Cutting Vinyl.JPG

Click to see every step of my design process

Charmaine Lau, Pitzer College '19

interviewed Jesse Goldstein

I came up with my final project idea after a visit to Oakland. In a city getting taken over by artisanal vegan donut shops, new (weird) Asian fusion restaurants, harshly minimalistic cafés, and breweries that boasted an obnoxious assortment of IPAs — all of which bore marks of the gentrification seen in cities all over the US and exemplified best in Williamsburg, New York — it was clear who these new establishments were meant to cater to and who was, by proxy, forced out because of them.

From a former British colony myself, I have always had a complicated relationship with the idea of “development.” From birth, it was directly and indirectly ingrained into my psyche that I (and the rest of Hong Kong/Asia/the colonies) were culturally backwards and needed to be “modernised.” Even though I have since come to unlearn that colonial bias and undergone immense efforts to decolonise my way of thinking, I see the claws of neoliberal capitalism everywhere and the way it infiltrates and ultimately changes neighbourhoods and peoples the same way colonialism did. While I do not have a solution for any of this, I did want my final print to somehow capture my qualms about this and spread the word or taint the glossy image of gentrification by affirming the existence of what was there before.

I was incentivised mainly by Jesse Goldstein’s interview insights on what it means to use art/creative production as a vehicle of political resistance in a capitalist society. One of my questions probed at whether or not it was even possible to make radical resistance art when the creation and production of the art ultimately requires some sort of funding (in reference to his Kickstarter campaign and, in our case, resources from an institution). I was really curious about how he goes about navigating this dynamic, especially because his entire Occuprint collective was about protesting the capitalist giants on Wall Street. His differentiation of cultural production as means of garnering solidarity and mobilising movements with just “political art” (which is often less connected to political movements) was interesting to think about. Though he noted that we should always be careful of the way that capitalism can complicate these movements, what he said about it not being completely fair “to categorically denounce any types of art practice as necessarily ‘selling out’ to the capitalist system they mean to critique - without considering the art in a broader strategic context” was really fair and put less pressure on me to think about the means of our project. I do see the good in being able to make the image and have it be accessed by others at institutions similar to ours. In the spirit of cultural production, perhaps all of our prints can reach an audience and rally some sort of solidarity we never could have achieved on our own.

In terms of the design, I turned specifically to the book I chose for our Denison Library exhibit, How To Talk About Art, for ideas on how to evoke change. Through the piece’s pop-up, interactive elements, the reader is able to see the before-and-after on just one page. As my focus is on gentrification, the need to show change (the effects of gentrification) was crucial in demonstrating just how the phenomenon works. This is why my original idea involved some kind of pop-up or 3-dimensional element. But because all of our prints are going to be stacked together, I had to find a way to keep everything on the one piece of paper to avoid creating an impression on the print on top or below mine. So I decided to consolidate the design of two store fronts: one of a glossy, minimalist coffee shop commonly seen in neighbourhoods such as Silverlake or Williamsburg and have that be printed over a mini mart with an eviction notice (to represent what was there before and had to be pushed out). The question “How much did your coffee really cost?” is on the bottom of the page to point to the ridiculously high prices of these specialty coffee blends that these cafés sell and to the human cost of gentrification (loss of livelihood). The ink on the bottom layer of the mini mart is dark on purpose — I wanted the text and image to be seen. The grey of the coffee shop is meant to mirror the aesthetics of “modern” coffee shops.

I ended up using vinyl to cut out the shape of the stores (both of which are intentionally the same shape) and of the word “coffee” because I felt less comfortable using the linoleum blocks and the x-acto blade allowed me to work more precisely. I could have finished my page in two prints (printing all the text and then the image/coffee) but because I had some issues mixing paints to get the ideal colour and aligning the images and text perfectly, I ended up having to do three prints: first the mini mart text, then the coffee store front, and finally the question at the bottom.

Perhaps my one setback is the colour of my design. The intensity of the gray is not perfectly consistent in all the prints but I am overall happy with the design and to have completed this project.