Paul Farber, a Postdoctoral Writing Fellow at Haverford, answers all your questions about the most exciting First Friday since FAB had that cooking class in Reading Terminal Market.
1.Can you tell me a little bit about the event? What/Who/Where/When?
American Rubble is an artist residency, symposium, and temporary exhibition on Tuesday, Dec 2 and Friday, Dec 5 that seeks to explore the ways we engage the economic and architectural transformations occurring currently in many contemporary cities, especially Philadelphia. The events center around artist Stephanie Syjuco’s developing project, American Rubble, in which she seeks to collect and archive pieces of urban rubble, to convey and compare histories of the present. Syjuco will be in collaboration and conversation with students from several Haverford classes, and a group of prominent scholars/artists of cultural memory including Camilo J. Vergara, Susanne Slavick, Joshua Clover, and Salamishah Tillet.
2. When did you start organizing American Rubble? How did the idea start?
I first discovered Syjuco’s work when researching American artists who engage the history and memory of the Berlin Wall. Her series “Berlin Wall” was a critical and creative intervention against Cold War triumphalism, as well as an invitation to consider the multiple ways we imagine and consume history. Syjuco and I began corresponding about her project, and she became one of the artists included in the exhibition “The Wall in Our Heads” I curated this Fall in Washington D.C. (Which will be traveling to Haverford’s CFG Gallery next Fall.) We met for the first time in Berlin last summer, but for months prior had discussed next directions for this work. We realized we had a shared investment into questions about contemporary urban reinvestment and gentrification, and connected those conversations with other faculty members here at Haverford and Bryn Mawr, and critical thinkers in the Philadelphia area. This project is a direct collaboration between many faculty across disciplines (ranging from History to Chemistry to Art to the Library) and involves members of the larger Philadelphia community.
3. How did you choose the site of Ryan Gym for the temporary art exhibit?
My office is located in Ryan Gym, and even after over a year of being on campus, each day when I enter the building I see something new that catches my eye. Sometimes, it’s a fascinating architectural detail, or a new beam of light, or a different student activity in the gym, but I find it remarkable that a building so tied to the past traditions of Haverford can be so dynamic. Ryan is located at the physical heart of the campus and continues to invite speculation on what it could be for our campus – and its immediate future includes an exciting transformation into a well-resourced space for student creative and collaborative work. We want to celebrate that approaching evolution. When Syjuco visited Haverford back in August, we spent a lot of time in Ryan and thought about it as a building that could both be a venue for this project and is itself a statement about the passage of time. Our goal is to temporarily transform the space, to respect it and also create a venue for critical and collective dialogue.
4. What is so American about rubble? Why not trash or garbage in the title?
The title is an invitation to thinking about American culture and the future legacies of this era. The title signifies in a few directions – it is play on the mythologized cultural figure of the “American Rebel” to think about the causes and values of urban building projects; an ode to symposium speaker Camilo Vergara’s powerful work American Ruins; and an invitation to think about the physical condition of American cities that experience shocks and upheavals, even as they regrow.
Syjuco has pointed out previously, “Rubble is a transitional state – debris created by tearing something down. It is meant to be cleared away, an architectural folly, a failure of construction that is stigmatized and not to be looked at. By salvaging these objects, [my] project aims to critique the propensity to create souvenirs out of almost any event, instead turning the public’s attention on to objects that are a reminder of collapse.”
5. What do you hope Haverford students will walk away with after attending any or all of the three events?
We hope Haverford students and faculty involved in the project see themselves as co-producers of an emergent form of creative civic engagement. The participants are at once collaborators, conversants, critics, writers, and neighbors along Lancaster Avenue. Many of us involved with this co-curricular project, linking Syjuco and students across classes, also hope our students value working together to build platforms for critical thinking and creative expression. And finally, we hope Haverfordians comes out to view this transformation of Ryan Gym firsthand on December 5.
For more information, visit hav.to/americanrubble