Garden Rant
Gardening While Intoxicated
Buffalo Spree


A year ago, Licata became the fourth member of a group of garden bloggers with an attitude. Garden Rant one of my favorites: A blend of gossip, news, crusade and, yes, raw rant, it blows the cobwebs out of gardening's mustier corners.

–Adrian Higgins,
Washington Post

... co-curators Elizabeth Licata and Amy Cappellazzo have magnificently transcended the limitations of what is, at bottom, a show of books. ...Preciousness—the bane of such exhibitions—is nowhere in evidence.

–Richard Huntington,
Buffalo News

"Garden Walk Buffalo: A Celebration of Urban Gardens," is a tour guide into dozens of gardens during the annual event held the last full weekend in July. It's knowingly written by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, and packed with gorgeous photographs...

–Mark Sommer,
Buffalo News

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Art Writer

"Buffalo Gals"

25 years ago, Time called Buffalo a "militant acropolis of the avant-garde." Since then, the city's independent media--while never again attaining such a pinnacle of hype--has maintained its reputation as an anti-commercial mecca while capriciously eluding an easily definable profile. Independent producers study here and sometimes establish themselves, creating a fluctuating scene, characterized by ebbs, flows, and occasional bursts of activity. In recent years, a strong concentration of independent women producers has been a dominant force in shaping this conceptually diverse and politically pungent environment.

The March '93 edition of Visible Women, Buffalo Media Resource's yearly series of video, film, and photography by independent women producers, focused on local producers such as Barbara Lattanzi, Chris Hill, Jody Lafond, Cheryl Jackson, Meg Knowles, Teresa Getter and Annie Fergerson. These artists were given deservedly prominent roles in the series, confirming that women producers, particularly in video, are generating much of the media activity in Buffalo.

"I now feel interested in being involved in other communities or a community that's not necessarily identified as an art community," says Barbara Lattanzi, who is teaching Media Arts at the University of Syracuse this fall. "I'd rather feel able to steer myself through various communities with a media activist agenda. There's always been a sort of cycling and I think we're at a cycling point." Lattanzi refers to the peculiar way the character of Buffalo media activity always seems to be transforming itself, continually reforming itself around issues and strategies. A rigorous theoretician as well as a longtime media activist, Lattanzi is now completing a series of tapes based on the relationship of technology to female masochism. She is one of a small core of producers who have been active in every stage of the Buffalo independent system--from university to screening centers to public access.

Grounded by the activities, programming and resources of three institutions--Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, the State University of Buffalo's Department of Media Study, and Buffalo Media Resources/Squeaky Wheel--independent producers in Buffalo tend to move in and out of fluid, mutating, loosely collaborative groups. The threads of this infrastructure are profoundly connected, and have been strengthened by Buffalo's recent creation of a city-funded public access facility, B-Cam.

Although the eventual institutionalization of public access has led to a built-in screening resource for producers-- often used for the screening of activist, collaborative tapes on topics such as reproductive rights, censorship, and community politics--on-going series and activities like Hallwalls' yearly Video Witnesses festival and Buffalo Media Resources' Work-in-Progress screenings give makers a continual opportunity to gear their work towards relevant themes as well as get valuable feedback. As SUNY Media Study graduate Meg Knowles says, "I realized I was seeing the same thirty people at all the screenings--people whom I now know well and often work with. Everyone has an equal weight. Your opinion is worthwhile, even if you haven't even edited yet. It's a good community that way. People don't always have to grab credit, like, 'This is my project; you are my crew'"

Knowles is one of many producers--including most of the artists from Visible Women--who at one time or another have joined in activist collaborative projects, producing tapes quickly and efficiently in order to respond before the issues vanished from the fickle sensibility of the mainstream media. 8MM News, a collective known for initiating controversial projects, produced Disorderly Concept, a documentation of arrests following a protest (also planned by the group) over the censorship-propelled cancellation of a Survival Research Laboratories performance at Artpark in Lewiston. The tape was ready for public viewing (via cable access) a few days after the protesters were released on bail. The visuals of the protest--including a huge wooden bible, a chainsaw fake suicide, and symbolic disrobings--stayed the index fingers of many area channel flippers.

