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Thursday, February 9, 2012

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 2:05 PM

War makes it all look so simple, as if we could divide civilizations and countries into good and bad, prey and predator. But if these assumptions save us time and effort, they also make us blind. 

As part of the ongoing Windows and Mirrors exhibition, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, the War Dialogues Project brings together veterans and refugees from the same wars, each using storytelling to explore the complexities of the other's experience.

For two Pittsburgh residents, U.S. Iraq veteran Joyce Wagner and high school student and Iraqi refugee Mina Al Doori, opening up proved to be one of the project's greatest challenges.

"I felt much more accountable for my words," Wagner said. "At the beginning, I would feel anxious even days before we were supposed to meet. The first time, we kind of all felt the tension in the room." 

The exhibit opened Jan. 27, at Downtown's 937 Liberty gallery, and culminates this weekend. At 3 p.m. Sat., Feb. 11, The AFSC's Peter Lems discusses the impact of the troop withdrawal from Iraq. The exhibit closes on Sunday.

Despite the emotional cost of reliving her memories of the war,  Wagner felt hopeful that she and Mina were willing to meet. "What made the exchange even more successful is that there were relationships of trusts to begin with," she says. "People that we both trusted brought us together." AFSC program director Scilla Wahrhaftig had worked previously with Wagner. Marcy Luek, a friend of Mina and her family, is on the Windows and Mirrors Committee.

Wagner served as a Marine from  2002-2008, and was among of the first women Marines to serve at Camp Korean Village, in Western Iraq, in 2004. She left the military as a corporal. The board chair for Iraq Veterans Against the War lives with her son Patrick, in Stanton Heights. 

Mina, attends Pittsburgh Brashear High School and lives with her family in Crafton.

As the project progressed, the two became more comfortable, and communication much more effective. They could see more clearly the individual in each other, not just a cause or product of war. At one point Wagner remembers Mina telling her: "What we have in common is that we are both survivors."

The exhibit consists of two tall panels hinged together, covered in drawings and painted scenes of Iraq during the war. At their base are pieces of brick, lumber, Joyce's Marine Corps cover, some feathers, an Iraqi flag and, hung right over it, an oil lamp from Iraq. At night, the light flickers like flames, giving the artwork a mysterious and almost mournful feel.

Once we realize we are in this together — we all lose to the war — the healing process finally begins.

"We don't want to just talk about war and sadness," says Mina. "We want to talk about hope and whether something can happen to bring change. We want to start appreciating and enjoying each others' cultures."

Ultimately, we must identify and eliminate the barriers we have constructed between others and ourselves. Finally, Mina reminds us one of the main lessons of her own process: to always forgive, but never forget or stop trying to understand.

"I learned that many Americans actually share my same feelings about the war and so do people from other countries as well. Most of the people don't want violence, they want peace and a safe life."

Both artists plan to facilitate the same project/process for another group of veterans and refugees, in hopes of mounting  another show. Wagner is also currently working on a video exhibit for the National Veterans Art Museum, in Chicago.

937 Liberty is open today and tomorrow from 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m.-8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m.

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Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 10:07 AM

Hey hey!

Just wanted to give you something to set your eyes and ears upon for a few minutes this morning — a week or two ago, I got hipped to this video montage from the first Silencio show, at Brillobox. As you may recall, I wrote a Local Beat column about Silencio before the show; it's the David Lynch-inspired project headed up by Mandrake Project's Kirk Salopek. Local photographer/video-maker Ted Weigand put together this montage set to one of the band's songs. Good stuff!

"Dance of the Dream Man" montage featuring Silencio from Ted Wiegand on Vimeo.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Posted By and on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Declaring a victory, members of Occupy Pittsburgh left Mellon Green where they had been camping for nearly four months.

Occupiers had been camping in the space since Oct. 15 and were evicted by an Allegheny County judge on Feb. 2. The fact they remained nearly two days after a judge ruled Monday for the Sheriff's department to enforce the eviction, campers said, signified a victory.

"We leave this space with our heads held high," said Occupy member Nathaniel Glosser. "We brought a giant spotlight on the problem and who has caused those problems."

One held a sign that read "Victory;" another said "Thank you Sheriff Mullen." As a handful of police watched from Ross Street, Occupy supporters shared their stories for getting involved and decried the court order that evicted them.

"What we learned," said Paul O'Hanlon, "is there is no place to peacefully assemble in this country."

