Thursday, November 2, 2017

Out and About in the East Village

In this ongoing feature, East Village-based photographer James Maher provides us with a quick snapshot of someone who lives and/or works in the East Village or Lower East Side.

By James Maher

Name: Siobhan Meow
Occupation: Anything I could get
Location: Avenue C and Second Street
Date: Friday, Oct 20

In Part 1 last week, Siobhan, a Brooklyn native, discussed how she and several others opened a squat on Avenue C that they called opened a squat called Umbrella House.

We started out with three people, which became six, and then grew quickly once we hooked into the squatter circuit. We had people from all over the world coming and working. At one point it was like the United Nations.

And we were always kind of strict about it — paying dues, whatever you could afford to kick in for materials and stuff, also work days were very important, and then we were pretty tough on no serious drug addictions or anything like that, because that’s a good way to have the building burn down. Now we have two storefronts that pay the going rate and that help us.

I ended up going to Europe for a summer. I was able to because we were so hooked up into the international squat community. I could stay at squats everywhere, and that was really interesting. In Berlin, they actually offered me a space at Köpenicker Squat, which is right over the East German wall. I was there when they had just made the holes in the walls, and we were actually crawling across. It was amazing. I really mourned that culture that survived because I knew what was coming behind it, the American shit capitalism, which ruined it. It was a little time machine back to the 1960s in Eastern Europe. I then ended up on Lake Balaton in Hungary, and that was just beautiful.

I came back and things were starting to really settle in, but like I said it was 17 years before we got heat, we got the boiler in and everything, and didn’t have to rely on stolen electricity anymore. But the neighborhood was beautiful. God I miss it. No cabs would come down here, no tourists, no drunks, only junkies.

The community was really tight. Everybody knew each other, there were lots of really good shops. There were tons of artists here, people of all stripes. Everybody was making art, and there were clubs where you could go to see really good bands. It was more peaceful back them. It was quiet. I can barely walk down the sidewalks anymore, it’s so crowded. They keep building shit buildings here and packing more people in and they do nothing about the infrastructure.

I miss the freedom. I could climb the tower of the Williamsburg Bridge. A friend was making a movie and we threw an effigy of me off the tower, to film someone jumping off the tower, and I walked down the stairs and off the bridge. Even though traffic was stopped nothing happened to me.

I did anything I could get. Since we were working on the house, I was able to get jobs in New Jersey at the scenic design places, which would be preparing the sets, loading them in, loading them out. I was doing fashion shows, movie sets— all kinds of stuff.

Also, I’m very into other species rights as well. I care for a little feral cat who lives in a garden, and I work with city critters helping place cats. I’ve been doing so for awhile. And I have 18 cats. Feeding the cats isn’t a problem, feeding myself is another story.

James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.


Cosmo said...

Great interview, I've enjoyed both parts. I envy the freedom that once was...

And to the rubes who love to say the EV/LES has always been loud, BS! Anyone who lived here for any length of time knows it was a quiet area. No roving gangs of screaming drunks.

Anonymous said...

I know this is about the squat, but mention of Siobhan's Howard Stern years? Or her feline fecal artwork?

Mark Hand The Catchman said...

Exactly @Cosmo ... Grew up on St Marks, left and came back when parents were ready to leave. Although St Narks has been busy, its crazy today and it never feels quiet.

Eden Bee said...

I think there were 1,000 cats involved in this.

Glenn said...

Great interview! Great comments about East Germany.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed this interview. She's insightful, intelligent, and beautiful. Best of luck to her.

Scuba Diva said...

Hey! I just realized I have that shirt; it's from Kembra!