Illuminating Baltimore's Hidden Histories With Occupy-Offshoot "Greenpants"

Illuminating Baltimore's Hidden Histories With Occupy-Offshoot "Greenpants"

Luminous Intervention
Luminous Intervention

The Occupy movement is many things; on one hand, it is a mass movement of protest and occupation, on the other a cultural phenomenon producing countless small projects, affinity groups, and organizing efforts. Baltimore's Luminous Intervention, a combination of performance, projection, street art, and storytelling launched by a new collective called Greenpants, is of the latter. The group uses a massive mobile projector to "bring to light the hidden histories, practices, and envisioned futures to provoke dialogue" in Baltimore. 

I had the chance to catch Greenpants' second Luminous Intervention and talk to some of their members about the project. Their first projection was stationary, taking place in a partnership with the United Workers, a low-income organizing effort at Baltimore's Inner Harbor (a video of that projection is here). However, this projection was mobile, visiting and "illuminating" a number of sites in Baltimore's Lexington Market neighborhood.

The images, some of which were animated - others still -, lit up the sides of entire buildings with both historic imagery and scrolling sentences helping explain each stop on the tour. While the overwhelming focus was the failed, pro-business development history in this area of the city, it was interspersed with Civil Rights era history, architectural observation, and other anecdotes that made for an multi-faceted and interesting walk for the 30 or so folks gathered. 

Much of the social and political history was provided by a speaker from the Baltimore Heritage Society, which works, "to preserve and promote Baltimore’s historic buildings and neighborhoods." The Heritage Society helped give the historic context for the area while others from Greenpants spoke to the development angle. The group also partnered with the experimental art festival Transmodern, which was taking place right up the road.

"We plan to partner with different groups for each project," Hannah Brancato of Greenpants told me. This way, she explains, the group can expand not only its reach, but also provide layers of context and meaning to their projections.

"We can't know everything, so why bother trying," another Greenpants member Jenny Graf says of the partnerships. They, "keep as a skill-share too, so we are learning as well," she says. She adds that the group is open to ideas and to crowd participation. Indeed, as the crowd gathered in front of the old Read's Drug Store, site of the 1955 sit-in that both forced the pharmacy to integrate and served as arguably the first sit-in  of its kind nationally, the space was opened for anyone to share stories from their experiences during the Civil Rights years in Baltimore

Greenpants, which has 8-10 members, intends to host two projections per month through the Fall. Other upcoming topics include: the War of 1812, the massive city/Hopkins-orchestrated clearing of East Baltimore's Middle East neighborhood, and more.

The project, in their own words, "is committed to using art to address these and other issues of social justice impacting Baltimore City" and says it "responds to the choices made by the city to employ a kind of 'urban renewal' that is unhealthy, unsustainable and inhospitable to its residents." Graf adds that an important aspect of such artistic intervention is that art has the ability for "translating the way you feel" onto new terrains, and can help catalyze social and political understandings.

Certainly the project has the ability to bring people out into public space too, for a fresh, visually pleasing educational experience, plus its a great way to bring people together to learn about both the politics of development and public space in Baltimore and of our shared histories as Baltimoreans.

Ryan Harvey is a Baltimore-based independent journalist and grassroots historian. His writings are posted at his blog, Even If Your Voice Shakes . He is also an organizer with the Civilian-Soldier Alliance and a member of the Riot-Folk musician collective.