Albion Through My Eyes – Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful
October 17, 2019
In the age of the pervasive cell phone, postcards and the like appear to be relics of the past, artifacts. But not really, what has shifted is the speed at which those with access to technology can circulate “I wish you were here” images and the obscene quantity of them that are being constantly shared. I am not the exception to this and so, after recently surrendering my flip phone I joined the troupe of pilgrims communicating digitally with those back home. My first week in Albion, I walked up and down Superior, cell phone in pocket, several times a day. I would snap a photo, walk some more, find a place to sit outside, walk, introduce myself to a storeowner, snap another photo and send it to a family member or friend. One of the images I took was that of a streetscape including a row of historic buildings, which went to my friend Harley Spiller in Brooklyn.
“You look like you are inside one of Edward Hopper’s paintings.”
His text message back read something like this “You look like you are inside one of Edward Hopper’s paintings.” I concurred with Harley until I came across one of Maggie LaNoue’s cards depicting Albion’s most dramatic weather story. Then the question for me became how to step into her illustration of the storm that is said to have delivered 28 inches of snow in town. I got Maggie’s okay! Soon after, I donned the burlap and brocade satin vest that Susan Heisler had sewn for me at her farm. I embellished the hat that matched the vest, made by Susan also, with a feather that a local pigeon had dropped from the sky. With no tree branch that would serve me as a staff, I grabbed a broomstick and off I went inside Maggie’s The Great Blizzard of 1978.
Whether a printed or a digital version of them, postcards are far from being the still moments or scenes that they seem to capture. Instead, the myriad pixels in them work together as a whole to generate an entry point that pulls one into a locus one can mentally inhabit and even activate. On the other hand, that which one perceives as a three-dimensional reality, like my initial walk up and down Superior, can indeed be flattened pretty much like a postcard in one’s head.
The Albion I encountered during my first days was one that read to me as picturesque, quiet, and tree-lined; an “I wish you were here” situation. It was however, LaNoue’s card that afforded me the possibility to practice coming in, and I eventually did. LaNoue’s illustration corroborated as well so many of the complexities the place posed for me. Before moving from the Bronx to Albion, I had purposely resisted doing any research about it. I wanted to step into it with as few preconceptions as possible, so as to suspend any of the comparisons or judgments that one can quickly confer on a community one has just read about. For this reason, I wished to allow Albion to be the book I engaged with at a bodily level, as lived experience.
At a superficial glance, I thought, there was not much in common between the infamous South Bronx of America and the seemingly dissimilar town in Michigan. Nothing.
In my hometown, the Bronx, people of many cultures and colors have united to save neighborhoods ravaged by arson and city neglect. The way cool, sometimes loud, and very strong Boogie Down is still treated by New York City’s administration as a second-class citizen. So, what does this have to do with postcards of Albion? At a superficial glance, I thought, there was not much in common between the infamous South Bronx of America and the seemingly dissimilar town in Michigan. Nothing. Nevertheless, the discrepancies soon started to dissolve in front of my eyes.
For one thing, LaNoue’s card depicted the Albion I was encountering day after day: the diverse city I would have never imagined, a town interested in writing histories that include all of its communities, and its present struggles to generate new jobs in a changing economy that no longer relies on manufacturing. This could be the Bronx for sure.
This could be the Bronx for sure.
In LaNoue’s The Great Blizzard of 1978 I spotted some buildings that I can still recognize. Others are no longer here. Further into this scene, I walked into Lopez Taco; listened to gospel and watched an Aretha Franklin documentary at the Bohm; read the book Pride as part of the BIG READ program; attended a spaghetti dinner at the open and affirming Salem United Church of Christ; interacted with different individuals and organizations during the Festival of the Forks; cooked a big pot of apple sauce for the Albion Rainbow Connection’s (ARC) potluck, the LGTBQ and Allies group in town; and admired the changing season.
At the moment, I am readying myself to join the tree planting crew at the end of the month. “I wish that you too were here.”
“I wish that you too were here.”
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is the visiting artist at the Albion College. He seeks to meet people in town. To contact him call The Recorder newspaper.
Nicolás Dumit Estévez Raful is a performance artist and teacher who has worked across the USA and internationally at venues such as Madrid Abierto/ARCO, The IX Havana Biennial, PERFORMA 05 and 07, IDENSITAT, Prague Quadrennial, and NYU Cantor Film Center. He has received grants and residencies from Art Matters, Lambent Foundation, MacDowell Colony, National Association of Latino Arts and Culture, Printed Matter Inc., PS1/MoMA, and Yaddo, and holds an MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University, and an MA from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Nicolás teaches art at the visionary City & Country School in Manhattan and presents architectural workshops that help SEQ ART KIDS students create their own utopian architecture.