Martinez Lopez, M. A. (2012, March 2). Tras las huellas de las okupaciones en new york city (1): Abc no rio [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.miguelangelmartinez.net/...
Tras las huellas de las okupaciones en New York City (1): ABC No Rio
La okupación de edificios abandonados en Estados Unidos es un fenómeno menos conocido y analizado que en los países europeos. Existen pocas publicaciones al respecto y, además, se interpreta, necesariamente, dentro del contexto de los conflictos de clase y raciales de ese país. En la ultima visita a New York que algunos miembros de SqEK emprendimos, en febrero de 2012, tuvimos la oportunidad de hablar largo y tendido con varios de los protagonistas de la okupación pasada y presente en esta ciudad. No faltaron menciones a oleadas de okupación en otros lugares como Philadelphia, San Francisco (como las relatadas en el libro de Andrew Corr, No Trespassing) y Oakland (en particular, las tentativas recientes impulsadas por el movimiento Occupy de esa ciudad, posiblemente uno de los más radicales e interesantes de los surgidos el pasado año). Sin embargo, me centraré ahora en el movimiento de okupación del Lower East Side de Manhattan (también denominado, de forma más popular, Lorryside o Loisaida) pues es tanto el que más atención académica ha recibido (el artículo más citado de Hans Pruijt, precisamente, lo compara con Amsterdam) como el que más oportunidad tuvimos de conocer “in situ” durante unos días intensos de múltiples debates públicos y conversaciones informales (https://sqek.squat.net).
Alan W. Moore, un historiador del arte que lleva varios años estudiando todo tipo de centros sociales en Europa (con su proyecto House Magic: Bureau of Foreign Correspondence: http://sites.google.com/site/housem...), organizó todos los eventos con extremada diligencia y gran entusiasmo. El primero tuvo lugar en ABC No Rio (http://www.abcnorio.org/), en la calle Rivington 156 donde Alan junto a Steven Englander, el actual coordinador “liberado”, y otros artistas okuparon este edificio en 1980. Técnicamente no fue una okupación en toda regla sino que habían solicitado permiso al ayuntamiento para utilizarlo temporalmente con una exposición artística, decidiendo quedarse luego en el mismo... hasta la actualidad. El acuerdo inicial ocurrió después de una okupación previa en la calle Delancey, en otra propiedad municipal, donde se celebró la exposición “Real Estate Show”. El ayuntamiento cedió el espacio de Rivington 156 a cambio de un alquiler mensual, pero dejó de aceptarlo a partir de 1994 porque pretendía expulsar a los ocupantes. Fue entonces cuando algunos miembros de ABC No Rio decidieron okupar las viviendas de las plantas superiores durante los 4 años siguientes, hasta que, mediante batallas legales y acciones directas simultáneas, llegaron a un nuevo acuerdo con la autoridades municipales del departamento de vivienda.
De este modo, entre 1997 y 2006 las negociaciones prosperaron hasta que se confirmó la transmisión de la titularidad del inmueble al colectivo de ABC No Rio con la condición de rehabilitarlo. Lo que a primera vista podría parecer una sustanciosa concesión, en realidad les produjo muchos quebraderos de cabeza pues conseguir el dinero para la rehabilitación era misión casi imposible. Aunque todavía se pueden encontrar en sus pasillos unos trípticos donde explican el proyecto arquitectónico y solicitan donaciones, a fecha actual Steve se congratulaba de anunciar que ya disponen de los 5 millones de dólares que necesitan. 3 de esos millones, para más precisión, los ha aportado el propio ayuntamiento. El resto ha sido recaudado lentamente a través de fundaciones, mecenas y simpatizantes. Todo un desafío económico para un colectivo con un presupuesto anual en torno a los $ 80.000 y con un único trabajador en plantilla (http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/02...).
