Earlier this month City / Culture posted part one of a two-part conversation with Los Angeles-based artist Linda Pollack. She’s the founder of a participatory work called, My Daily Constitution – with New York readings scheduled for October 23 and 24 – as well as the related project, Habeas Lounge. Part one of the conversation is posted here. Part two, below, has been edited for space and clarity.
City/Culture: How does My Daily Constitution help the lives of American cities?
Linda Pollack: MDC discussions are often designed to address constitutional issues confronting different communities, and located in sites relevant to those communities. The project, because of its broad mandate, creates a context for people outside of those communities to explore different issues and neighborhoods of which they may not be familiar. So, in Indianapolis, by hosting events, a German-American clubhouse, a Library, a Jewish deli, the Indiana statehouse, a LGBT bookstore, and an A.M.E. Church were all part of the ‘Grand Tour’ of the city and a lot of people came out to sites previously unknown to them. This creates a connection to all of these places, and a context for new relationships. MDC plays on the pluralism of a city.
City/Culture: Last week, you spoke about residing in northern Europe. How did living abroad help you appreciate the U.S. Constitution?
MDC came about in relationship to my memories of how certain individuals and groups responded to the war in the former Yugoslavia in innovative, creative and at times very brave ways. I had been living in Amsterdam and working for the European Cultural Foundation in the early `90s, shortly after the Berlin Wall came down, and during the war. I had the chance to see a lot of artists and organizers create all kinds of projects to address the war and the fallout of the war. There were some very innovative projects, such as the creation of a summer program at Charles University in Prague for young people whose education was interrupted by the fighting. There was all the work by Haris Pasovic and the Sarajevo Theatre Festival, putting on plays during the siege of Sarajevo. There was news of film screenings, even a film festival, and fashion shows in the bomb shelters of Sarajevo.
Inspired by these projects and people, and a lot of my friends who fled to Amsterdam, and encouraged by the Foundation, I created a number of events and had the chance to work with people like Haris, as well as a lot of artists and writers. Fast forward to the U.S., October 2001, driving the 405 Freeway south past LAX when I first learned about the USA Patriot Act on the car radio. It was on that stretch of the 405 that I had an epiphany––while I spoke a few languages, considered myself well-informed, and was quite competent creating multilateral cultural projects addressing the breakdown of war-torn Yugoslavia, I was clueless about my own country, my laws, my Constitution!
That was the inspiration for launching My Daily Constitution. As an artist, you have the space––should you choose to accept it––to create your own context. In my case, I took the space to create a context to ask all the simple questions that in other situations I may have been too embarrassed to ask. Questions like, ‘What is this, this Constitution?’
City/Culture: You’ve told me that you’ve worked for a Princess and for a writer’s organization. As an artist, you bring together constitutional scholars and attorneys with audiences filled with cultural professionals or culture-lovers. You’ve also persuaded a developer to give you a free-of-charge space in a downtown L.A. mall. Is this diversity of people you interact with intentional? Are these connections purposeful? Or is it just that the Constitution matters to everyone?
My life has always been this weird collection of what I used to think were unrelated, diverse experiences––very normal suburbia, sophisticated Quaker high school, a big football State University, a finance degree, working for a Princess (HRH Princess Margriet), being an illegal alien, European art training, working with refugees, ‘captains of industry.’
Looking back, I see that having lived for so many years in a relatively homogenous country such as the Netherlands, where national identity is very much defined by a certain ‘Dutch’ experience, I relish and so appreciate the plurality of experiences and associations I’ve cultivated in my life, and the multitude of fluencies and richness it brings. I feel like it’s the plurality that is our biggest hope and potential.
Me, I stumbled into all of it––I couldn’t have planned it if I tried. But yes, those interactions are purposeful, because on the other hand, perhaps it wasn’t accidental after all, and I knew all along what I was doing. These days, I appreciate and build this diversity into my projects. Aside from the fact that I find it makes for more interesting exchanges, diversity brings with it a pluralism of models and solutions.
Often an issue you think is unique to a particular group has actually been dealt with by other groups in other times. So engaging a diversity of people circumvents having to reinvent the wheel. From my first training, finance, I learned to always diversify the portfolio! Aside from that, yes––the Constitution matters. To everyone.
Read past City / Culture columns here. Email the columnist at lathinktank [at] gmail [dot] org.