In Memorium: Dara Greenwald (1971-2012)

In Memorium: Dara Greenwald (February 27, 1971- January 9, 2012) from AREA Chicago magazine Issue #13 p10/11 (August 2012)

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Right before this issue went to print, I was discussing with the editor of AREA memories of Dara and how it had effected my work in Chicago, specifically my work at AREA between 2005-2010. I didn’t feel equipped to write a piece about Dara for this issue, but felt like I could find echoes of my experience in the exchanges and relationships she had with other organizers, educators and artists here in Chicago. I decided to limit my outreach to people still living here so that the floodgates wouldnt open too wide (we were working on a short timeline), but a few former Chicago residents who knew Dara made their way into the mix.  The theme of this issue felt too relevant to her work, and I appreciate those people that were able to respond on such short notice. Appologies to those who didn’t have time to conjure something they wanted to share, to those former Chicagoans and friends who never lived here but cared so deeply for her in her other life phases growing up in the Hudson Valley of New York, going to college at Oberlin in Ohio, grad school in Troy, NY or where she eventually settled down in Brooklyn, NY. 

The statements, letters, and reflections below were written in response to this writing prompt: Dara lived and worked in Chicago between 1995-2005 and she affected many peoples experience of art, politics and community. Dara was an intersection point for many different groups and communities within Chicago – she recognized that and took that responsibility and possibility very seriously in her life, in her organizing and cultural practice. Please share an anecdote or some reflection on how Dara affected your experience of art, politics and community in Chicago? How did she facilitate some kind of introduction for you into another space within the city, another set of practices or networks? How did Dara open new worlds up to you that impacted your life?”

I know for myself that the vast majority of my social and professional network in this city was inherited from Dara and her partner Josh when they moved away to upstate New York. I would have never been able to start a project like AREA without the generosity they offered me – constantly opening up doors, making connections, and building authentic relationships based on affinity (never opportunism or ladder climbing that so many people pass off as “networking”). 

I miss you Dara!

- Daniel Tucker (with responses below from Abina Manning, Laurie Palmer, Deborah Gould, Jeffery Skoller, Kate Sheehy, Julie Shapiro, Ryan Griffis, Martha Bayne, Rozalinda Borcila, Rebecca Zorach, Fereshteh Toosi, Dan S. Wang, and Mary Patten)

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Abina Manning:

This anecdote will be a familiar one to the many that knew and loved D.  I moved to Chicago from London in August 1999 to take up a job at the Video Data Bank, where Dara also worked.  It had been a long process waiting for a work visa, renting out my London flat, leaving my art job, and packing the three suitcases that would accompany me to the new world.  Once the visa came through everything sped up, and I realised that I was actually going to get on a plane and live in a new city.  But where?  I didn’t really know anybody in Chicago.  I had spoken to Dara a couple of times on the phone when figuring out visa stuff, and she was funny and smart.  She told me that there was a room in her shared house that I could rent for a few weeks until I got settled. After a long flight I arrived at Dara’s place on Winchester and Division. Dara and her roommate Alex, plus her sister Cora who was visiting, helped drag my whole life up the three flights of stairs to the tiny room I would be staying in.  I was in a state of shock to say the least!  That afternoon Dara was making pizza, and over the next few hours she asked a million questions, and told me her whole life story…  We discovered that we shared a birthday, and both drove Honda Civics (I had sold mine days before in London).  Dara quickly decided that I needed to meet some people, and that evening she took me on a bar crawl to Wicker Park favourites, Gold Star, Phyllis’s, and the Rainbo. Even though she didn’t drink, it was quickly apparent that Dara knew EVERYBODY in the bars!!!

Dara introduced me to so many people that first night, and the nights that followed, many of whom went on to become my friends. She shared some of her many communities with me — the Oberlin peeps, the music peeps, the gallery peeps.  She helped to make Chicago a city I could live in. Dara had more social energy than anybody I’ve ever known. Community was everything to her: she actively sought it out, she thought about it, analyzed it, worked it, and sometimes she cried over it.  She wanted it and needed it.  She shared it.  Thank you Dara, for sharing it with me.

