Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tent City: Dancing on Edge

Tent City Residents rest & read in rain.

Main Security Gard Cynthia on duty and in her tent "Cyn's Den"
Craig & Sandy Mitchell's happy "Personal" tent.

Seattle poet AK Mimi Allin became a "self-designated" artist in residence at Tent City last November. See her excellent blog about it here: http://tiny.cc/xeyl6). From what I gathered, she committed to live and work for 2-3 months at Tent City's current location in Lake City area. I was very interested to connect with her, find out more about the experience the lifeSTYLE at this unique place. I invited photographer Rex Hohlbein to join me because he has an ongoing project of photographing Seattle's homeless people already under way.
We arrived and introduced ourselves as looking for Mimi. She was not there but we were invited to leave her a note. Everyone was initially kind and smiling but I also felt underlying tension, worry and concern. This more clearly unfolded as we remained to get acquainted for the next few hours. We were told that if Mimi did not return by X-hour today, she could loose her tent space. And, that her space was a special exception because all women were supposed to stay in the group tent for X-days before getting the privilege of a personal tent. There seemed to be some disagreement about whether her case as "artist-in-residence" was "fair." We asked permission to take some photos (only with permission for each one), look around (only with security escort guiding us), and dance (only in designated specific area).

This is a dwelling place for homeless people who "qualify." I say that because they run quite a tight ship here so it is not for the feint of energy or commitment. Tent dwellers must "check in" at least once every 3 days
lest they loose their space/home again. There are strict rules of conduct such as:
No letting the honey bucket doors slam
No profanity
No loitering
No littering
No smoking in the neighborhood
No smoking in your tent
No open flames
No parking within two blocks of camp
No pick-ups or drop-offs at camp
No spitting
No alcohol
No drugs
No walking in the planters
No eating in the kitchen tent
No going anywhere near the host church
No contact with the shelter in the church basement
No going into the
donations tent after hours
No going into the pantry
No extra blankets
No hoarding clothing
No trespassing
No men in women's tents
No women in men's tents
No anyone in anyone's tent (except your own)
No threats
No violence
No degrading ethnic or homophobic remarks
No missing a meeting
You must disinfect your hands before entering the kitchen tent
You must post a name on your tent
Smoking in designated areas only
(From AK mimi allin's blog http://tiny.cc/xeyl6)
All of these can also lead to loss of one's space if there are
enough "infractions." I imagine how tough it is already and then the added rules must make it really tough just to survive here....or anywhere. Everyone we spoke with was kind and forthright in answering our questions and had a pretty serious health problem that seemed to be the main "reason" they were here. I highly recommend you read AK mimi allin's excellent blog article about her life/artist residency here. It is very informative. I feel we all should know about how this lifestyle "works" and how close it is to home.

music: Antony & The Johnsons "Another World"
Since this was part of the MomoButoh explorations in The STYLES, Rex and I were here to immerse and respond aesthetically through camera lens & dancing body. They only allowed me to dance in a limited space in front of the Port-O-Pottys where every move could be scrutinized as acceptable or not by the security guard on duty. This was the most careful and attentive audience I can every remember having. My dance felt like riding an ambiguous edge with fear of doing something wrong at any moment, rebellious teasing on the edge of acceptability, edgy anger at the limitations on freedom, heartfelt pain and compassion at seeing the hard conditions and suffering of my fellow humans. Along with that was a profound respect and awe with those who chose to make this work for them; the sense of humor they shared and the pride they had with their jobs and their tents. We were welcomed to view inside two of them--which may have broken the rules--in a way that was more generous than I have felt in any other home place I come to visit unannounced. Along with this, I felt a surrendered acceptance to lighten the load of it all and such gratitude for the privilege of being free to go back to a warm safe home after this visit.

Photos by Rex Hohlbein.

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