A black flag, dented steel garbage can, lawn chairs and tiny pine tree were left atop a concrete fountain fenced off in the center of the park. Most personal possessions appeared to be gone and among items that remained were stacks of wooden pallets, and posters bearing "99%" scattered in bushes. A Trojan horse, made of wooden pallets and standing nearly 20-feet high, was decked in signs that read "Rise Up."

A dozen tents were left on the muddied parklet owned by banking giant BNY Mellon, and will remain, said Occupier Nigel Parry, to force BNY Mellon "to have to contract someone to tear them down with their bare hands. They symbolize the homes and families that have been foreclosed on by the bank."

As the press conference ended, about 30 protestors marched from the park chanting "out of the park and into the streets."

They meant that literally.

Upon leaving Mellon Green, roughly 30 Occupiers began marching south in the middle of Grant Street, slowing late rush-hour traffic to a crawl and prompting numerous horn blows from drivers trying to get home for dinner.

After the protesters turned right onto the Boulevard of the Allies, the inevitable police sirens sounded. One police car, lights flashing, quickly pulled up behind a group of about 20 Occupiers still marching in the middle of the road. "Get out of the street!" the officer announced.

Most of the protesters immediately heeded the command, but it took a few more additional calls from the officer -- and a verbal threat of arrest -- to convince the last couple of remaining holdouts to get onto the sidewalk.

As the march continued along the Boulevard of the Allies, police presence grew. A few more officers arrived -- a couple in police cars and one on a motorcycle -- to follow the protesters.

At about 6:30 p.m., the demonstration ended quietly at the heart of Market Square. One protester announced that Occupy would be convening at 7 p.m. inside the United Steelworkers building to discuss the future of the movement, including upcoming actions.

As the protesters began to disperse, one Occupier turned to a City Paper reporter and asked, confusedly, "Is that it?"

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Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 4:20 PM

Tomorrow, Chatham University hosts a discussion by author, humanitarian and activist Le Ly Hayslip, author of the 1989 memoir When Heaven and Earth Changed Places. The book, which Oliver Stone adapted into the 1993 film Heaven & Earth, offers a unique perspective on the Vietnam War, that of a peasant woman.

The free event will be held at 6:30 p.m. in Sanger Lecture Hall, located in Chatham University's Shadyside campus.

The event will open with a short documentary on Hayslip's life. A discussion follows, focusing on the author's non-profit work. 

Le Ly Hayslip founded two charitable organizations: East Meets West Foundation and Global Village Foundation. They offer humanitarian and emergency support to the disadvantaged in Vietnam and other Asian nations.

Hayslip was born in 1949, in central Vietnam. During what the Vietnamese called "The American War," Hayslip and her friends worked as scouts for the Vietcong. She was eventually found out by the South Vietnamese, who captured, arrested and tortured her. They finally released her, but by then she had come under the suspicion of the Vietcong. At 14, two soldiers took her to the forest, threatened to kill her, and then raped her.

She moved to the U.S. in 1970, after marrying an American civilian contractor.

In When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, Lely Hayslip tells a side of the story seldom heard from journalists or historians. Her childhood memories are forever enveloped in the shadow of war. Her memoir offers the point of view of someone brought up in a village by the fault line between the north and south of Vietnam, with a history written by the constant tension between inconsistent allegiances.

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Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 2:45 PM

The first jam-packed weekend of hip-hop events in 2012 is one that will be difficult to match:

Hip-hop duo Varsity Squad invites Pittsburgh to join them for the celebration of their debut album release this Friday, Feb. 10, at Shadow Lounge. The album, New School Boom Bap, was released Tuesday and is a product of two years of collaborative work by MCs Beedie and Jon Quest. Production from DJ Vex and Shade Cobain, among others, laces the album with the vintage boom bap sound, while Beedie and Jon embody the new-school MC with a mix of bravado and consciousness. Also performing Friday will be fellow-Pittsburgh hip-hop artists The Come Up, B. White and Hubbs, with DJ Drastik on the turntables.

Varsity Squad's New School Boom Bap is available for purchase on iTunes and for free download at DatPiff.com. Hard copies will be available for purchase at Friday's show.

Wu-Tang Clan affiliates and Hazelwood natives WuLords will be joined by Wu-Tang general Raekwon this Saturday, Feb. 11, at VIP Nightclub in Washington, PA. Celebrating the release of their new album, The Art of War: Chapter 1, WuLords MCs Z1 Nation, Lord Elite, and D.I.G.I. look to bring out the cult followers that the Wu-Tang brand has built for two decades. The WuLords sound is reminiscent of the classic Wu-Tang Clan records, and the teenage MCs embrace the rough and rugged sound to express their individual realities.

