“AS OF A NOW” shows Baltimore rowhouses not vacant, but full of generations of “quiet stories”
Film, debuting at Light City, honors the cultural memory of the city’s black residents amid demolition and development
Above: Projected onto a replica of an abandoned rowhouse, Elissa Blount Moorhead’s “As of a Now” aims “to honor the century-long history of African-American life in Baltimore.”
Baltimore artist Elissa Blount Moorhead aims big with “AS OF A NOW,” the unique blend of animation and live action she is debuting at Light City tomorrow:
“I hope my work can articulate and re-present what I see as the multiplicity and nobility of every-day Black life trying to piece itself together,” she writes in the booklet accompanying the 15-minute film.
Projected onto a 10′ x 7′ replica of a vacant building, it’s a cross-sectioned view depicting “vernacular life, movements, and the ways people conduct familiar rituals such as family care, gathering, grooming, mourning, conflict, and celebration.”
They’re tender and powerful images for a shrinking city which now has, by official estimate, 16,000 vacant houses (and more than double that, according to some experts).
And where the razing of blighted rowhouses is celebrated by government and some community leaders, but also questioned by those who raise issues of gentrification and displacement and ask whether longtime residents will benefit from demolition-based policies.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, for example, assembled the media at the 1000 block of North Stockton Street in Sandtown-Wincherster last month.
The event was the razing of a block of two-story rowhouses built between 1886 and 1896, undertaken as part of the state’s city-wide demolition initiative, Project CORE.
AS OF A NOW uses artifacts and images to challenge people to see something else besides dilapidation and cleared land.
“The quotidian and meditative images inspire the public to re-imagine their meaning,” Moorhead wrote, “and give voice to the remaining communal memories that are familiar and sacred and celebrate their evolution over time.”
Dignity of Day-to-Day Life
Moorhead’s film (#38 on the BGE Light Art Walk, at Pier 5 on Pratt Street) is just one component of this year’s Light City – Baltimore’s annual outdoor festival celebrating art, entertainment innovation.
Now in its third year, Light City runs from tomorrow, April 14, through Saturday, April 21, at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
(The Neighborhood Lights program, providing illuminated arts experiences in 14 neighborhoods, took place from April 6-8.)
A fixture on the Baltimore arts scene, Moorhead was for a time the executive director of the Station North Arts Entertainment District.
She is a founding partner of TNEG Films, which creates films and time-based installations. One of them was the Jay Z’s “4:44” video, which Moorehead co-directed with Arthur Jafa, her producing/director partner.
“The film challenges the notion, in the face of gentrification, that urban buildings are neutral, commodified spaces.”
In a television interview, Moorhead said she wanted viewers of AS OF A NOW to see the challenges, disappointments and triumphs of “families that have been here since Frederick Douglass.”
“It’s really about telling quiet stories, particularly of people of color or maligned communities in general, who are often portrayed in sort of dramatic or comedic spaces,” she said.
“This film is really about day-to-day life, and so it’s not a story line that’s linear where lots of things happen,” she said.
Instead, she said, the piece dwells on the mundane “to sort of be able to see what our humanity is like when there’s not a gaze, a particular gaze.”