Thursday, February 21, 2013

Q-and-A with Fly on UnReal Estate

Fly is currently working on UnReal Estate, an archive project focused on the history of squatting on the Lower East Side. The artist and illustrator is assembling a collection of photos, flyers, drawings, graphics, video and oral histories. Fly, a longtime squatter herself dating to the 1980s, has been incorporating these elements into multimedia presentations, one of which she'll show tomorrow night at the Museum of Reclaimed Urban Space (MoRUS) at 155 Avenue C. (Find more information here.)

Meanwhile, the book portion of UnReal Estate will focus on an oral history of squatting on the Lower East Side, concentrating on the 1980s and 1990s – up until 2002, when 11 buildings made a deal through the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) to become legal low-income co-ops. The book will include a prologue to cover the earlier homesteading movements and brief history of housing issues in the neighborhood.

Fly answered a few questions for us about the project and her feelings about the neighborhood today.

UnReal Estate is such an ambitious project. How is the oral history book portion of it shaping up?

I am getting some great stories — and a lot of conflicting information. A lot of people have a hard time remembering specific dates. So much was happening so fast back in the 80s and 90s. This neighborhood was a bit like a powder keg, and it was hard to keep track of dates and times. There are so many people who I want to interview. The more that I do the longer the list seems to get.

How have audiences been responding to the previous slideshows/multimedia presentations?

I have been getting very encouraging responses. People who were around back in the day are encouraged to remember their own history, so then I get more input into the squatter timeline. People who were not there have told me that they have a whole new view of the idea of squatting. I have done some UnReal Estate slideshows in Oakland, Calif., to the East Bay Squat Scene. They get so inspired by seeing what we did and how we continue to survive. The squatter scene out there is very different and not so organized or cohesive. They seemed to get some good ideas for strategy from seeing our history

Why do you think telling the story of the East Village/Lower East Side squatter history is so important?

I think that the squatter movement here came out of real community activism, so it is very ingrained in the larger history of the Lower East Side. It was in the 1970s when landlords were torching their buildings for insurance money and the City was going broke and abandoning the more undesirable neighborhoods that residents in the Lower East Side really started organizing and taking back the buildings – sometimes with homesteading programs and sometimes just with community support. A lot of housing activism was going on and the squatter movement was a more direct-action approach that grew from that.

There were so many buildings squatted in this neighborhood in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was a real political force and many squatters were involved in so many other community and citywide struggles — especially the struggle for affordable housing, which has been a defining characteristic of the Lower East Side. The fact that we were successful in taking 11 buildings to legal status speaks to our legitimate place in the official history of the Lower East Side

The neighborhood continues to develop and grow, of course. How do you feel about what has been taking place? Do you still feel a sense of community here? Does it still feel like home?

I do feel a sense of community here, although it now seems so spread out and diffused. Suddenly there are so many bars and stores that make an attempt to look like they have been here for a long time so that the tourists think they are getting a Real Experience. (I could go on a long complaining rant but I’m sure you have heard it all before and I try to be positive these days.)

It makes it all the more important to try to preserve and proliferate our radical roots – to encourage the kids to continue to live Actively not Passively. There are still places in the Lower East Side like ABC No Rio, Bullet Space, Bluestockings, MoRUS and all of the gardens – we still have some great places left. After so many years of struggle I am very grateful to have my home.

What was your reaction to being named one of the "Amazing Women of the Lower East Side" this year by The Lower Eastside Girls Club?

Oh! I was very honored that they chose me. It is one of my favorite places and one of my favorite things to do is teach art classes or zine-making classes to the younger generations. I get to do this once in awhile at the Girls Club, hopefully more often in future, and the girls never fail to amaze me with their enthusiasm and their creativity.

[For more information, contact Fly here]


Anonymous said...

The most unreal thing nowdays is:

Ben Shaoul-Magnum Management, Croman Realty-Steven Croman, Tower Brokerage- Bob Perl, Icon Realty-Terrence Lowenberg, Great Jones Realty-Donald Capoccia-BFC Partners, Corcoran Group Real Estate-Barbara Corcoran, Jared Kushner-Westminster Management and all of the local East Village real estate supporters.

ericfg said...

you linked to bluestockings and bulletspace, can you also link to ABC No Rio's website? ? thanks!

EV Grieve said...

@ ericfg

Sorry! Linked now!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how someone so passionate and articulate about the LES squatter movement can be a supporter of the LES Girl's Club. The founder of the Girl's Club was vehemently opposed to the squatter movement and in fact was trying to grab some of the LES buildings that were successfully converted through the UHAB Program.

VH McKenzie said...

Hey Fly,

My building, on East 11th between Ave A and B, had some squatter history/issues during its transformation into a renovated co-op in the late '80s. I've been in the EV since late '87.

Feel free to email me for whatever details or info I can dredge up for your oral history project -

Anonymous said...

Many of the renovated co-ops that have squatter history are at this point market rate buildings with apartments going for millions of dollars. Apartments in buildings like this have been turned over so many times, and many of their owners don't even live in them, they just rent them out.

john penley said...

John R Penley C Squat has made a great contribution to the neighborhood by making a space available to the neighborhood and keeping the real squatter tradition alive. People should if they can make a small donation to them to help the building in their last stage of getting it.

Anonymous said...

A small donation to C Squat or MoRUS?

Anonymous said...

@jon penley

I wish you would do more activism in the neighborhood. The activism against BMW/Guggenheim Lab was a success. The people of Berlin are facing similar issues of gentrification. The activism here informed and prepared them. They were successfully able to divert the BMW/Guggenheim Lab to a different location. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I'm now confused - does Morus rent space from C-Squat and pay C-Squat rent? Where exactly do the donations to Morus go - do they go to the museum to help cover operating expenses, such as rent and lights, or do they go to the residents of C-Squat for their apartments and the cost of the building. Believe it or not this does make a difference to those who make a donation. Not-for-profit law is very specific about this and donors should know where their donations go.

Anonymous said...

Morus will pay rent to C-squat. Donations to Morus go to Morus, they're separate. Ironic, sure but part of the deal for the squatters to get ownership (which has not happened yet) of their building was putting a business in that storefront. It was a requirement passed down from UHAB + the city to meet renovation code, monthly operating budget purposes, etc.

Part of the requirement C was given was that its tenant had to make a minimum monthly rent. The higher the rent went above that required minimum, the more the building could make for itself. Instead of going that route, for years they sought out a group that was politically active and community focused that they wanted to charge the bare minimum amount that they were forced to charge. So: there is barely any extra profit past meeting operating costs to run the building, if that's what you're asking or inquring about. If you're forced to do something at least try to make the best of the situation.

In related news, I hear C will be following the example of what Greg Singer is trying to do over at PS 64 : they're going to start charging NYU students to sleep in their basement. While Charas stays vacant they'll turn a profit! Singer- eat yer heart out! Ca-ching!