Laurie Palmer, Deborah Gould, and Jeffery Skoller:
Dear Daniel,
We are sitting in a café in Buenos Aires, run by Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, where we received your email prompt. this afternoon we met outside IMPA a recuperated factory, coming from Berlin, new York, San Francisco, chicago, Sweden and toured the factory and cultural center where workers and artists and activists intersect. afterwords we sat in a cooperative café discussing what we had seen and it’s historical and worldwide connections. in the spirit of intersections we now sit in this café where Dara’s intergenerational connectivities are present in the Beatles background music, the picture of a vulva that smiles at us and the silkscreen political graphics on the walls–Dara presente!
Debbie Gould, Laurie Palmer, Jeffrey Skoller
Sent from my iPhone

5828819003_426663d6f0_zKate Sheehy:
2001 Pink Block invites a dance party happens Dara smiles all is okay hub revolves us all.

Julie Shapiro:
Apple Grown in Wind Tunnel. This phrase has been tucked away in the back of my mind, but not too far back, for the past decade – thanks to DaraGreenwald. It’s the title of a film she loaned us (VHS!) for our experimental music/video festival, and she never asked for it back.  It was the most beautiful, strange film I’d ever seen. With the most beautiful, strange title I’d ever read. AGIWT is just one of the many, many introductions Dara facilitated, that impacted my life at the time, and still do today. Dara shared appreciations, and questions, and early morning, pre-work/post-workout stretching sessions at the Y. Her pink, her laughter, her experimental mind and soul, her many miles pedaled, and steps stepped. Apple Grown in Wind Tunnel.

Ryan Griffis: 
There are some blocks of chaos archived in pink frames of stop motion that don’t simply reflect this green city back to itself. These frames can only be read out loud and in groups, while dancing with criticism. I have only seen some of these frames, but know that they are carried by porous librarians who can reproduce them when the moment is right, which is often. They are best guarded by being given away. A good friend, whom I trust, said so.

Martha Bayne: 
Dara loved to dance–this is a fact, and a well-known one at that. I do too, a fact that’s less known, and what’s maybe less known than both is that our mutual love of sweaty disco freakouts came from our roots in the Oberlin College dance department, a history I think she and I alone (in Chicago, at least) shared. In the late 80s/early 90s Oberlin was a place where gawky undergrads did contact improv on the broad, green lawns, set experimental work about date rape to harmonica and tambourine, and collaborated with minimalist student composers who would later go on to be famous. We practiced obnoxious dance moves on the floor of the college disco and choreographed goofy ensemble work to Top 40 hits, and it was basically the best thing ever, this safe space for joyful experiments and unabashed physicality. In the years that followed my college dance life faded away, so much so that I used it as a liberal arts punchline (“Can you believe I have a degree in *modern dance*?), but the truth is I missed it terribly, out in the real world. But running into Daradancing across Chicago, with the Pink Bloque or at a late-night party, made me always remember in my muscle and bones that these ideas about the power of radical booty shake aren’t just juvenilia — that there’s a place for them in adulthood, a vital, living place. Dara opened my eyes to that, many times over, and I try to keep remembering every time the DJ drops a beat.

Rozalinda Borcila:
I met Dara in October 2004 at Pilot TV, a wild and amazing autonomous media fest. My friends and I had just formed BLW, which we imagined as a media/performance collective, and we all came to Chicago from different parts of the country to do some kind of live experimental media workshop, although we were not sure what exactly that would mean. On the first evening of the festival, Dara did a rather astonishing presentation on early media collectives, focusing on the VideoFreex. We were stunned. Later we got to hang out with Dara ; we talked about our half-formed workshop, about the body as a recording medium, about memory and playback, about media and forgetting… By the next day she had returned with small gifts tucked away in her jacket– videos, archival recordings, to share. And so BLW found our project – and a practice that sustained us for the next four years. So much of the work I am involved with still – current projects, my closest collaborators and friends – are somehow tied back to that evening, to Dara’s wisdom and generosity.

