May 18, 2012

a moment to explain, by way of the big pig

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                      melissa s. w/lite brite pig

      From the lobby of the bank, you can hear them and the stench is starting to creep in, too.  You dab cologne on your wrists and place a drop just below your nose.  You inhale deeply, crack the door open, and step out into the warm July sunshine, every beam of which is shot through with dust from the street, now vibrating under your feet.  You look south towards the boats.  You see them coming...hundreds, if not thousands of terrified animals, screaming as they are herded north from the steamy river.  By nightfall their inanimate bodies will be suspended in brine filled barrels, and tomorrow's still-living, shit-covered roar will be floating upriver.  Destination Porkopolis.  Cincinnati, Ohio.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                melissa s.

     My good friend Melissa is participating in ArtWorks' Big Pig Gig this year.  She's making a giant pig statue which is lit from the inside.  The light radiates outward through thousands of Lite Brite pegs, which Melissa has been diligently gathering at eBay auctions and then painstakingly placing on the pig, one at a time.  I took these photos, intending to do a piece on Melissa, as an artist, but then, I got to thinking about the pig and what it says about our town, our heritage, our way of life, and I realized that this would be an opportune time for me to explain my motivation for making this blog.  Melissa's true art is stained glass, so I'm going to do a feature dedicated to her pursuit of that craft in a future edition of CP, but for now, let's talk about pigs and our city.  After all, this is Citizen Pork and I am a Cincinnatian...a little proud, a little embarrassed, and sated with opinions.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                           lite brite!  makin' things with la-ha-hite!

     Cincinnati was founded, in 1788, as Losantiville.  It's proximity to water routes and vast farmlands positioned it as the perfect hub for processing livestock, and, by 1835,  Losantiville had not only changed its name to Cincinnati, it had also become the nation's largest meat packing district. Herds of pigs roamed the streets.  A source of embarrassment for most.  A source of pride for a few.  The vestiges of the inspiration for the nickname Porkopolis can still be seen in the form of abandoned or repurposed meat processing warehouses along Spring Grove Avenue.  It was a city at once thriving, but also locked in a turmoil between perception and reality, past and future, and despite the gradual decline of the industry and subsequent release from the moniker, in my opinion, we remain so today.  We're a city torn between two visions: forward and backward.    

 photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                   this one will do

     Walk with me tonight and we'll see both.  There's a man praying before sleep.  We look back.  There's a home with a family watching Wheel of Fortune and another where a couple is arguing at the kitchen table.  Next door is the one in which unspeakable things might happen to a child.  A woman is absently putting a box into a microwave, ensconced in a robe of cigarette smoke.  We shuffle along.  We look forward.  There's one where a man is sanding the leg of a table he's just finishing's built from curly maple using only hand tools.  Next, there's one where a woman is practicing her vocal scales.  We can faintly hear this through the cracked window of her bedroom.  It's b-flat minor and it reminds us of Chopin.  Up a little hill and to the right we go.  Forward.  There's a man in a garage wearing a respirator.  He's spraying something bright to help make an old car beautiful again.  Across the street, there's a young man sitting under a desk lamp.  He's writing numbers on a paper to see if it's yet possible to think about opening that wine and beer shop which will stock local and regional goods.  We turn another corner.  There's a soft yellow glow coming from a cottage on the right.  Through the window, we see a woman in a blue dress.  She has raven black hair and she's sitting on the floor, alone.  She's placing something delicate looking on the glowing statue of a pig.  Forward for Porkopolis.

     So, that brings us to the final road, to the essence of this blog.  It is an homage to the forward lookers, to the quiet struggle of singular vision, to those who keep a light on until deep in the night, in pursuit.  This isn't the easiest place to carve out a unique mind-space.  The mainstream runs deep here and the fruit hangs low.  The writing and photography I make here is simply a tribute to those who are trying to infuse our senses with alternatives to the Bengals, WEBN, and Montgomery Inn ribs.  They are outnumbered but they are armed with ingenuity and tenacity, and they have my eternal gratitude and appreciation.    

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                       we are all made of stars

    Now, we are almost home.  We're on Spring Grove.  We can hear a distant cry from centuries gone.  These are the places we must leave behind without forgetting.  Today, these spaces on this avenue are slowly filling with musicians, artists, and artisans, who are laying claim to a new view of the pig.  It's my hope that we are all looking in the right direction as their thunderous, inevitable stampede of light, color and sound is made.  We don't want anyone getting trampled.

    Thank you Melissa.  We'll talk again soon.    

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