Black Cinema House

Over the last two weeks, I've shifted from the ReBuild Foundation shop down to a couple of houses on the south side, on Dorchester Avenue.  Theaster Gates lived on Dorchester Avenue for some time, and has gradually acquired a couple of pieces of property up and down the street.  The main project right now is the Black Cinema House, a two-story brick building, with generous basement, at the corner of Dorchester and 69th St.  

Front of the Black Cinema House. 
Corner, with sweet overhanging second-story bay.
Developed by the ReBuild Foundation architectural design team, it is going to be a place for the study and scholarship of black films, with space for screenings; a large kitchen; an office for archivists, students, and scholars; open programming room for events and classes; and living space for artists on the second floor.  Funded largely with an NEA Creative Placemaking grant, the project has been chronicled over at ArtPlace America.  Films, scholarly support, and collaboration will occur with the Chicago Film Archives and South Side Projections.

Gorgeous round window on first floor.
From the rear.


Shop Class as Soulcraft

I bought a book, Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Matthew Crawford, a while ago, a few months after it came out.  At the time, I was teaching in G.E.D. and job-skills training program for at-risk youth in rural Alabama.  At work, I was designing and building small pieces of architecture; at home, I was designing and building small pieces of furniture.  I got about halfway through the book, letting it lull me to sleep right before bed each night.  Worn out from the day's labors, digging fencepost holes and slinging around railroad ties and absorbing the resentment of angry teens, Crawford's words failed to penetrate too deeply.  I eventually gave up on the book, finding it too abstract and philosophical to handle at that hour of the day.

I picked it up again recently, determined to wade through his arguments.  It proved to be much easier this time, partly because I now deal with the metaphysical aspects of craft a little more directly in my daily work.  

The book began life as an essay, published in 2006.  Expanded into a book, and pushed into a wider, less academic realm, Crawford's carefully researched, highly personal story became a minor phenomenon.  He landed everywhere from the New York Times to the Colbert Report, frequently accompanied by the photo of him from the book jacket wherein he leans casually against a doorframe, left hand tugging the dormant brake on a motorcycle, right hand holding a crescent wrench.  His story was compelling; after completing a Ph.D in Political Philosophy at the University of Chicago, and landing a job at a prestigious D.C. think tank, Crawford abandoned it all and opened a motorcycle repair shop, Shockoe Moto, in a leaky warehouse in Richmond, Virginia.  It had all the makings of a classic fish-out-of-water comedy, some hapless Woody Allen-type fumbling around in a garage, lighting grease fires and busting ass on dropped ball bearings.  

Matthew Crawford, from the New York Times.


Facebook and the Design of Memory

Facebook's $100 billion IPO is just peeking at us over the horizon, inspiring floods of cheap ink and cheaper pixels.  A recent Huffington Post article recounted the key stats from Zuck and the gang's SEC filing: 845 million members; 483 million daily users; profit of roughly $1 billion on revenues of $3.7 billion.  Unlike competitors like FriendsterMySpace and Google Plus, Facebook seems to have found the hidden wardrobe into our minds, a backdoor to ubiquity.  These networks thrive on pervasiveness, and Facebook has won the all-important popularity contest.  

However, there are chinks in the hoodie.  Facebook has reached 60% market penetration in the U.S. and the U.K., a saturation level that may prove difficult surmount.  China, a tempting new market, is closed to them unless they submit to draconian censorship laws.  Advertising comprises 85% of company revenues, which is likely to fall as third-party sites use the Facebook Platform to allow users to interact with their content directly.  Zuckerberg's autocratic style and majority of voting shares has raised questions about corporate governance, especially after his questionable recent purchase of revenue-less Instagram for $1 billion.  And, the existential question: other than its size, what is to prevent Facebook from becoming MySpace once something shinier and faster comes along?

Some of the comment sections for these articles scroll on endlessly, a cross-section of complaint and bluster, wondering at Facebook's omniscience while simultaneously submitting to it.  I mean, after all, what does Facebook make exactly?  What does it all mean?  The Atlantic's Stephen Marche recently wrestled with these philosophical issues, writing:

"What Facebook has revealed about human nature—and this is not a minor revelation—is that a connection is not the same thing as a bond, and that instant and total connection is no salvation, no ticket to a happier, better world or a more liberated version of humanity. Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are. Facebook denies us a pleasure whose profundity we had underestimated: the chance to forget about ourselves for a while, the chance to disconnect."


Working Bikes / Blackstone Bikes

I needed a new bike for the spring.  'Ol Blue was in rough shape after the winter.  The front chainring got bent; the rear wheel was bent; the frame was showing a lot of rust; and the gears stopped working.  The old-school caliper brakes were rough in any kind of wet, even just riding through a puddle.  But, mostly, I was tired of the weight.  It was so heavy.  People zipped past me on modern road bikes, smooth as you please.  One-speeds, fixies, all the snobby hipsters -- everyone was passing me like I was standing still.

Now, some of this had to do with my backpack -- drill, driver, batteries, block plane, square, tape measure, lunch, water bottle, lock.  But, I was getting stronger, and better at navigating traffic all winter, and I felt like the bike was holding me back.  

The new ride.  I've since added a rear rack and a tool bag.  The bicycling carpenter.

So I upgraded for spring.  I ended up with a 1987 Schwinn World Traveler, snappy in black with gold and pink accents.  It has new straight-across handlebars, new brakes, new tires, tuned-up wheels, and restored original derailleur.  The12 gears and shifter are SunTour, a solid, sought-after component group.  I added the bar ends and zip-tied flashlights for nighttime visibility.  The difference is amazing -- I felt like I used to be pedaling through mud, constantly uphill, wheels rubbing the brake and chain wobbling off the gears.  But the real story has less to do with the bike itself and more to do with where I got it.  

Page from 1987 Schwinn catalog.  My bike, same color scheme, is in the upper left corner.  Image courtesy of  bikecatalogs.org.