhere like we’re in some permanent July Fourth that are never taken down nor even maintained. What’s any of this saying?
The Flagger affair has been picked up the venerable lefty Mother Jones – but I’ll raise you aWired and a Rolling Stone.Which leads me to GWAR. Last night I re-visited the Black Iris Studio’s exhibition “Let There Be GWAR!” that traces the 30-year history of the Richmond-based art collective that is also an extraordinarily loud musical organization. You can go back those linky-links to see all that stuff. Let me tell you this, though: When I was in Berlin in 2005, people I spoke with there about Richmond knew us through Philip Morris, Edgar Allan Poe — and GWAR.
I and probably close to 70 people came to hear Sarah Cunningham, former director of arts education at the National Endowment for the Arts and now a VCU professor give an insightful (and irreverent) talk on “The Metaphysics of the Creative City.” That is, what’s the dynamic between the makers and creators and how a city lives, works and grows. Art alone cannot save a city, but no city can be live without it. And thus comes GWAR.
GWAR splits open the mind-body dualism by spewing fluids and punching a hole through mediated reality. And they are homeless, “The Scumdogs of the Universe,” exiled underneath the southernmost polar icecap of the least interesting planet. The aerosol spray used by hair bands cause the Antarctic permafrost to melt, allowing GWAR to emerge — alien, violent, freakish, bloody as anyItalian opera or tableaux from the Grand Guignol, as shattering to the senses as anything out of the Theater of Cruelty. And GWAR can also be amusing and catalytic — if you don't think so, go and read letters from some of the fans and (and others) on display at Black Iris through Sept. 28. I don’t think there’s any wondering why GWAR came from Richmond. Our city turns over in its sleep, hounded by nightmares. The lingering memories of destruction and death confront us on a continuing basis. And the bumbled peace following the Civil War and the struggle for civil rights that stretched onward and continues to this day have all left their indelible marks. And yet, we can also create the RVA Street Art Festival, the upcoming InLight of 1708 Gallery and theRichmond Folk Festival. And that's just a sampling.
We have plenty reasons and means to celebrate in Richmond. No one flag represents them all.