Monday, August 20, 2012
Roadside Attractions by Su Zi
Even those of us who are most reclusive have been forced to confront the economic realities of our times: fuel prices having repercussions on out- the- door investments at any emporium of groceries, other consumables; even at-home confrontations with utilities, taxation and individual transportation needs. There have been protests—fortunately—live and online, but the onus for change has been placed on the very power structure that is responsible for the duress and reconfiguration of economic caste in our country. We act as if we are children, we have been dis-empowered without our awareness; yet, in truth, we can go far beyond reliance on those tough and hardy souls who camp out and risk arrest to stand as the voice of our despair.
A television ad has the slogan “what’s in your wallet?’——yet consideration of this slogan de-contextualized from the advertisement is a viable tool for reclamation of the economic power of each of us: we can protest with each penny spent by how and where we spend it.
It is not uncommon these days to see people camped out at roadside with their wares on display. Often times these goods are items of desperation: culled clothing and household goods, a sacrifice of tools, or a single item will be displayed with a hand lettered sign—a car, a boat, a trailer. Most notable are trucks of produce in season—these are the lovingly raised crops of local farmers whose production total is too small to enter the grinding machine of food distribution, and these folks are a crucial first step in any effort to take economic agency into the hands of each of us; for these are the seeds that are not factory raised with as much of a deluge of pesticide, herbicide, steroids; in some cases, this is organic food, raised on heritage seeds (instead of genetically modified seeds); and now there has appeared the most amazing soul—someone selling their art at roadside.
The intersection is a busy enough corner. The artists sit with two tables under a sunroof made of tent poles and a tarp. Standing a few paces toward the road is a handmade gaming table of finished but unstained oak, with a drawer on each side and hand made chess pieces set ready for play. In the drawer are hand made checkers. The creator, Tim, regularly submits job applications for the areas of his previous employ—as a plumber, a sheet metal worker, a cook. The game table draws glances, it is a distinctive work; nonetheless, the big box mentality sees too much of a challenge here, because the game table is not at a brick and mortar emporium of acceptable handcraft that also sells mold formed garden pots from Mexico.
Also on the game table, and hanging from the edges of the tarp and generously heaped on the two tables in the shade, are other art objects—some the creation of the collaboration between Tim and his partner Tracey, others the collaboration between Tim , Tracey and Tracey’s mother: these are wooden rolling pins with hand painted images, or plaques with burned patterns and hand painted hues. It is a style of art generally called Cottage Chic, or Rustic, but more importantly is its genuine charm—there’s no post-modern, urban angst in this work—it is meant to amuse, to delight, to warm and it succeeds with the same unassuming truth as a family meal: simple and soul filling.
Alas, on this one Saturday, not a single vehicle stops for the five hours Tim and Tracey sit offering art directly to their community: they wave at those who look, they chat and smoke and read and add hangers to other works—a nice rendering of an owl on an oak shingle, a series of hooks painted kitchen diner style and featuring artfully bent flatware—but no one even stops. The vehicles that pass by are mostly recent pick up trucks and the 21st century version of a station wagon; some of these look too upscale for the area and will undoubtedly be repossessed—the neighborhood is dotted with desperate-before-foreclosure for sale signs.
What we each need to do—and what five hours of the drivers in this community failed to do—is realize that money spent in our communities stays among us, slows the feed to what Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath called the monster that must keep feeding and growing, what we have come to call corporations (that have superseded nations, have superseded individuals). Of course, art that has not been sanctioned by some gallery, by some appropriating corporation, is seen as suspect: here lies the root of our re-education, our re-empowerment—we must buy local art. We must buy oranges from the local retired dentist, tomatoes from the downsized and disenfranchised, hand made soap. We must spend our money at roadside, or farmer’s markets. It’s our economic lives we are fighting for, and it’s past due time to take up our dollars in the fight.