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]