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WOID #VI-36. Review: Union Square



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Union Square in New York City is hallowed ground. The North side has
been a speaker's corner for a hundred years or more. Here in 1911,
people marched in mourning for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire,
when young women went billowing out from a tall building, their clothes
on fire. Then there is the corner where Emma Goldman waited during her
brief, unproductive career as a Hooker for Human Dignity...

In the past decade the speaker's platform was turned into a brunch
outlet, and the Business Improvement folks made it "safe." No more. The
new plaza on the South side has become a gathering place for grief, for
anger, for endless discussions - and for writing. Henry Kirke Brown's
dull bronze of Washington on horseback is covered top-to-bottom with
graffiti, and there are multicolored flags sprouting all over it.

Flags tend to iron out specifics - right now the American flag is more
of a comforter than a call. Here the flag is not denied, just marginal -
 and writing is everywhere. Eighty artists dressed in black stand in a
vast semi-circle, each with a large poster reading OUR GRIEF IS NOT A
CRY FOR WAR. One of them holds up her own art-work, a Kahlo-style
picture of the WTC burning, with a poem written across it. It's too
small to be effective. Across the way, three Buddhists sit on the
ground, beating drums. One of the drums reads, in English: "Non-
Violence."

There are signs all over the park: schoolroom projects, hand-written
notes, flyers of every kind: "No aggression without
representation;" "Dose them all, let Goddess sort them out - Peace
through psychedelic enlightenment." The best-organized, and therefore
the least interesting, are the God-boys and -girls who come with slick
brochures and T-shirts: boilerplate text for boilerplate sentiments.

Over all, the silence is phenomenal - not the silence of devotion but
of a searing, striving, pain. If, as Nietzsche once said, a joke is an
epitaph on the death of a feeling, then what is a slogan?

Writing from Moscow in 1935, Bertolt Brecht noted the forest of hand-
made signs at Mayday demonstrations, remembered the streets and
buildings covered with writings in 1917, and wondered why the new,
spanky Moscow subway had so little lettering. The authorities, he felt,
had not kept up with populist culture.

Perhaps we all should listen to our Mayor, now: "Make New York City the
place that it should be." Scribble.

Paul T Werner, New York
http://theorangepress.com

WOID: A journal of visual language

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