Artifacts: ABC No Rio, Founders' Era

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Artifacts chronicles the start of community arts and activism center ABC NO Rio.

Imagine walking down Delancey Street one night. A winter night. You walk past tenement buildings crouching like Easter Island statues pistolwhipped by bulldozers. The wind is slamming into the buildings like hurled plates which shatter from the cold. There's romance in the air. You are carrying a battered guitar case with a pair of bolt cutters inside (what were you thinking)?

Artifacts gives a backdrop as to the city's--and that specific neighborhood's--real estate and housing politics in the late 1970s, leading up to New Year's DAy 1980, when a group of artists broke into an abandoned building to stage The Real Estate Show, an exhibition protesting the skyrocketing rents while so many buildings remained warehoused.

The City padlocked the show after one day, confiscated and even damaged some of the art. The artists made a big to-do about this and the City, very embarassed by all the bad press, agreed to let them rent a storefront and basement for $242 a month to do whatever weird socially-conscious art that they wanted to do.

Thus, ABC No Rio was born.

Who the hell could possibly foretell that your actions tonight would lead, later, to you playing air saxophone holding a cardboard cutout of same while miming in sync to a cassette tape track of no-wave music in front of a bunch of rum drunk cynical arty types who just happened to be killing time while waiting for their generational Godots to get the fuck out of the scene; for overdoses and cirrhosis of the liver--for something anything to take away the sting of unarticulated New Year's angst? Who could foretell that the cutting of a padlock on the door of an abandoned showroom would unlock a chain of events more absurd that any Dada manifesto?

Artifacts also chronicles the early years of ABC No Rio, where a group of predominantly white artists not only staged their own shows, but opened the space up for neighborhood residents to participate. For one exhibition, "Animals Living in Cities," neighbors lent their animals: pigeons, chickens, cockroaches, along with the more common cats, dogs and caged rodents. Another, "Tube World" was made up entirely of sculptures made by neighborhood kids out of cardboard tubes.

The zine is peppered with anecdotes as well as xeroxes of images from those early days, most of which were taken from the now out-of-print (and very pricey on eBay) ABC No Rio Dinero