They Interviewed me on couchsurfing.org
CS: Your artistic projects invite people to re-discover the city or to interact with it in creative ways. What is it about cities that inspires you and your work?
Cities are such weird experiments. Technology moves so much faster than we as humans can evolve. Even though I am definitely a city slicker, I very much see, and am fascinated by, the alien nature of city life – the zoos we build for ourselves. I am fascinated by the frailty and strength of cities and the people that live in them.
CS: What kind of experience did you attempt to create with the Neighborhood Diaries?
Because the project depended so much on the donated memories of strangers, it was impossible to attempt to overlay an intentional mood through them, I just had to collect as many stories as possible and then pick out the ones that were interesting and personal. I wanted to show how easy and natural it is to identify with people who you know nothing about, and who on the surface might seem very different.
I used music from Portland bands for the project’s “travel” portions (the spaces between memories), so that each tour was not only an art project, but a personal mix-tape from me as well.
CS: We often associate the act of telling stories, especially those that come from memory, with the elderly. “Neighborhood Diaries”, however, seems to draw on memories from people of all ages and backgrounds. Is that really so? In your opinion, what motivates people to tell their stories?
Neighborhood Diaries uses the memories of all types of people, there are black people, white people, old people, children, homeless people, rich people, gay people, straight people, I tried to represent different types of people in proportion to their population.
Old people telling stories is definitely the association we have, but if you look at the Internet, it’s really young people who are telling stories, they’re just not editing their stories (unfortunately) or letting them ripen with age. People tell stories for a million different reasons, sometimes it’s to pass something on, sometimes it’s to work out their own issues, sometimes it’s generous, sometimes it’s to promote an agenda.
CS: It seems that, by giving ordinary people an opportunity to tell their location-based memories, the “Neighborhood Diaries” project might also enable a chronicle of the city’s history that is different from the one you’d find in textbooks. Is there a political aspect to your project? Tell us about it.
The only intentional political aspect of the project is an attempt to break down the fear and mistrust that has shrouded our perceptions over the past 8 years. In the US, crime is back to 1970s levels (low), but if you watch the nightly news, you’d think it was worse than ever. I want to encourage people to see if they can relate to people who might seem very different from them, to put forth the notion that our neighborhoods are more than just crime rates and property values, but the living stages for billions of personal histories.
CS: Do you think the audiotours help people re-think the images they have of certain neighborhoods and their inhabitants?
I hope they do. Ideally, humanizing the neighborhood comes secondary to humanizing the human. If you can humanize someone who seems very different from the listener in the same city, maybe that illumination can help to humanize people who seem different on the same planet. To that end, every memory is an example of that, as I think all of the memories are relatable.
CS: In your opinion, what role does the act of sharing stories have in breaking pre-conceptions and creating empathy?
Listening is a very powerful act that, unfortunately, we aren’t often encouraged to do. Modern communication is all about output instead of input. I think listening is vital to creating an understanding, if you aren’t paying attention to someone’s intentions and their expressions, you can’t possibly hope to understand them.