Meet Danielle De Jesus, born and raised in Bushwick Brooklyn

1) Please tell us who you are, where you’re from and what you do!

My name is Danielle De Jesus. I was born and raised in Bushwick Brooklyn in what is known as Killerhull (Woodhull hospital) by locals. I am an artist working in various mediums including photography, painting and Etch a sketching.

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2) Please tell us about your mother’s fight for her home, along with any advice for someone who might be in a similar position.

My mother and I moved to Jefferson Street when I was 4 years old. I lived with her on Wilson ave from birth until then. It was during my senior year of high school in 2005 when we first started noticing the changes occurring. A few months later my neighbors and friends all began being bought out of the building and the surrounding buildings. $5,000 was what they settled for. Consisting primarily of very low income immigrant latinos, it seemed like a good deal at the time, but I refused to let my mom settle for it. I knew something was up, and I wasn’t going to let her give in so easy. Then after months of the slumlord calling and randomly showing up at our apartment asking when we were going to move, harassing us constantly, upping his offer, court dates and fighting, my mom was able to stay in her apt. With the help of the city and free legal aids, she is able to stay put. Although, still today, Mr. Slumlord calls occasionally asking if she has found a new place and offering a larger sum of cash, only to get the phone hung up on him.

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3) Could you tell us about the sign you made in your window and its effects? 

I once put up a lime green poster on my mother’s window that read “STOP GENTRIFICATION” and the definition of gentrification. For two months the slumlord could not rent the empty apartment that was next door. He then took my mom and I to court, where I made his lawyer look like a complete jackass, The judge decided that it was totally legal for the sign to be there as long as it was not on the front door of the building. My mom later made me take it down due to being overwhelmed with stress from the slumlord dirtbag.

 

4) What are your own personal struggles regarding gentrification right now? You described to me feeling somewhat torn regarding where you are currently living, could you elaborate on that?

Wow. This one is quite complicated for sure. I currently live in a building that would be considered a product of gentrification. Although my mom still lives in her apt, I myself have lived in three other locations in the past few years that would be considered gentrified. Before moving into my current location in Ridgewood, I lived in Bedstuy for about 4 months. Even though it was just 3 blocks away from the hospital I was born in, and 8 blocks from where I grew up, it was completely new to me. Growing up on my block, you knew which streets and areas to avoid, and this place was one of them so it was completely different to me. Living there I got to feel exactly what the new comers into my neighborhood must have felt. I was the enemy. Even my own people, Puerto Ricans of the area, side eyed me and snickered when I passed them. I felt so out of place and unwelcome, not to mention super unsafe. But speaking to some of the elders from the area, I realized that they were feeling exactly what my mother and I felt. It wasn’t  that we didn’t want to clean up the area, it wasn’t a racial thing, it was more of a comfort and cultural thing.

This was a place that was ours, where we knew every face within a 6 block radius and beyond, where we could knock on our neighbors door if we needed adobo or a roll of toilet paper, where we knew exactly where all of our spices were in the supermarket and could actually afford them. It was home. The problem was our environment changing and losing the culture that existed. Bodegas turning into swanky bars, supermarkets blaring english rock music instead of Salsa, Cops being called because we were “too loud”, not knowing who lives next door because they move so frequently, feeling uncomfortable in our own home, thrift shops where families would shop for their children because they couldn’t afford new clothes are now filled with over priced “Vintage” trash. I mean, how could there not be tension? It’s tough for me now though. I feel that I’m in this place where I can’t fit in with old Bushwick, but I’m supposed to. I’ve been told that I am “trying to be white” because I dress a certain way, skateboard, and have a decent job. I now find myself in this weird identity crisis because I know that I am Bushwick, everything about me IS Bushwick. I can turn the “hood” on real quick if I’m angry haha! But, I know that I am looked at otherwise. Most of my friends now are the new kids in town; artist, musicians, and one of my closest friend’s is an engineer. So I’m stuck in this place where I don’t know where I stand anymore…

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5) What advice would you give to someone who just moved into Bushwick, regarding being a positive member of the community?

I would advise you to keep your nose leveled. Don’t act like you’re better than those around you because I’ve seen it happen way too many times in the supermarket, even to my mom, and had to avoid smacking the shit out of someone. Be part of your community. Talk to the locals and befriend them. I mean that’s a street smart rule that goes way back to old Bushwick and probably any hood. Also, support your local shops that were there before you and any places that are already established with the community.

