SPACE IS THE PLACE
by Billee Sharp
Last week I thought I was on the brink of having a personal revelation about space, it was very exciting. It was also had something to do with reading Robert Anton Wilson who , like all those brainy trippers always gets me fired up, confused and well.. excited. Something momentous seemed to be on the tip of my conscious mind: the potency of re-conceptualizing or revised my spatial awareness. All kinds of pertinent examples were occurring to me: street artists re-defining art, ravers setting up sound systems and effortlessly practicing Immediatism, the internets giving us an extra social dimension. I just couldn’t quite figure out whether I was really seeing ‘space’ differently or just looking closer at it, or perhaps ambiently jonesing for the opportunity to indulge in a little alternative reality therapy, which is known to coax perception and can reveal the mystic truths. This not being a viable option I decided to take a load off my over-burdened intellect and watch Space Is the Place.
We’ve had a copy of Sun Ra’s notable and obscure movie since our eldest son was a baby: it was a present from our upstairs neighbor, a DJ and a friend , who went to some lengths to dub a VHS copy for our infant. Not an obvious fisher-price choice of gift but a success from the get-go: oblivious to the vagaries and racial discourse of the plot, our toddler favored that movie and watched it over and over as he pushed his little trains around their tracks. Much later, when he applied to the School of the Arts, he cited it as the reason he wanted to make movies, and continues to enthuse about Sun Ra as a visionary artist and one of our greatest musicians. As for me, I wasn’t expecting a revelation about space when I sat down to watch the movie again, I already knew the plot and the inconsistencies which arise from the directorial cuts and inserts. Nevertheless Sun Ra’s fantastic mythology of the planet he founded for black people, resonated completely with that noodling idea of potential space that I’d been chasing round: we create space for our ideas and our spiritual reality even when we can’t conjure up the physical reality.
When we take on a physical space, like street artists do, another dimension becomes apparent- this dirty old wall is now a piece of art. This is thrilling to me.
I know that my interest is social space, and that the worthiest discourse I’ve found comes from the anarchic philosophy of Hakim Bey, who has the magic bag of mental tricks for creating space. Immediatism, his brainchild suggests a policy of immediate social interactions to counter the anti-social tendencies of consumerist capitalism. He encourages us to create our own temporary autonomous zones for this very purpose. This intention to free our feeble minds from the controlling mechanisms of “the system” is, in Bey’s mind, connected with art:
“Real Art is play & play is one of the most immediate of all experiences’.
When we first arrived in San Francisco there was a crew of artists and musicians who were called SPAZ, (the Semi Permanent Autonomous Zone), they leased a floor of an ex-sweatshop on Market St where immediate social relations flourished in what seemed like a 24 hour continuum of art, music and communal being. If Bey had ever heard about these guys he would have given them a gold star. He must applaud the Burning Man initiative too, he is probs best mates with Larry Harvey, after all, Black Rock City must be the biggest ever TAZ, and it shows no signs of shrinkage.
As easy as it is for me to feel a distant contact high from the laudable activities of the Burners, I also feel some despair over the spaces we fail to create: the framework for Palestinians and Israeli’s to live peaceably as neighbors, the landscape for equality, the vacuum in our welfare system where there should be a place to take care of everybody’s basic needs.
And then there is the internet, we have created a Ballardian reality where much of our realtime activity has passed into a new territory, not physical but real in a way hitherto unknown to the species. Online, potential cyberspace opens up all around us, but the heavy traffic still winds a well-beaten track through terrain familiar in the off-line world: mercantile and media- saturated, the only new kid on the block is the unstoppable social networking phenomenon. Our avatars, our cyberselves, represent us and vicariously we interact, developing new language to explain our behavior, de-friending, so to speak.
So it seems art, or desire for making art, is the catalyst that successfully creates our new spaces both theoretic and figurative. I think of Robert Graves “The White Goddess’ and his search for the beginnings of poetry and art. He holds that the sacred grove, was the space that the ancients created as the wellspring for art; that both the Druids and the ancient Greek priesthoods provided seclusion in the sacred grove and ‘it was the sound of the wind in the trees’ which inspired poetry. Great thoughts and visions seem appropriate in such an idyllic setting, but art also comes out of the grim actuality of industrialization, whole dimensions have emerged: electronic music, our twenty-first century soundtrack, new sounds and tonal oscillations, the sacred communal language re-invented in our late and desperate times.
Last Friday I spend the afternoon with two very little girls, it was the first time I’d looked after them alone. We tipped out the contents of my handbag and found a roll of free movie tickets. It was well within the three year-old’s grasp to understand what these little cards were and we played going to the movies for quite some while.
“Do you want to come to the movies?” she asked me sweetly and repeatedly, passing me a ticket which I then passed to baby sister, who, demonstrating her dexterity, would pass it right back to me.
We also sang some made-up loony songs about baby walking, because she practically is. The movie ticket game was golden though, the joy of giving away free tix never dimmed for big sister, but eventually she added another question, “What movie will we see?”
And my answer, of course, “Space is the Place!”
Image Credit: Sun Ra at New England Conservatory, February 27, 1992. Photo by Pandelis Karayorgis Creative Commons