WuLords' The Art of War: Chapter 1 is available for purchase on iTunes. Hard copies will be available for purchase at Saturday's show.

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 2:36 PM

Pitt grad Nick Pratt
  • Pitt grad Nick Pratt

Everyone's been talking about middle fingers the past few days — but none more than Nick Pratt. It's serendipitous that the Fort Worth rapper, a Pitt grad who lived here for five years, dropped his latest mixtape, Middle Finger Music, the day after MIA's infamous(?) national-TV gesture. (I, for one, was more offended by the overwrought drama of the Clint Eastwood Dodge commercial, but I guess I'm different.)

There's a smattering of Pittsburgh talent on the mixtape: Nice Rec produces a track (the funny, then again thoughtful and introspective "All My Love") and Mac Miller guests on another ("Mac & Me," which starts out pretty hard, and eventually finds Mac rapping about Twinkies, ding dong ditch and Hennessy.) It's filled with smart lyricism and toes the line between informed, "conscious MC" hip hop and straight-up swagger. It's available to stream or download now at DJBooth.com: go here and check it out now. That's an order.

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Posted By on Tue, Feb 7, 2012 at 11:10 AM

As we settle in for the denouement in the Occupation of Mellon Green, this might be a good time to look at preview footage of the kind of media coverage we can expect. And probably the best place to go is KDKA-TV's Marty Griffin.

On Friday night, Griffin aired a report alleging that the Occupation site was frequently almost completely empty. Griffin backed up this claim with a series of visits to the camp, where he squealed at the site of a rat scampering across a path, and deployed a thermal imaging camera to demonstrate that there were no heat signatures coming from the tents still on the site. In a follow-up story, Griffin also reported that one high-visibility Occupier, who went by the name "Jimmy Blue Thunder," was in fact a convicted sex offender.

As if that wasn't enough, Griffin had this surprising disclosure: "[H]undreds of reinforcements may be called in from Washington, D.C. to repopulate the camp." Goodness me. Griffin quoted a worried Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: "If a large number of people all of a sudden show up, I think it really shows you what the Occupy folks are all about." And his report was prefaced by this assertion from anchor Susan Koeppen: "KDKA investigators have learned hundreds of Occupy reinforcements are expected here by Valentine's Day."

Well, maybe. But ... learned from whom? Expected by whom? Griffin never cites a source for this explosive allegation. And here's a good rule of thumb for media consumers: Beware passive-voice constructions like "we have learned" -- as opposed to "the police tell us." That kind of language is often a sign that the reporter doesn't have the goods.

I'm especially suspicious where Griffin is concerned, because he has a track record of issuing thinly-sourced allegations in which outside agitators are supposed to descend upon our fair city at any moment, seizing our streets and corrupting our daughters. As City Paper previously documented, Griffin was a leading voice in fomenting pre-G20 hysteria. More recently, he warned us that busloads of atheists were set to descend on Ellwood City, in a dispute about a nativity scene. Nothing of the sort happened, of course. In fact, just typing that out seems so comical that I can't believe that the story actually aired ... and I haven't even mentioned the part where rival motorcycle gangs were supposedly ready to rev their engines and drown out the atheists. Given that these stories feel like they originated in '60s biker flicks -- marauding outsiders prey on hapless townfolk -- I guess bike gangs had to play a role somehow.

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Monday, February 6, 2012

Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2012 at 7:54 PM

An Allegheny County judged ruled today that the sheriff's department must remove all protesters, tents and other equipment from Occupy Pittsburgh's camp at BNY Mellon's downtown parklet.

When that will happen, however, is still anyone's guess.

As of 7 p.m. this evening, about a dozen tents remained on Mellon Green and about two dozen Occupy Pittsburgh supporters milled around. Some played Frisbee and ate dinner.

There was no visible police presence.

Earlier today, attorneys of BNY Mellon requested an emergency injunction after several dozen protesters, tents and other belongings remained on site this afternoon, which judge Christine Ward ruled must be vacated by 11:56 a.m. today.

"Certain Defendants also continue to occupy and camp on BNY Mellon Green, thereby preventing BNY Mellon from closing BNY Mellon Green as permitted by the order," Ward wrote.