La vetusta estructura del edificio, no obstante, ha resistido en pie durante estas tres últimas décadas de “okupación”, aunque es notable su vulnerabilidad y la necesidad de una reforma urgente. Según nos anunciaron, todas las habitaciones (como el archivo de fanzines o el taller de bicis en el sótano, por ejemplo) y los graffitti que decoran cada rincón tienen ya fecha de caducidad, pues esperan concluir las obras el próximo verano. Como se trata más de una reconstrucción “ex novo” que de una simple reforma, no resultaba extraño apreciar en los rostros de Steve y Alan una mezcla de satisfacción y de nostalgia por la desaparición de un espacio que ha sido central en la vida política y cultural alternativa del Lorryside. En gran medida ABC No Rio (cuyo nombre procede de unas inscripciones medio borrosas que figuraban en una pared próxima y que eran el residuo del anuncio de un despacho latino de “Abogado Con Notario”) ha sido, sobre todo, un lugar de encuentro para artistas de toda índole (desde artistas plásticos hasta escenario imprescindible de bandas punk y hardcore) y para organizaciones sociales variadas (las de huertos y jardines comunitarios, por ejemplo), pero es difícil identificarlo con un centro social autogestionado y okupado semejante a los predominantes en Italia o España: más que asamblea, es un colectivo reducido el que lo gestiona; la autofinanciación de las actividades y del principal coordinador son también prioritarias, por más que muchas actividades sean de acceso gratuito.
En el tríptico donde solicitan contribuciones económicas al proyecto de ABC No Rio el discurso predominante consiste en presentarse como un “centro artístico comunitario” enfatizando también su carácter alternativo en tanto que “lugar donde la gente comparte recursos e ideas en una atmósfera de camaradería y apoyo mutuo”. El proyecto de reconstrucción del edificio se enuncia como un reto de “diseño sostenible” que pretende mostrarle a NYC y al mundo que ese tipo de arquitectura “no es sólo para los edificios de oficinas o para urbanizaciones residenciales de lujo, sino también para pequeños espacios populares abiertos y accesible al público”. De una manera más tangencial mencionan su vinculación con las experiencias de okupación al exponer que el arquitecto responsable de la obra, Paul Castrucci, fue co-fundador de la “Bullet Space gallery and squat” y también el arquitecto de “varios edificios previamente okupados en el Lower East Side que actualmente funcionan como cooperativas de renta limitada”.
También se pueden apreciar las vinculaciones con la okupación en una entrevista en la que Steven Englander señala la intención inicial de hacer exposiciones artísticas fuera de los canales burocráticos, mediante la auto-organización de los artistas y con bajo coste. A la vez, Steve es presentado en su faceta de editor de una colección de ensayos sobre la historia de la okupación (http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/02...). Tanto en esa entrevista como en la web se insiste a menudo en la estrecha vinculación entre arte y política como una seña de identidad de este centro social. Esa singularidad, que proviene de su origen de la okupación previa realizada en 1979 en la calle Delancey como denuncia de la especulación y la gentrificación, distingue a este espacio de otras galerías artísticas que han proliferado en el barrio a medida que éste ha ido escalando precios en el mercado inmobiliario. ABC ha estado conectado con otras okupaciones de viviendas y hasta las ha albergado en sus propias instalaciones, pero esa memoria aparece casi siempre en un segundo plano pues una presentación pública más convencional como “espacio artístico comunitario y colaborativo” les ha permitido mantener, sin mayores conflictos, sus acuerdos con el gobierno municipal.
