Ruminations on the Dissidents, the Displaced, and the Outliers of the Bay Area

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Composition of screen grabs from No-Fault Evictions in San Francisco, 1997 to 2013, a data visualization by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project

In thinking about the changes happening in San Francisco, I find the relationship between privacy and gentrification seems rather disparate at first mention. However these two concepts have become inextricably tied in urban environments subject to a particular influxes of new wealth and shaped by high-tech’s skilled labor. Around the mid-1990s, San Francisco witnessed its first forays into Internet commerce and the first technology boom heralded a burgeoning class of dot-com entrepreneurs. Twenty years since the first tech boom, we see yet another resurgence of technological advancement that aims to connect the world on a global scale. The Social Media industry aims to connect all people, but the connections that ought to draw us together seem to pull us farther apart. The divisions of class, race, and gender are more apparent now than ever before.

“We engage in discussions about the intricacies of protecting our personal information even as we lose our birthright to a full personal life. A man is fleeced of his pension, his right of collective bargaining, his chances of retirement, his likelihood of leaving a small nest egg to his kids—but look, look, here’s an article about the ever-looming dangers of identity theft! There’s a thief on your back porch, says the robber at your front door, stepping into your living room while you go to check.” –Garret Keizer, excerpt from Privacy

When you are poor and underserved, you cannot buy privacy and more often than not, your livelihood may fall prey to gentrifying forces. Families with one or no English speaking household members are at high risk of gentrification because they may not have social services readily available to assist them. The elderly or those living with chronic illness are yet another portion of the population that may not or do not have access to and knowledge of digital tools and must rely on local governments to assist in their care. Transgender individuals are also underserved and at risk when full disclosure of information often times leads to discrimination with respect to both employment and housing. San Francisco is one of the wealthiest cities in the country yet does not provide easily accessible resources for these communities.

In Local, Protest, Global Movements: Capital, Community, and State in San Francisco, Karl Beitel examines the contentious relationship between the Bay Area housing rights movement and economic development. Beitel explains that from the perspective of gentrifiction’s enthusiasts, “giving free rein to speculation and commerce is required to make way for progress,” and  consequently the “past is thereby purged from the everyday world of the gentrifying salariat, who experience the urban world as both a site of encounter with difference and a world in need of the civilizing influence of commerce.” The tension between the gentrifier and the gentrified intensifies as the complex relationship navigates around new economies and a meshing of cultures. The underserved and underrepresented are often times visible only during the rapid changes that fail to take them into consideration and, in some instances, when it’s too late.

The Social Media industry aims to connect all people, but the connections that ought to draw us together seem to pull us farther apart. The divisions of class, race, and gender are more apparent now than ever before.

Within the past few years, there have been several attempts within the arts community to open up the dialogue around such issues. Interventionist art practices have called attention to the private bus lines that shuttle tech employees to and from their homes in the city and their offices typically south of San Francisco. Bay Area teaching artist and curator Katherin Canton recently worked with her students to create an exhibition at Adobe Bookshop in the Mission about the effects of gentrification on the youth and older generations of San Franciscans. This project reminds us that there is a new generation of San Francisco natives that must navigate these issues and seek the histories and cultural knowledge to inform how they will contribute or affect change.

The looming effects of gentrification for a mother of three working excessive hours to make ends meet is not eased by a lottery system for Below Market Rate housing and entails a full (usually digital) disclosure of one’s life, work, and assets.

While gentrification can often imply improvement (e.g. a cleaner environment, less obvious crime, or high quality, fresh foods), the process also signals a blurring or erasure of working class families of color. Privacy, an issue related to gentrification and housing security, plays a significant role in the way we engage with our concept of home. A home provides a deep sense of security, but most importantly, personal privacy. In Garret Keizer’s book Privacy, the author writes about the ambiguity of home and displacement related directly to our notion of privacy. For example, citizens overextending their production and labor beyond their capacity in order to maintain access to housing and livelihood. There is no work-life balance for individuals that must overwork in order to live. The looming effects of gentrification for a mother of three working excessive hours to make ends meet is not eased by a lottery system for Below Market Rate housing and entails a full (usually digital) disclosure of one’s life, work, and assets.

The machinations and intricacies of privacy and surveillance and their relationships to gentrification weigh heavily on the minds of the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, Eliza Barrios, COLL.EO, Leslie Dreyer, Tom Loughlin, and Elizabeth Travelslight as they prepare for the Bay Area Society for Art & Activism’s exhibition The Dissidents, The Displaced, and The Outliers. Developed in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the exhibition will take place in Oakland’s Random Parts gallery and San Francisco’s Incline Gallery from May 9th to June 19th, 2015. (Click here for more details.)

In the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, the viewer is able to read and listen to narratives of displacement made public by the underrepresented. This project brings to light what may not be otherwise captured in official tallies or data from the Bay Area municipalities. They have also expanded the project to include both statistics and information of people of color subject to police brutality and violence. Barrios’s practice uses the architecture of buildings and public spaces for video art and projection pieces that speak to the untold stories within the interiors of buildings and closed off spaces. Her grandiose displays call our attention to the past to engage dialogue about the future. COLL.EO have used GPS technologies to re-create the San Francisco Bay Area landscape within the constructs and parameters of a game. While seemingly whimsical and fun, there is an underlying message that the viewer is implicated in the individual and potential collective forgetting and remembering of a cityscape.

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Leslie Dreyer, Reclaim/Disrupt, detail from performance/intervention at Tech Crunch’s Disrupt conference, September 10, 2014

Dreyer’s work is a direct call to action where her work involves the presence of the viewer to disrupt the rhetoric of speculation and inspire others to join in the action of affecting change. Tom Loughlin unravels familiar systems and ideologies through overt visual markers such as neon signs that speak to alternative economies and conceptual works that entangle the viewer into the technologies that bind and separate us. Finally, Travelslight takes common materials of technological security and invites us back to early experiences of protection-the infant security blanket. As newborns, we cling to our parents for protective shelter while swaddled in softness and warmth and the promise of security. Travelslight plays with this childhood trope and creates blankets from bullet proof ultrahigh molecular weight polyethelene, EMF shielding fabrics, and other materials that complicate notions of security and shelter for adults.

The Dissidents, The Displaced, and The Outliers was developed in partnership with the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The transbay exhibition will take place at Oakland’s Random Parts, 1206 13th Ave, Oakland from May 2 – June 5, 2015 and San Francisco’s Incline Gallery, 766 Valencia St, San Francisco from May 16 – June 19, 2015.


Dorothy R. Santos is a writer, editor, and curator whose research areas and interests include new media and digital art, programming, the internet of things, augmented reality, online performance, gaming, open source culture, and political aesthetics.


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Posted in Art & Activism Quarterly, Art Exhibitions, Bay Area, Class, Curating, Posts

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