Renaming Bush Street
1. Your name, names of collaborators or collective name (aliases are fine).
Jerome Mast Grand, Amber Hasselbring, Corndog Brothers
2. Name of activity, campaign, project etc…
Renaming Bush Street
3. Is this activity affiliated with any other groups?
Renaming Bush Street was created in response to a Feeltank Chicago call: Pathogeographies or, Other People’s Baggage.
4. Dates of activity (month, year, duration, is it ongoing?).
Amber Hasselbring supervised the initial survey, which was conducted over four different dates during May 2007, at four different locations at different times of the day along San Francisco’s Bush Street.
5. Location(s) of activity (city, street, store, gallery, web site, be specific).
Thereafter, the work was published as an artists’ book, which may be purchased on demand or downloaded for free at http://stores.lulu.com/renamingbushstreet. Renaming Bush Street is also online at the websites: http://foldout.net/index.php?/project/renaming-bush-street/ and at http://art-eco.org/renamingbushstreet.html. The work was then presented as part of Pathogeographies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gallery 400 from June 12 – July 7, 2007. An updated version of Renaming Bush Street will be exhibited as part of Hopeless and Otherwise at Southern Exposure, San Francisco from May 23 - July 3, 2008.
6. Type of activity (please attempt to classify the tactic).
Renaming Bush Street takes the form of a survey, which we created, tried out, revised, tried out, revised again, tried out, revised it once more and then we completed our last survey. Each revision of the survey text was made to encourage passersby to respond and participate. During the time of the survey, we generated raw material: 65 surveys, photographic documentation and notes by the surveyor(s). Currently, we are reorganizing this data for further analysis.
7. Target and goal of activity.
As we worked to design the Renaming Bush Street survey and questions, our goal was to engage with people. We chose to frame the survey around the highly controversial Bush presidencies to draw out impassioned responses.
8. Please describe the activity in a paragraph.
Renaming Bush Street is an artwork that incorporated conducting surveys along Bush Street in San Francisco. Playing off the name Bush Street and its possible identifications with our 41st and 43rd Presidents, the survey recorded the reactions of passersby to the name Bush Street. These responses, or lack thereof, reveal some examples of how a cross section of San Franciscans relate to history, politics and cultural ideology.
In June and July 2007, the project was exhibited as an edition of postcards, blank surveys, BUSH pin-back buttons and a set of books presenting the surveys and documentation.
9. What was the outcome of activity?
There is not necessarily an outcome of this activity, rather a series of events have transpired. In San Francisco, Paul Hogarth wrote an article, It’s Time to Change the Name of Bush Street, which posted on April 16, 2007 to Beyond Chron, San Francisco’s Alternative Online Daily. Before we conducted our May 2007 surveys, Hasselbring contacted Hogarth to inform him of the Renaming Bush Street survey to be conducted in May 2007. Thereafter, Jesse McKinley, San Francisco Bureau Chief of The New York Times contacted Hasselbring about the project. Unfortunately, contact with these media figures, which may have inspired public discussion and dialogue about the project, was not established. Renaming Bush Street was then exhibited in Chicago. After this exhibition, the work was largely abandoned until early 2008 when curator Valerie Imus expressed her interest in including the work in a July 2008 exhibition at San Francisco’s Southern Exposure.
It was not necessarily our intention to change the name Bush Street, but rather, we hoped to draw out responses from people about how they relate to this name in specific and to the urban environment in general. Bush Street, considering its many possible associations, seemed like a good street name to highlight.
10. What did you learn from this activity?
When we started to do research, we were surprised by the inconclusive history behind the name Bush Street. We were also surprised to learn that passersby often tended toward keeping the name because of the historical precedent, even though they did not know the history of the street name. We also found that taking notes during the survey helped to reveal some more accurate reactions to what we were doing. Many people thought our survey was a preposterous endeavor.
We are currently looking over the data again and are beginning to think about what makes our project a successful artwork in the public and/or political environment.