 

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6) What advice would you give to someone who has lived in Bushwick all their lives, regarding being a positive member of the community?

Know what you’re capable of doing. You can do ANYTHING that you put your mind to and are passionate about, trust me, absolutely anything. Think becoming the first latino president from Bushwick is impossible? Think again… Take advantage of every single resource you can. Free education is everywhere for us. Don’t think you can get into college? bullshit. Don’t think you can get into the college you dream of because your grades suck, give me a break! I got rejected from FIT 3 times before I got in. My grades were trash in H.S so FIT was not having it. I had to go to community college for a year, make connections with great mentors at the school even before I was accepted and even negotiate with the dean of the photography program before I was finally accepted my last try. Nothing is impossible and if you want to stay in Bushwick, hold your own. Educate yourself on what is happening, not only in Bushwick, but NYC in general. Stay focused on your goals regardless of how others see you and make things happen the way you intend them to.

7) Please share any last thoughts!! 

Thank you, The living gallery, for being so open to the community and making yourself a part of it by working with locals and opening your doors to us.

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Observers and Performers: On “Life and People” at BAMcinematek

Written by Conor O’Brien

The films discussed were shown at “Shorts Program: Life and People,” during BAMcinématek‘s 2014 Migrating Forms series. 

Jon Rafman, "Mainsqueeze" (still), 2014

Jon Rafman, “Mainsqueeze” (still), 2014

Jon Rafman’s film “Mainsqueeze” opens with a washing machine in a backyard. The machine starts to cycle. The familiar rattling din as its innerchamber spins, a common enough sound now, this comforting chorus of appliances, dishwashers, ovens, boilers, toilets, the white noise that (no, not at all secondary or incidental to their “intended” functions) keep sedated blank silence, cooed into coiled submission under the mothering hum. Soon the sound grows from the familiar to the discomforting, blooms from an innocuous, mechanical buzz into an hominoid, earthen growl. The machine is pushing its rotation to increasingly violent extremes. The frame becomes unhinged and loosely wobbles about the innerchamber’s fierce convulsions. As parts of the outerstructure are cast off, it is only this, the innerchamber, that still belongs to the “washing machine,” the idea of it, the limp frame having lost all identity and coherence in the mad self-destruction. Soon, even the gaping core of the appliance loses this center of control in a final burst of intensity. It collapses, and lies still in the silent backyard.

The full video, which is returned to repeatedly during Rafman’s film, could be at home in (and was most likely taken from) the Internet’s video landscape, populated in large part by such documentations of home experiments. Does the sadistic destruction of household appliances speak to a pent-up frustration with the ease and sterility of the modern experience? Is it a lashing out at the mask of convenience that, with one finger to its lips, shh’s our primal anxieties into an uneasy quiet? Is it the basis of all spectacle and theater, tragedy and comedy, the perverse thrill of seeing the shimmering and godlike erode into profane parody? To locate on these seemingly-enclosed and stone-perfect systems an obscene, belching hole? Rafman’s film continues: iphone snapshots of teens unconscious at parties with horrifically Sharpie-marred faces, images of devils and demons from the various Infernos of classical painting, a woman lovingly caressing a large prawn-like creature before setting it under her foot to crush it in callous close-up, a person in a frog costume bound to a table writhing, the unsettling musings of an inhuman voice-over. In this barrage of grotesque sadism, the film could come off as invariably bleak: an indifferent, robotic distillation of human behavior rummaged from the Internet’s shadowier nooks. Yet, there is something behind that, perhaps compassion, but maybe just pity, for the hopelessly abusive and self-destructive creatures it depicts.

Barry Doupé, "Life and People" (still), 2014

Barry Doupé, “Life and People” (still), 2014

 

The camera is the disembodied eye, functioning with the unblinking, clinical lucidity reserved for ghosts and machines. The camera itself disappears in the film illusion, never to be caught by its own gaze: even that image, the one that passed there on that polished, silver ovoid, that looked strikingly like a camera, though distorted by the convex surface, is not the Camera. This anti-Narcissus, completely unmoved by its reflection, does not identify itself as part of the scene it observes. It is not fooled by make-up, costumes, sets, performance; it will not be drowned in the illusion. Film is a product of an argument between subjective human performers, in their manic, self-mutilating frenzy, and this uncaring, alien Eye.

