Michael Smit
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PROJECTS

WE THE PEOPLE (OF CALIFORNIA AVE)

This project was created by me for and inserted in what is regionally known as a medium size shopping and dining street in Palo Alto with a still unique and somewhat 'old-fashioned' character and quality.

For me, this We the people project was based on my basic understanding that any place in large part is as it is, because of how it continually gets to be created through the choices of the people that share and use it; not only by those in official positions but also, and maybe even more importantly so, by how all people 'unofficially' use and relate to a place.

I was interested in working with this for me local urban area in particular because of its distinct identity that always seems on the cusp of some upcoming change, and specifically to make visible the 'us', the often so 'invisible' and untapped people presence on which places depend.

This particular area might seem to primarily be ('merely') a commercial use area, and secondarily maybe a local transit corridor for people on the way to pass through, to go somewhere nearby. In its general use, it is however as any shared place: a place of value exchange and transaction, a site of personal experience, desire, and production of meaning. This is what I, as an artist wanted to tap in to, make visible, comment on, and participate in. Art is my discipline and it is all about meaning.

The project title refers to the first version of the American constitution, as drawn up in 1787, being a corner stone of the early designs for a new and independant America, that famously starts with "We the People of the United States" (", in Order to form a more perfect Union, ... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America ... "). Aside from how representative this 'We" was at the time, of all those present in the region, this text is a powerful piece of the American identity that I decided to relate to, and make relevant on a local scale.

In this project I, with a few volunteers, related to, listened to, and photographically portrayed some of the random people encountered in this little piece of America. The resulting photos and quotes were edited and arranged by me into one daily expanding digital slide show, that was backlit projected each evening on a large storefront-wide screen. The visible slide show temporarily 'living' and growing on the facade made the anonymous participants a part of the local architecture, gave those people we met in the street an almost physical and enduring presence, and linked them as collaborators in the providing of content to this part of the world that was shared with their peers that happened to see it.

To be able to see the slde show projection it had to be at least somewhat dark outside, so during the day it was only shown inside, on a smaller screen. A local supermarket had donated drinks and snacks for the opening and there-after. Being temporarily headquartered in an empty store space on the same street, part of this project was to open up that space so it could function as an informal gathering, meeting, and sharing place. It turned out there was interest in such an open and community centered function without obvious agenda but to reflect on the area. It was amazing to see people excited about their own portraits and those of others, everybody seemed to know at least one of those people portrayed in the show. Where else could you go and just be welcomed to be part of and reflect on the street? Impulse walk-in visitors often added to the project 's growing collection of portraits and testimonies. A street-specific poem was wriiten by two walk-in teenage girlfriends on-site, which became a poster hung up in the street.

A 'secret' and so far unfullfilled wish of mine is for some party to come forward and say: "Here is the money for you to turn this space into a more permanent art & worldmaking center with attention for local people and resources, as well as for creative and interesting guests from beyond that can give lectures, create exhibitions, lead workshops, or in other innovative ways can be sources of vitalizing infusions, and so add to the present and future quality and continual enrichment of this area. I feel every neighborhood should host at least one temporary visiting artist (used in the widest sense) in residence each year. I can imagine embedding or injecting such people in different ways in the local community, one of them being through such a fixed local world-making and neighborhood-vitalizing art base; another way would be to temporarily insert artists in existing local institutions and businesses.

Although this local We the people project was originally going to be shown for only the last few days of 2006, because of surprising community interest and support it could be extended until mid January 2007, for a total duration of three weeks.

The volunteers that helped in the making of photo portraits and gathering of quotes along California Ave, or in the manning of the project space were:
Mira Datta & Nion, Patricia Griffin, Corinne Minor, Vera van Schijndel, and Mike Schneer.

Organizational and material support was kindly given by:
Robert Perret / Java puri Bali, Ronna Devincenzi / CAADA (California Avenue Area Development Association) / AK Realty, Terry Shuchat / Keeble & Shuchat Photography, Justin Olson & Wendy Ju, Warren & Evelyn Wong, JD Rai / Copy America, Jim Stevens / Country Sun, and the Public Works department of the City of Palo Alto.


 
  PROJECTS
We the people (of California Ave)
Local Colors
How have you been an artist today?
PCMS
Red States; Lens; Focus
Sidewalk Drawings
Library Exploration
Sittings
I/O - a public video art program
Homeless Signs
 
     

     
 
OVERVIEW
 
     
  Title:  
  We the people (of California Ave)
 
     
  Place & Dates:  
  Palo Alto
393 California Ave, and the four city block California Ave corridor between El Camino Real and the California Avenue train station.
 
  Dec. 29, 2006 - Jan. 15, 2007  
     
  Project consisted out of:  
  Engaging and inviting people on California Avenue to have their photo portrait taken and share any feedback concerning this street, as content used in the project. Anyone who wanted to was also welcome to participate in the same activity, and to submit their photos and words.
The collected photographic and textual representations were edited and arranged by me into image and text slides and presented publicly in a daily growing slideslow.
After sunset this evolving 'silent movie' was digitally and backlit projected on a large 10' x 8' screen that covered the entire front of an empty store space, for a period of three weeks.
During the day the slide show was projected on a smaller screen inside the space which was open in the afternoons for people to gather and talk.
Over a hundred people portraits and quotes have been collected and included in the last version of this public 'movie' in progress.
 
     

We the people; Portrait No. 119

We the people; Portrait No. 120

We the people; Portrait No. 105
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