Algunos documentos sobre ABC No Rio:
“Committee for the Real Estate Show, 1980
...This is a short-term occupation of vacant city-managed property. The action is extra-legal-it illuminates no legal issues, calls for no "rights." It is pre-emptive and insurrectionary. The action is dedicated to Elizabeth Mangum, a middle-aged Black American killed by police and marshals as she resisted eviction in Flatbush last year. The intention of this action is to show that artists are willing and able to place themselves and their work squarely in a context which shows solidarity with oppressed people, a recognition that mercantile and institutional structures oppress and distort artists’ lives and works, and a recognition that artists, living and working in depressed communities, are compradors in the re-valuation of property and the "whitening" of neighborhoods. It is important to focus attention on the way artists get used as pawns by greedy white developers. It is important for artists to express solidarity with Third World and oppressed people. It is important to show that people are not helpless-they can express their resentment with things-as-they-are in a way that is constructive, exemplary, and interesting. It is important to try to bridge the gap between artists and working people by putting artwork on a boulevard level. It is important to do something dramatic that is neither commercially oriented nor institutionally quarantined-a groundswell of human action and participation with each other that points up currents of feeling that are neither for sale nor for morticing into the shape of an institution. It is important to do something that people (particularly in the art community) cannot immediately identify unless they question themselves and examine their own actions for an answer. It is important to have fun. It is important to learn.” [http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...]
“No Rio’s story begins in the winter of 1979, when a group of artists cut the padlocks on an abandoned furniture showroom on Delancey Street and spent a day cleaning it up and mounting work. They called their exhibit “The Real Estate Show” and held the opening on New Year’s Eve. The themes in the show included the role of artists in gentrification and the City’s mismanagement of its many properties in the neighborhood.
They returned on January 2 to find the building locked up and their work missing. The press conference they organized that day attracted reporters from The New York Times and the now-defunct SoHo Weekly News, as well as famed German artist Joseph Beuys. The next morning City administrators contacted the artists and invited them to a meeting, where the two sides eventually worked out a deal. The city would grant the artists their pick from a list of nearby available spaces as a monthly rental, and in return the artists agreed not to re-open “The Real Estate Show.”
The founders picked the building at 156 Rivington Street and took the organization’s name from a beat-up sign that had once read “Abogado Con Notario” but was missing so many letters that it seemed to spell out “ABC No Rio.” In the beginning, the artists rented out the ground floor and families lived in apartments above. (…)
In the early 1990s a group of punk show organizers began renting the gallery space for a weekly concert intended to provide an anti-racist, anti-homophobic alternative to the scene at the now-defunct CBGB’s. No Rio became known primarily as a punk rock venue, and within a few years the punks had control of the board.
In this period, the city’s insistent attempts to evict the organization grew stronger, and in 1994 the city stopped accepting No Rio’s rent checks. The board decided it would be more difficult to evict the organization if there were people living on the upper floors to defend the building and prevent eviction by lock-out. Dave Powell, a housing advocate who got involved with the hardcore collective in 1990 and now serves on the board, remembers breaking into the upstairs apartments, which the city had padlocked shut. “It might have been the third or fourth campaign the city was waging to get us out,” he told me. “So we took a sledgehammer and beat in the doors. Some of those doors you can still see where we knocked them in. Shortly thereafter we began squatting those apartments.”
For the next four years No Rio’s pro bono legal team fought the city in court. The struggle came to a head in 1997 when No Rio’s supporters snuck into the office of then-HPD commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli and staged a sit-in. To their surprise, Barrios-Paoli did not call the police. She invited the protesters in and listened to their concerns, then offered to sell them the property for a dollar if they raised the money for renovation, got rid of the squatters, and dedicated the entire building to community use. Englander, who had been living on the top floor for four years when that decision was made, can point to the places where his living room and kitchen used to be, separated by a wall whose remains are still visible. After the stipulation agreement, he told me, “We immediately took down that wall and made a lot of noise doing it, because we wanted to make it clear that we were actually going to do what we’d said we’d do.” Relations with HPD have been cordial ever since and newer volunteers see the building’s significance from other perspectives.” (James Trimarco, ABC No Rio, The Brooklyn Rail. Critical perspectives on arts, politics and culture, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/02...)