Her order asks that the sheriff "promptly enforce" her Feb. 2 order to "remove all Defendants remaining in violation of the Court's Feb. 2 order, and shall promptly remove, or facilitate and assist Plaintiff's in removing, all tents, camping equipment and stored personal items from Plaintiff's property known as BNY Mellon Green…"

"This probably means the end is near. We're just not sure how near," said Marvin Fein, an attorney representing Occupy Pittsburgh, after Ward's ruling.

"This was an issue between the sheriff and the bank," said Mike Healey, another attorney for Occupy. "We're not surprised."

We have a call into Sheriff William Mullen's office and will update when we hear back. During the hearing, the sheriff's department attorney, Lisa Michel, said it would be up the department's discretion as to when they would oust the campers.

Earlier in the day, as the deadline drew near, about 100 occupiers held a press conference to declare the occupation a victory.

"It's 11:56! We're still here!" announced Jeff Cech, who, along with many other campers, said he planned to peaceably disperse. "You cannot evict an idea whose time has come."

"Just because we're losing this camp doesn't mean we're giving up. We're not going away," said Samey Lee, a Point Park student who said she had been camping regularly since Occupy took over the park on Oct. 15. "There are so many issues out there bigger than this camp. [W]e can do good without this camp. The symbol isn't 100 percent necessary anymore."

Lee and other protesters pointed out other causes they planned to rally behind — transit and health care rallies are already scheduled for later today and next week.

Others seemed intent on staying; in the middle of the park's chained-in fountain, a group of protesters sat with a tent. Others built a massive Trojan horse out of wooden pallets bearing signs like "This is only the beginning."

Reporting contributed by Chris Young.

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Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2012 at 4:27 PM

The Williams Band
  • The Williams Band

Greetings!

It's Monday, and that means I bring you an MP3 or die tryin', and I almost died tryin' this week. But I got it. And it's HOT OFF THE PRESSES. The track is courtesy of The Williams Band, which released its debut album just this past Friday. The tune is "Places I Pass Through"; stream and download it below!

Sorry, download link expired!

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Posted By on Mon, Feb 6, 2012 at 3:00 PM

click to enlarge Rabih Mroué performs "Looking for a Missing Employee"
Rabih Mroué performs "Looking for a Missing Employee"

Last Friday, the Lebanese performance artist wrapped his first U.S. tour, performing this brand-new piece co-commissioned by The Warhol. (It was his second show at the museum, where the night before he'd performed "Looking for a Missing Employee.")

"Pixelated Revolution" is a sort of illustrated lecture about the use of cell-phone imagery by Syrian protesters. Mroué noted that because Syria lacks journalists per se, online cell-phone videos are about the only option, aside from state-run media, we have for learning what's going in there, especially during these recent months of anti-government protests.

He smartly reduced the key differences between official and unofficial documentation to a single attribute: Official video comes from cameras mounted on tripods, which calmly scan crowds and give the impression that all is under control. By contrast, the cell-phone videos are fragmentary and jumpy — an analog for, and unavoidable artifact of, the fact that street protesters are besieged by armed soldiers.

Syrian protesters, that is, actually can't shoot with tripods. Unlike Egyptian activists, whose protests have centered on Tahrir Square and who shoot their own video with tripods, the Syrians are constantly on the run.

(Interestingly, the near-capacity crowd in the Warhol theater included several of the Egyptian artists in the "Sites of Passage" exhibit at the Mattress Factory, who are in town for a couple weeks.)

And the video Mroué showed was harrowing. The talk's centerpiece was a video he had dubbed "Double Shooting." The 83-second clip, shot from a balcony, concludes shortly after the cameraman spots an army sniper standing on a nearby balcony. Gunshots are heard and the screen goes dark, though the fate of the cameraman is unknown.

Why didn't the cameraman run? Mroué speculates that he was lulled by the false security that many camerapeople feel — the sense that they do not subsist in the same "reality" as does whatever danger they're documenting.

Mroué's talk proceeded on his explicit assumption that the phone-camera eye equals the cameraman's eye equals the cameraman himself — that it's an "optical prosthetic," so that when we watch the video we're experiencing exactly what he did.

But Mroué believes that though such footage is necessary and valuable, "images alone are not enough to achieve any victory" — especially when the other side has all the guns.

In the question-and-answer session following "Pixelated Revolution," Mroué added that he believes that the proper role of the contemporary artist is not to make more images, of which there are already plenty. Rather, he said, "For me, it's more important and more useful to make images that are already imposing themselves on our daily lives and are keeping us from thinking, and use them as material to [make us] think."

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