Reimagining the Urban: Kuan Hwa

As part of the ongoing campus initiative Global Urban Humanities: Engaging the Humanities and Environmental Design, the Arts Research Center co-sponsored the Reimagining the Urban: Bay Area Connections Across the Arts and Public Space on September 30, 2013. Participants have been asked to submit a blog post “on a keyword you see debated in the Bay Area arts, policy, and planning landscape.” This posting is by Kuan Hwa, a PhD student in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley.
Keyword: “We?”
When Linda Rugg spoke of how “we” define ourselves in relation to the bay, who are the “we” to whom she refers? When Brad McCrea said that the bay is different for “us” as it was then compared to now, are these generations of people in the past and in the present even the same entity? What if some family, previously included in the “we” during the 1970′s, moved away from the bay area in the 2000′s?; would the “we” be substantively changed or does the “we” persist to inscribe those who no longer belong to an area but identify themselves as having once come from it? What would justify an invocation of the “we” to transcend a specific temporal collectivity and ideology? I just moved to the bay area. What justifies me to take claim over the bay as my home, and my inclusion in the “we” of the bay area?
When Ava Roy and Lauren Dietrich Chavez names the “we” in “We Players,” who is this collective invoked through their speech? For “We Players,” the collective pronoun in the title seems at first to refer only to the actors themselves, but in the dramatic performance being integrated into a site with audience participation, the “we” clearly refers to what Roy repeatedly called “the people” at the art event. The true extent of this collectivity is hard to measure, because the degree of transformation within the participants at the theater production has no such thing as a unit. What is the criterion to adjudicate the degree or kind of collectivity of the “we” in this case (was an adequate feeling of togetherness produced? Was a new kind of collectivity effectively achieved?)? Even if a demographic survey were to be taken of the participants, it would not ensure that a public had been formed. If photographs show that people convened, how is this any different from the plethora of photographs on twitter and social networking sites that expose people convening for the shopping mall on Black Friday, or from convening during traffic? I’m doubtful that people’s senses are attuned to others’ bodies and the surrounding environment only in the event of an aesthetic staging, or that a possibility of a new community needs to emerge specifically from this kind of event. As Brad McCrea seemed to authoritatively conclude, even poetic license is subject to the law (and when, at least in Western art history, is art ever independent of rich patronage or the institutional support of a hegemonic force?). At that point then, will art be necessary to fulfill the needs of the various “we” and the public it seeks; why? What is inadequate to all other forms of collective participation already in daily life (and already in dynamic change– education, the factory, the street, yoga studios…) that is somehow inadequate to the formation of a public for which Roy seeks, and why?