11. What influenced the decisions you made in creating this activity? (be specific)
The decisions we made as we created project were contingent to the call that was sent out by Feel Tank Chicago for Pathogeographies. Here is an extract from the call (words we underlined are key in how we approached our project):
Feel Tank is a Chicago collective that’s been taking the emotional temperature of the body politic for four years. We are now investigating the making of that temperature. We’re interested in the political potential of “bad feelings” like hopelessness, apathy, anxiety, fear, and numbness. For Pathogeographies, we’re also interested in other people’s baggage. The term “pathogeography” is modeled on the Situationists’psychogeography but substitutes pathos (feeling) for psyche (the soul) to emphasize theemotional investments and ephemeral experiences circulating throughout the political and cultural landscape. We invite other collectives and individuals—artists and non-artists alike—to create “suitcases“ (real or imagined) carrying tools tocreate, collect, and record political/emotional scenes.
While drafting ideas for this project, we paid particular attention to the word 'pathogeography' and its Situationists’ roots in the urban landscape. We linked our interests in street nomenclature and engendering public responses to develop our project. The affects tied to them. We chose Bush Street because of its possible identifications with our current president and past president. Our interest was to use this street as a polarized site of contention that could reveal some of the bad affects tied to these two controversial presidencies.
We developed our survey to 'collect and record' political emotions, and hence respond to the needs of the Feel Tank call. The surveys were not designed to function as a typical survey—that is to collect and quantify populations and opinions. Instead we were interested in using the survey as a device to record the people's thoughts, feelings and ideas as they relate to the naming of our public places. Because our goal was to get responses from people, we tweaked the survey after every session to make it more effective at drawing out people's concerns. In the last rendition of the survey, we included a section for the surveyor to record notes and quotations. We discovered that what was said aloud often revealed more about how people felt than what they chose to write on the surveys.
We were interested in developing ephemeral residue to mark the site of each survey. To do this we opted to include a script that would lead to the chalking on the ground of the passerby's answers. This would be done either by the passersby themselves, or the surveyor.
At the end of each survey, the passersby were given a pin-back button and a card about the project, and photographs were taken, especially of the chalked pavement.
A book was then edited to contain all the surveys, photographs, and quotes from passersby. We chose to publish the book in both color and in black and white, printed on demand to allow for easy use and distribution. Also, the book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License, as we understand that the content contained in the book might be useful for others.
We chose to exhibit the four variations of the surveys on clip-boards with statements below them about why we made the changes we did. We exhibited the BUSH pin-back buttons, which were largely unpopular, as well as a stack of postcards we hoped would engage our Chicago audience. These postcards were addressed to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which urged the Board to consider changing the name Bush Street to Chet Helms Ave.
12. How do you measure success for this activity?
We measured the success of the survey by the quality of the responses we gathered from passersby and by their willingness or unwillingness to discuss the possible affects of street nomenclature. Success for this project is also about its ability to invent a space for public discourse and participation. One of our questions was: should the names of streets change over time?
Success for this project could also be measured by its distribution: by how many books were downloaded and purchased, by its readability in the gallery environment, and by any media coverage and public response/support. However, we find it hard to gauge the project's quantitative success.
13. In order to continue and be successful with this or other related activities, what would you do or need? (Be specific: is it a question of tools, more people, concepts, lock boxes, training, cultural change.)
When we were confronted by this question of what constitutes success for our project, we had to stop and take some time to think about it. (How can we hold ourselves accountable for the actions we took.) We thought about the history of J.P. Bush, and to us, it was important to make sure this name was not confused with our Presidents. We were interested in asking people to consider the name Bush Street and its origins, not simply to take it as it is. The recent Bush Presidencies have changed how people think and feel about Bush Street. With our survey, we hoped to provide a starting point, where this issue could be discussed. In all likelihood, we realize that Bush Street will not be renamed simply because of these possible associations and their negative affects.
On a larger spectrum, we are interested in how the process of change comes about, both in short term, and longer term. With Renaming Bush Street and with our other work, we are interested in eing part of a dialogue where we can critically discuss our values. Through creating more of these opportunities, and by asking certain questions, we contribute to building a richer vocabulary that will further help us to understand and circulate these values. In working this way, we build an infrastructure that provides access to sharing tools and resources, that is a platform for dialogue and exchange, where we can learn new techniques for representating, writing about, and participating in the creation of culture.