“The building at 156 Riving Street, a former tenement house, has been occupied by ABC No Rio since the early 1990s. During this period the property was owned by the City of New York. In 1997 ABC No Rio favorably settled tenancy issues with the City of New York. As part of the agreement, The City of New York - Department of Housing, Preservation and Development (HPD) would sell the building to ABC No Rio for the sum of one dollar if they were to raise the money to rehabilitate the property and dedicate it to community use. Following the Uniform Land Use Review Process (ULURP), ABC No Rio obtained title to the property on June 29, 2006 and began to move forward with their plans for re-development. (...)
In 1939 Gustave and Margaret Wittmayer, who still ran their photo shop in the first floor store, purchased the building. The Wittmayer family owned the property until 1977, when their son Robert sold it to Ramon Realty Company. In 1978 the property was seized by the City of New York (New York City Register). The property remained within the control of the City of New York, until an agreement was reached with the Non-Profit organization, ABC No Rio to purchase and redevelop the property. ” (Loorya and Ricciardi , 2012, Historical Documentary Report and Archaeological Assessment of 156 Rivington Street, Manhattan, New York County, New York) [http://media.abcnorio.org/reports/a...]
“During the late 1970s and early 1980s the art world underwent rapid change. More and more artists found inspiration by engaging the real world while simultaneously discovering the power of banding together either to confront or circumvent the established order. As the co-editor of ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery (1985), I was closely connected with one of the most radical, creative, and effective new groups that helped to shape art in the 1980s. The book was initiated by my co-editor and old Bowery friend Alan Moore, one of the founders of ABC No Rio, an artist-run gallery located in the Hispanic barrio of the Lower East Side. Alan and others involved with the creation of No Rio were part of Collaborative Projects Inc. (Colab), a loosely organized artist group with innovative ideas about what art should be, and how it should be promoted and distributed. The story of ABC No Rio began on New Years’ Eve 1980 when a group of Colab members and friends started the new decade off with a bang by squatting an empty, city-owned building on Delancey Street and mounting "The Real Estate Show," an exhibition about greed, gentrification, eviction, and dislocation. Although the police quickly shut down the show, the guerrilla exhibition attracted so much media attention that as a compromise the city offered the artists the use of another abandoned building on nearby Rivington Street. Thus out of political confrontation and conflict the gallery ABC No Rio Dinero was born.
ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery is a catalogue of the gallery’s first five years as well as an exploration of the broader artistic context from which No Rio emerged. Although No Rio never followed a strict agenda, it viewed itself as an interactive space where art, politics and community mixed. As such, the gallery was linked to artist groups like Colab, Group Material, and PADD, as well as the South Bronx gallery, Fashion/Moda. No Rio found inspiration in its Hispanic neighborhood, but it also connected with the East Village’s newly burgeoning music and club scene, and the wave of commercial art galleries that opened in the area soon after No Rio began. During No Rio’s first years, shows were generally organized by artists, and open to all who wanted to participate. The gallery specialized in theme exhibitions and was the launching pad for new ideas as well as for the careers of many successful artists.” (Alan Moore and Marc Miller, ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery, New York: ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects, 1985) [http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...]
“A group of artists decided on a modest but, by our society’s standards, radical course of action: to break into an empty city-owned building and put on a show that examined and challenged commonly held assumptions about ownership, property and the way we treat each other as people. The city government had little trouble reasserting its authority over 123 Delancey Street and, when it was reoccupied, re-evicting the usurpers and confiscating the exhibits, leaving the building properly empty... The city and the artists reached a compromise, in the form of an indefinite lease on the storefront and basement of 156 Rivington Street. To do what? That wasn’t specified. The question immediately arose: was this a victory or a bone? or worse, was this an insidious attempt by the city to implicate the artists in a planned deliverance of that neighborhood to those who would evict the poorer tenants in favor of better-heeled-and lighter-skinned-newcomers? Fortunately, the newly constituted membership of No Rio was not to be paralyzed by self doubt or social squeamishness. Instead, there followed three-and-a-half years of installations, performances and events covering a grab bag of topics, but in which, retrospectively, can be found a cohesiveness of purpose. Simply stated, it was to use the power of creative inspiration (perhaps the only thing there was plenty of at No Rio) and education to improve the outlook of people in general, as well as those whom fortune had landed in this corner of Manhattan.” (Leonard Abrams: http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...)
