An exhibit of projects from the Mission Year Arts Team at Xnihilo Gallery at 2115 Taft St from July 8-30, and at MECA (1600 Kane St.) from July 31-August 30.
Vacancies and Sacrament of the Ordinary explore Houston’s First Ward community through image and text, sharing an often unheard story of neighbor and neighborhood.
Vacancies exhibits public-guerilla poetry installations in the First Ward by Matthew Gundlach and Sacrament of the Ordinary exhibits Kate Ambrose’s photo-journal stories of First Ward women.
The gallery also features Tired Eyes: three collaborative pieces, with photos by Kate and poems by Matt.
Vacancies: Public Poetry Installations
Vision sets out
walking the dreamwaters:
not on the far shore but upriver,
a place not evoked, discovered.
Denise Levertov, “Relearning the Alphabet”
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
Compassion requires vision. Not as an abstraction that we associate with being a “visionary,” a seer, the ability to see other realities—the future, the supernatural—but a matter of attention in the present. Compassion starts with looking—allowing our eyes to receive what is before us. From looking, an act of submission, we turn to seeing. Attention lets in the light to shine on our imagination. Jesus tells us that the Samaritan “saw” the man on the road to Jericho—and his eye, attentive, did not just look at the man, but moved him to compassionate action. It takes a prophetic imagination that the priest and the Levite lacked—they looked, but their imagination was captive to the false narratives, so when they looked, they saw not a neighbor to love, an equal, a neighbor. Jesus says that they saw him, but they must not have truly seen him, but saw him according to eyes of inattention head and heart directed by dominant [hegemonic] narratives.
See, act. See, say.
There enters the poem, an act of attention.
And now I see that poetry is a form of attention. And, too, I believe that poems are presences, themselves the consequence of attention, themselves the consequence of vivid presentations, events as may be called, in Dame Julian of Norwich’s word, “showings.” (Donald Revell, The Art of Attention)
Not using poetry for a cause (“to use is to misuse” – Levertov), but presenting the what is seen ( the language given to me from eye and ear attentive to this unique space) allowing the same act of presence and attention for the reader.
What is it that we are looking at? The First Ward. A neighborhood. One oft-overlooked; for decades a ghetto. (Drawing attention to broken social space takes a certain Samaritan eye.)
The First Ward is a gentrifying neighborhood, with juxtapositions in wealth along racial lines that are painfully clear. The vacant lot was to me the clearest symbol of this change—embodying the tensions of transition, ownership, and identity, being mediated by text (that is, the commercial text of a real estate sign). The vacant lot is where Vacancies started: adding creative language into the visual format of the commercial sign was a way to stand within this space as resistance and as play.
In the Vacancies project poetry may be read as protest, but that is extremely limiting. Poetry is also play. Social, political, yes, but also personal—because it invades a politically charged space, trespassing on the territory of commercial text with the play of creative language; trespassing on the walkway of negative social change, walking backwards, saying it different having seen it different.
Vacancies only asks that we pay attention, and be willing to submit our eyes to the images and our ears to sounds. No abstractions.
As a part of Mission Year, I was given the opportunity to live and serve among the poor for a year. I also, as a member of the pilot Arts Team, took on the task of serving the community through creating. The poet, I believe, is the servant of the work (he/she does not use the poem, the poem uses him/her). So this year, I made things. This is what happened.