8MM News' next project--a conceptually intriguing but inherently risky idea--was to literally follow local network news teams around Western New York, performing often intrusive deconstructions of the scripted routines of Buffalo's news hacks. They managed to produce a widely distributed four-part series, The News Diaries, and were banned from the premises of at least one of the local T.V. stations. The group's final project involved Knowles and four other members of the team--Garland Godhino, Lisa Laske, Cyndi Cox, and Maria Venuto---who produced P4W: No Healing Here, a documentary on a women's prison in Canada. This tape has now been screened at festivals and venues throughout the country, giving 8MM news continued life, at least on paper. The group now lies dormant while its members continue with more pressing matters of career and survival.

The Media Coalition for Reproductive Rights collective formed in 1989, in response to the growing high-profile of anti-choice activists in Buffalo who were beginning a comprehensive and quickly escalating harassment of Buffalo womens' health clinics. During Operation Rescue's highly publicized "Spring of Life" campaign in the spring of '92, MCRR was already producing a public access series called "Pro-Choice Planet." With the advent of a media invasion of Buffalo during the most violent clinic demonstrations, MCRR was well placed to immediately produce an hour-long documentary of the siege, entitled Spring of Lies. Although Spring of Lies challenges the misleading emphasis placed on "neutrality" in mainstream coverage, it is probably the most holistic statement in video of last spring's events available, highlighting spectacle and analysis was well as personalized viewpoints.

The need to produce an independent version of events covered by the mainstream which can be viewed in tandem with mainstream coverage--even if it means doing without a $50,000 grant and a production crew--is keenly recognized in Buffalo. Chris Hill, who has been active as a Hallwalls video curator and Media Study instructor as well as a Video Data Bank special project director, has been watching and analyzing the Buffalo scene for over 10 years. "We're not in a city where media production is an industry," she says, "One of the reason the collectives came about is that people had shared political interests. Media Coalition for Reproductive Rights came about at a time and place where it was a big issue. The point of contributing to projects has to do with advocacy, making a statement that's nationally distributed. But after that, tapes do get rented, grants are applied for, and the group needs to define what happens beyond the life of the tape."

"It seems like I've always worked collectively, says Cathy Steffan, who co-produces a weekly public access series called Studio of the Streets with Media Study professor Tony Conrad. "I only have experience of Buffalo, so I don't know what it's like in other communities, whether people support each other, even with equipment, as we do. I suspect it's a rare thing." Steffan and Conrad were tireless in fighting for a public access facility, most notably with Studio of the Streets, which underlined the importance of studio facilities as well as channel time. Each week Conrad and producer Steffan--joined by 8MM News members and other participants--would conduct interviews on the steps of Buffalo's City Hall, complete with umbrellas and snow gear during the city's not infrequent spells of inclement weather. When the city finally got a studio for public access, Steffan and Conrad continued their program, switching emphasis to educational issues.

What happens with the inevitable waning of collective activity is that members quickly realize that advocacy is important but not always as spiritually and aesthetically satisfying as individual projects. The individual work of Buffalo's visible women is highly idiosyncratic although much of it still seems grounded in issues of gender and sociopolitical marginalization. MCRR and 8MM News member Jody Lafond's recent trip to Japan was the first prize in a competition held by Luminous, a Japanese women's media group; she made a tape about the experience entitled "Ticket to Tokyo." Lafond created a typically personal, diaristic view of her whirlwind tour but she also focused on the economic norms of the Japanese population, most notably the sensibility of the "salarymen." Lafond's tape--aired in the Visible Women series--seemed highly conscious of her outsider position in the socioeconomic environment of her own country as well as in Japan.

Heightened awareness of contemporary social issues--fueled by personal convictions and refined by activist collaboration--seems to infuse all the individual work of these artists. Cheryl Jackson's "I Want To Be You," a work of deceptive structural simplicity, adds irony and cultural critique to the strongly felt feminist politic evinced in Jackson's work with MCRR and her mission as director of Buffalo Media Resources. Teresa Getter's fake autobiographical documentary "Face the Music, " a sharp, contemplative redefinition of the idea of "ladylike" public behavior, continues in the 8MM tradition of deconstructing T.V. news cliches. Annie Fergerson, a relative newcomer who came from Montana to attend SUNY's Media Study, is more interested in digital manipulation and fictional narrative than most of the other producers. Fergerson's surreal tape The Whole House Is Empty takes cues from soap opera models as well as a more sincere need to examine the transendent banalities of everyday existence.

Future projects from the Visible Women artists will focus on subject matter such as gambling on Native American reservations, UFO abductions, Niagara Falls souvenirs, the healing professions, and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Diverse topics, but it will probably be possible to trace within all of them the selfconscious critiques and sociopolitical advocacy so important to these producers' collective experiences.

The Independent, 1993

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