In Barry Doupé’s “Life and People,” the performers, paradoxically, seem to take on the perspective of the Camera in that, though they performing in the scene, none seem to have an emotional/psychological/economic stake in it. They are vessels for the delivery of dialogue that, because of misplaced facial expression and lack of eye contact between players, is always disconnected from the speaker and unperceived by the spoken-to, existing in a neutral auditory realm that is only intercepted by the Camera and the audience. All of the action takes place in a unidentified location, seemingly a warehouse that is partially obscured by several white walls. The film consists of a series of discontinuous scenes, ranging from the utterly mundane (parent-teacher conferences, open houses, gossip, various consumer situations) to the tragic (sexual abuse, suicide), all delivered in the same robotic disinterest, a vague approximation of human interaction. The situations are made more alien by the choreography: players stand in random relations to each other: sometimes too close or far away, facing in different directions, some characters climb a ladder in order to deliver their lines without relevant reason. The film concludes with a woman lying on her side in the center of the shot. She remains motionless while arguing with another woman outside the frame, and over the course of the argument, the camera, disinterested, revolves around the woman, closes in on the back of her head, and then returns to its original position. This final scene brings together all the techniques of disconnection used throughout the film. There is disconnection on every level: setting, choreography, cinematography, delivery, facial expression, no element interacts with or relates to any other element. This is the perspective of the removed Eye, the Camera, which without emotional investment, perceives the scene as a collection of disparate contrivances that never resolve into a coherent illusion.

Jeremy Shaw, "Quickeners" (still), 2014

Jeremy Shaw, “Quickeners” (still), 2014

 

The interplay of disinterested observer and delusional performer is further dramatized in the final film of this shorts series, “Quickeners” directed by Jeremy Shaw. The piece takes the form of a faux-documentary film reel from a future after the extinction of homo sapiens and the emergence of our evolutionary successors, “quantum humans.” The film is from the perspective of these quantum humans, who are an immortal, hive-mind species, and the subject of the film is the disease “Human Ativism Syndrome.” HAS is described as causing in victims a reversion to the obsolete behaviors of their human ancestors. The documentary focuses on a certain group of HAS victims who have embraced their disease, and try to tap into the ritualistic delusions it induces in order to experience something called a “Quickening,” which is a kind of orgasmic trance caused by a feeling of disconnection from the Hive. The deathless quantum humans have transcended the need for ritual, performance, music, dance, etc, all of which reemerge in the Quickeners’ meetings and are contextualized by a monotone narrator for the quantum audience who may not understand the absurd customs. Part of the ritual involves the handling of a poisonous snake, which creates a “simulacrum threat of death,” recalling the mortality of the ancestors they intend to imitate. The narrator emphasizes the importance of the serpent, expounding on its ubiquity in global culture and its varied symbolic meaning. The serpent becomes a unifier, bringing into the same symbol opposing associations: at one side it is corruption, sickness, sin, evil and on the other medicine, health, intelligence, ingenuity. Maybe most significantly the serpent is the ouroboros, symbol of life-death-rebirth infinitely looping, the self-consuming, self-regenerating system.

This is the image of life and death in intimate concert, the supreme opposite resolution. The “simulacrum of death” in ritual is of vital significance: if ritual is a performance of life, than death too, with its unblinking glass eye, must be reflected somewhere on the mirror. More than this, ritual is a movement beyond death, which is no more graspable to us than to any hypothetical immortal being. Only the threat of death, a withdrawing shadow, is available to us: past this we make assumptions, create symbols, take faith-leaps. But there is always that threat, reflection flickering time to time in the corner of our vision, and when we turn to face it, gone, save a lingering absence. It is this tormenting ghost that induces our sadomasochistic obsessions. It is before this featureless, stone gaze we perform the scrimmage of our annihilation. It is to this icey lab-table we strap ourselves, awaiting the scalpel’s descent. This is the true Camera, of which every other camera is a distorted reflection. Film, a death-ritual, teaches us that the act of living is necessarily self-destructive, just as self-destruction is necessarily regenerative, and every film is indicative of the infinite performance before the true Camera: but onto what blank screen, and into what theater, reeking of artificial butter, white noise of wrapper-cracks and mechanical humming, is this Film projected? By what silent audience watched?