“As the new generation of New York artists began to make their mark, ABC No Rio, located in the burgeoning artists’ community of the Lower East Side, was to play an important role. At first, establishing the gallery was an uphill battle. The building had suffered years of neglect; rainwater, sewage, and falling plaster had driven out the previous tenants who had tried to run a beauty parlor. No Rio was a magnet for the derelicts of the community and a thoroughfare for rats living in the granaries of the matzoh factory next door. Around the corner was a large open-air drug supermarket with heroin dealers hawking their wares and junkies disappearing into "shooting galleries" in abandoned buildings.
No Rio was frequently broken into and robbed, sometimes several times a week. The volunteer artist/administrators — Bobby G, Rebecca Howland, Alan Moore and Christy Rupp — were caught between the realities of the ghetto and their own ambitions, both artistic and political.” (Alan Moore and Marc Miller, ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery, New York: ABC No Rio with Collaborative Projects, 1985) [http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...]
“It’s stuck in this really tight sweet domestic Hispanic five blocks," says Becky Howland, with only a twinkle of irony. She points out the faded sign, across the street - ABOGADO NOTARIO - from which ABC No Rio takes its name. The store was a gift from the city, a settlement following the "para-legal action" by these artists last New Year’s Day: they seized an abandoned building on Delancey Street as the setting for a didactic spectacle, "The Real Estate Show." To the city’s pointed distress, the artists had liberated the cornerstone of an urban renewal project being fought over by Latins, Chinese, and Jews. The city closed them down, which is the highest tribute government can pay to art. “(Richard Goldstein, 1980) [http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...]
“ABC No Rio’s beginnings were tentative as volunteer artist administrators, led by Alan Moore, Becky Howland and Bobby G, grappled with the challenges of running a gallery with no money and maintaining a run-down, store-front space in a deteriorating, largely abandoned building. During the first few months, there were break-ins, thefts and the sporadic incursion of the squatters who had previously occupied the space. The gallery had almost nothing to offer artists, not even "clean white walls," but at a time when there were few other options, many artists were happy to have access even to a raw, dilapidated space.” [http://98bowery.com/returntothebowe...]
“In the beginning, says Steven Englander, No Rio’s director and sole paid staff member, ABC No Rio’s purpose was to “provide a venue for artists to self-organize and put on shows with their colleague artists without a lot of bureaucracy.” A long-time activist who’s as comfortable draining oil out of a radiator as he is editing a collection of essays on the history of squatting, Englander, 46, speaks with a combination of precision and gruffness. The organization’s founders did it “by hook or by crook-style, low-budget,” he adds. (…) It might take only a few weeks between the conception of a group show and its exhibition, he explains, a process that often takes years at other galleries. “No Rio doesn’t play that art-world game where you try to become a superstar,” adds Vikki Law, a volunteer with the darkroom and visual arts collective. Instead the gallery looks for work with themes of community and collaboration, or which might be too pointedly political for other venues.
But the gallery is only part of what No Rio is about today, as a more diverse assortment of collectives has developed over the years. “The space has different significance to different people,” Englander explains. “It’s one thing to some 15-year-old borough kid who comes to a punk show and something else to a retired schoolteacher who comes to the Sunday afternoon poetry reading, and that’s different from some 25-year-old artist who moved to New York and ends up in a show.” With that caveat, he says No Rio’s purpose is to provide a space where the community can access a variety of artistic and organizing resources in an atmosphere of mutual collegiality, openness, and spontaneity.” [http://www.brooklynrail.org/2008/02...]