Luminous Intervention: Baltimore Artists Shed Light where there’s Darkness

How do you respond when the City attempts to privatize recreation centers, the “Superblock” looms as a “revitalization” effort that doesn’t support existing businesses or communities of the Westside, and the reality for many inner city children is that they’re more likely to go to prison than graduate school? These issues, endemic of a larger national crisis, speak to structural failings that begin first at home in community.

One beginning response is with Greenpants, an arts collective, which immerged this fall from Occupy Baltimore’s Arts & Culture Committee. These artists have started to find their individual and collective voices as they engage these deeper issues. Greenpants members: Erin Barry-Dutro, Hannah Brancatto, Jen Liu, Gerry Mak, Mike McGuire, Olivia Robinson, Jenny Graff Sheppard, Jessica Wyatt & Dan Zink have been inspired to make art and work towards social change. Possessing a variety of skills amongst themselves in organizing, educating, illustrating, writing, and creating video and electronic media, this collective has begun to address these issues with their recently funded Kickstarter project, Luminous Intervention, which has allowed Greenpants to purchase a projector, so they can illuminate the city with messages aimed at liberating and transforming both public space and consciousness.

Whether it’s the lost history of anonymous buildings set to become “Superblock” or the closing and privatizing of the city’s recreations centers, there’s a public shutting down of collective space, vision, and future in favor of private interest. Greenpants’ intervention is simple, to shed light where there’s darkness, to speak truth to power, and in the words of collective member, Jenny Graff Sheppard, “to ‘occupy’ non invasively and non violently many spaces … over a long period of time.”

The first Luminous Intervention was projected on May 4th as promotion for the anticipated United Workers march to GGP, General Growth Properties, this coming Saturday, May 19th. To raise public awareness, Greenpants chose to project on the side of the GGP-owned Gallery mall in the Inner Harbor. Shoppers walking past the installation became then active participants in the space, some people giving the thumbs up and shouting appreciation for the installation.

When asking Greenpants, “How do projections transform space?” Jenny said, “When people come upon something out of the ordinary in their own regular environment, there is a potential for a small shock to the circuitry of the brain. When those with the smallest voice in society (those with limited economic power or mobility) see their words, thoughts, voices amplified through light onto the architecture of a city that is a powerful thing and one that can be affirming.”

And collective member Mike McGuire shared, “Projection allows us to temporarily transform visual space in a large way. Our culture is incredibly visual. We are bombarded with commercial images almost everywhere we go. Our interventions will liberate some of the visual field from the gross consumerism and commercialization that dominate public visuals. It will hopefully be refreshing for most of the unexpecting audience.”

Like the people’s mic used to amplify the voice of protestors at general assemblies, art has the power to amplify the least heard voices in society and strike through opaque institutional power. It can be a tool for social change that’s very nature is utterance. These projections, a visual amplification, emerged as a response to the dearth of imagery that still needed to be developed and grown from Occupy Baltimore. Mike has said that art has the potential to make the revolution irresistible, and likens artists to the white blood cells of society. With the freedom and mobility to navigate to areas of crisis, artists can call attention to societal problems and encourage others to work towards long-term solutions.

Mike also said, “Art (defined broadly) is a fantastic communication tool. The more creative we are, the harder we are to box in and be ignored. Art engages people in a way that often goes deeper than argument, debate or even conversation. Projections like the iconic 99% ‘bat signal’ inspire people; street theater like The Tax Dodgers strikes a nerve. All movements generate culture. All protest is theater. The more we recognize that and learn to work with it, the better off we are.”

The next Luminous Intervention is scheduled for the Transmodern Festival this week. And future Luminous Intervention sites will be chosen for different reasons, “One site might be a great space or wall that is visible to foot or car traffic, another might have a particular historical significance that relates to uprisings against different forms of oppression, and other sites might just be orphans in need of some TLC” says Jenny. From inert commercial space to living art space and potentially caring for abandoned space, Luminous Intervention is a fluid art project that has the ability to speak to many different audiences by engaging the receptivity of all space in an array of image/messages. Erin Barry-Dutro said, “I know that I am looking to jog an audience out of the everyday, to make them rethink the history of spaces around them and the way they interact with these spaces, with people, and with their government.”

In addition to Luminous Intervention, Greenpants has other projects in the works such as some potential puppet theater and a series of Occupy Trading Cards  that’s open to all artists for submission.

Working together as a collective to find community and share skill sets between each other to engage the larger community seems to be the growing answer to how to combat the structural failings and darkness of our cities and larger world. We need to start first with a microcosm of interconnection that works.

When I asked Greenpants what their wildest dreams might be, what they hope to achieve through this collaboration. Jenny seemed to articulate the zeitgeist of the community:

“To incite insight, to awaken people, to forge alliances with a variety of now separate groups, individuals and organizations. To enable new voices to be heard and considered.

To engage a range of types of people with the creative process of collaborating on a projection project. To get people out of their houses, neighborhoods and onto the street. To relieve our throat chakras, blocked from years of being disregarded by the city’s practices and policies.

To make people feel proud of this city and of their own contributions.

To entertain, to educate, to inspire.

To make Baltimore a safe, sustainable, healthy place for all to thrive.”