PROFILE: Chris Hund of PAXICO RECORDS.

Words and photos by Alexandra Blair

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Above: Chris Hund with his tape duplicator, the Kingdom One Touch, from the early days of PAXICO RECORDS

This week, The Living Gallery caught up with Chris Hund, the enigma behind Bushwick-based Paxico Records. The label currently includes an eclectic roster of international artists and collaborators who engage in multimedia explorations of art and sound. 

Despite an imposing catalog of nearly 30 releases, the label has humble beginnings–Paxico Records actually grew out of a multimedia thesis project Hund undertook while studying photography at the Rhode Island School of Design in 2009.

“I decided I wanted to do a project about a fake musician, so I started making an archive about this person’s life and wrote a little backstory,” says Hund, now 28.  “I started making different pieces of memorabilia and folklore and as I was making the story I decided the character, Sicil, needed a label to be on. I just decided on a whim I’d call it Paxico, which is the town i’m from in Kansas. It’s super small–population 200–but it meant home to me.”

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ABOVE: Early artifacts from the life of Sicil Vibration aka Sic Vibe, the musician Hund brought to life for his thesis project at RISD.

Hund was responsible for creating an origin myth for the mysterious musician and fleshing it out with both physical artifacts, like those pictured above, and digital content. “Part of [the project] was propagating the folklore online about this artist and having other personalities come into the conversation and say ‘I heard about this guy!’” Hund posted his own music in Sicilian Vibration Youtube videos and on the artist’s MySpace page and even created fake accounts and blogs to leave feedback and instigate a conversation. Eventually, Hund says, people began to take notice.

“Friends of mine started approaching me and saying ‘Dude, you have a record label and you’re not going to let me be on it?’ So,” Hund says, “I just started building up those same stories about my friends.” Paxico has since grown to be an eclectic label known for producing, above all else, authentic music.

Since relocating to Brooklyn after graduation, Hund has approached every endeavor with a similar process to that which birthed the now-legendary Sicil Vibration and describes each release as “a blend of reality [and] mythology around the music and the artists.” Take PAXICO’s first official release, KVZE‘s ..The Smudge Specialist.. whose mythology includes a radical cosmic journey: “This 16 track collection was recently excavated by a Mars rover and after being brought back to earth and inspected, the tape was found to be harvesting a rich variety of new and exotic Smudges. The Smudges and tape soon were given by an anonymous space explorer to Paxico Records’ shaky hands.”

Back in the days of those first releases, Hund undertook every part of the production process, from dubbing the tapes on his TELEX ACC-2000 XL and printing the j-card inserts to distributing the finished product.

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ABOVE: Hund in his production studio-cum-bedroom in his Bushwick abode (BELOW).

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Paxico’s latest releases have involved a mix of outsourced and in house production with each choice depending on what will best suit each artist’s myth and vision. After nearly five years of heading Paxico, Hund says things have gotten much easier. “I’ve hit, kind of, a groove now,” he says, which has allowed him to expand the scope of the label’s mythology and folklore to include clothing, zines, and more elaborate packaging. “With each release, I try to figure out something new to do so it doesn’t get boring.”

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ABOVE: Paxico’s latest release “Cave Art” by the DJM Trio comes packaged with a ritual candle to help guide listeners into the cave. The tape and its liner notes feature Hund’s original pixel folk art. Releases from this year also included such thoughtful oddities as a custom designed handkerchief and a temporary tattoo of an artist’s grade school photograph (all available through the Paxico website). 

“I enjoyed making the stuff all by hand in the beginning. Then I started to try new production techniques by sending it out, printing on thicker board with fold out J-cards, and stuff like that,” says Hund. “Now that I’ve figured out that process I’m ready to use that knowledge to go back and do it all myself again.”

Above everything, Hund maintains that Paxico is a labor of love. Unlike most other labels, profits are split evenly with the artists and much of Hund’s take is put back into the next release. “I just try to take care of the artists and put out cool stuff,” he says.

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Although running the label has cut down the amount of time he can dedicate to his own music, Paxico has given Hund the opportunity to further his efforts in the visual arts.  “I’ve always been really interested in folk art both visually and with music,” says Hund. “I think a lot of what I do stems from there.”