2790671803_782d6cf9fb_zRebecca Zorach:
There are so many things I owe to Dara Greenwald it’s hard to know where to start: Angelic Organics, the spectacular Videofreex interview with Fred Hampton, a chance encounter with late Texas Governor Ann Richards, the Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective, the phrase “prefigurative politics.” Some of these I might have learned of later or experienced anyway, but when I think of them, I think of her. Spectres of Liberty, which I show often to classes as a gorgeous example of political art. For a panel I organized in 2010 she didn’t just give a talk, but compiled a huge inventory of “school as art” projects (http://www.justseeds.org/blog/2010/02/school_as_art_1.html)— artists using educational experiments as art projects. I still mine this inventory for its detailed research, which she presented with that blisteringly accurate critical humor, always accompanied by a question mark. She wrote: “I got kind of excited about all of the mostly grassroots energy it represents towards rethinking what it means to learn. At the same time I wonder who these art projects serve and if they have oppositional possibilities or are just another venue for people with privilege to socialize with each other and engage in ‘knowledge production’?” Dara didn’t pretend to have all the answers. She embodied the kernel of possibility that is the playful, spirited, creative Left. This is the Left that can imagine a future — a future that’s ironic and imperfect but not impossible. This is fun that’s not just the relentless scourge of pretense and ideology and oppression, but also makes you want to be around whoever is having it. We may not be able to be around Dara any more, but we can still (as Dara and the Pink Bloque would say) “fight the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal empire, and anything else that needs fighting, “one real (or metaphorical) street dance party at a time”.

Fereshteh Toosi:
Dara graduated from Oberlin a few years before me. I’m certain her energy lingered, it set a precedent for my friends and me as we learned how to survive and thrive through music, politics, dance, art. Later I moved to Pittsburgh for grad school and I met Blithe Riley, who shared more about Dara and her work with me. I learned about a project they were both a part of, Pink Bloque. We were lucky when Dara and Blithe and the rest of the crew held one of their workshops in Pittsburgh. Doing direct action with pleasure and humor was an antidote to things that were inaccessible and alienating about old protest tactics. I can’t thank Dara enough for championing a fresh model for creative resistance. I share her work with my students with hope that we can have more and more of her influence trickling into activism and cultural production. Eventually, Dara and I intersected again through mutual friends who were in Syracuse. It was a joy to get to know her better. She was really good about reaching out and inviting you into her networks. We did a few conference panels together and each time I was invigorated when she talked about the intersections of art and social justice. After Syracuse I moved to Chicago. We never overlapped here, but Dara was part of building the momentum that makes this city such a good spot for collaboration and culture independent of commercial forces. She was one of the many people who set a tone for the spirit of this city, her legacy remains years after she moved away.

Dara has been with me for a long time, even when I didn’t know it. She was always a few steps up ahead on the path, a trailblazer striving to open up spaces for discovery. I am grateful for these transmissions of positivity and possibility. Even now, she’s still weaving intersections: dancing in and out in our lives and pulling the threads together, tighter, stronger.

Dan S. Wang:
In addition to her natural possession of intersectional analyses, I remember Dara for her intersecting emotions—joyous laughter mixed with nervous energy, confident criticality blended with innocent curiosity, a living sense of the absurd wrapped around a righteous indignation.

Mary Patten:
Letter to Dara,
You dance and laugh with butterfly energy,
but are “solid as a rock” – a dense amalgamation
of spirit, of courage to face, if not embrace,
indeterminacy:
this is what awes me.

Your constellation of friends so big, so broad,
spinning colors and patterns of checks, stripes, splashes and blurs,
many are young, but many others are graying
Some never before touched by the prospect
of losing someone so close, so soon –
others veterans of grief, which never gets easier.

There is an unalterable aloneness in loss. You taught us to face this.
The lessons are there in your letters, which we will re-read for years to come.

But I still fall apart when I look at your picture.
You left the world too soon, taking with you
a perspicacious, capacious intellect, with still so much
on that to-do list…

I take comfort in the idea that our molecules never die.
“Consciousness” as we know it – individuated and “contained”
in singular bodies – is extinguished, but not our particles.

What happens to spirit? Is there a way to talk about this
without invoking god? I think so. One great thing about my spell check
is that it does not automatically capitalize “god” with initial cap “G” God.
That must be your particles, swirling around me somehow.

Love forever,
mp

A litany for Dara (from Mary Patten)

self-reflexive
curious
eager
embracing
creative
committed
hard-working
visible
vibrant
young
energetic
strong

audacious
calm
complex
embodied
serious
well-grounded
thoughtful
passionate
critical
generous
hopeful
alive

stellar
independent
funny
funny
artist
teacher
mover
shaker
scholar
activist
collaborator
maker

leader
feeler
healer
sharer
contributor
participant
believer
dancer

rocker
challenger
innovator

musician
curator
archivist
organizer
harvester
border-crosser
collaborator
instigator

think+do tank

emerging
progressive
writer
wit

fresh
deft
sweet friend

rare

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