Using a pixel art app on his iPhone, Hund draws from an eclectic melange of visual influences to create works like those pictured below.

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ABOVE: Hund’s pixel art. “I’ve always really like quilts, folk art, and geometric art. It kind of turned out to be that pixel art was a really nice meld of those things because I could get a lot of primitive forms and focus a lot more on color.” Artwork courtesy of the artist, see more on Hund’s Instagram

“When I first started doing the music for the Paxico project, I was making around 5 beats a day. That’s all I really wanted to do. Then, through working on the label and putting out other friends of mine that I thought were more deserving, music took the backburner. I could make time to do that,” Hund says, “but I’m just having more fun focusing on the visual and production side.”

Hund has been using his designs for Paxico ever since. “I think it makes a lot of sense with our philosophy of futurism and folklore.“

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ABOVE: Hund at his Bushwick home.

Between his responsibilities with the label, his job as an app developer, and his own art practice, Hund keeps busy, getting help from his roommates with whom he often collaborates. The house frequently hosts Paxico gatherings, including their raucous POWWAWs—gatherings that center around live streams of recording artists performing from behind lush visual projections.

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ABOVE: Suzi Analogue performing at Paxico’s most recent internationally-streamed POWWAW for which Hund creates projections.  Photo courtesy of Chris Hund.

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The label’s next release, a SIGMUND Washington tape, will be out sometime early next year and will premiere at a release party in Philadelphia on January 30. While the majority of the releases to date have been on cassette tape–which Hund considers to be a folk medium for its accessibility–with intermittent digital features, the label will be aiming for vinyl releases in the near future.

Also in the works is a 24 hour powwaw livestream that will leap frog all over the world, showcasing Paxico artists playing live in their respective cities. “It will potentially start in Japan, go to Paris, possibly London, then New Zealand, then New York, and then to the West Coast,” says Hund. “We’ve built up a pretty great network of artists.”

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Anything and everything PAXICO can be found at the Paxico Records website and on the label’s Facebook page.

Living Gallery and CAMBA’s December Coat Drive

 

In lieu of the plummeting temperatures this winter season, The Living Gallery partnered with CAMBA to host a coat drive to bring cold weather clothing to those in need. Here are some highlights from our coat drive earlier this month and ways you can continue to help throughout the winter season.

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Living Gallery owner Nyssa Frank (center) with CAMBA’s Dara Crowder (left) and Christina Hoodho (right).

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CAMBA’s Art Therapist and Recreation Supervisor, Christina Hoodho (pictured above) organized a group outing for the women of the shelter. At the event, women were able to sort through donations and get suited up for the cold winter weather.

The coat drive marked the second collaboration between the gallery and CAMBA. As Hoodho noted, many of the women present at the coat drive had also participated in BYO Art, held earlier this year, which gave participants in the shelter’s art program the opportunity to display work in a gallery setting.

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Despite the overwhelming success of the coat drive, Hoodho noted that the shelter is still in need of all heavy winter clothing, especially larger coats–sizes Extra Large and up. Due to limited storage space, the shelter will only be able to accept donations that are most needed and those interested in donating should contact Hoodho via the contact info listed below:

Christina Hoodho, MA, ATR-BC, LCAT

Recreation Supervisor/ Art Therapist

CAMBA Broadway House
718-453-4870 X24237
christinah@camba.org

Holiday Flea at Saint Vitus!

Written and photographed by Alexandra Blair

Last night was the holiday flea market at Saint Vitus in Greenpoint featuring a thorough roster of local artisans and vendors across a smattering of mediums. Support locally made and curated goods this season and check out some of the highlights below in case you missed it!

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Courtney Gamble of MessQueen

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Dana Glover, Illustrator

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Handmade ornaments by Siren Sewing

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Genavieve White of Candy Drip

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Amazing hand thrown ceramics by Garrett DeLooze of DeLooze Pottery

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Nathaniel Shannon, photographer.

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Some delicious offerings by Dualiteas

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Embroidered pillows, handmade by Meagan Colby of Pillow Baby

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Melissa Litwin of A Limitless Win getting crafty.

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The next installment of the flea will be sometime near Valentine’s Day with details to follow. In the meantime, you can find more information about the vendors at this year’s holiday flea on the Saint Vitus Facebook page.