Issue 22 : Spring 2012








Otherzine issues

Top of page

Other Urban Echoes:

Interview with Erick Lyle

by Otherzine

1 Mar 2012

Some words define themselves by their very invention: Streetopia, for example, the name of a group exhibition coming to The Luggage Store in May. Underground historian and Punks Against War activist Erick Lyle, one of the three co-conspirators on the project, is preparing a book calledThe Cement Project: In Search of Lost Time in the City that will map the forgotten-but-not-gone traces of drifters, resisters, lovers and loiterers who have passed through San Francisco. Lyle (formerly a.k.a. Iggy Scam, of the multicoastal punk zine Scam) teamed up with Mission School artists Chris Johanson and Kal Spelletich on Streetopia.

Otherzine: How did the three of you come together?

Erick Lyle: I first met Chris at an art event in the Marina in 1998. Every room in a motel on Lombard had been turned into art installations and Chris had a room. This was in the depths of the dot-com era. Some friends I was with decided there were too many yuppies at this event and, inspired by the free beer and vodka, they stole some shit out of an installation. It turned out to be Chris's work. He gently talked them into giving it back. Somehow he still talks to me today. Mostly Chris and I know each other through punk rock. I am a drummer. Chris was one of the heaviest bass players around the Mission.

I know Kal from proximity, being in the neighborhood and at protests together for years. A fond memory of Kal is standing next to him in a squat on Market Street on the day we shut down the city in 2003, as Kal gave an interview to a reporter from Portland while wearing the mask of the Black Bloc. Even on tape, the excitement in his voice brings back to me so vividly what thousands of us did together.

OZ: The concept for Streetopia?

EL: I was working on a new book about San Francisco and I wanted to do something exciting to bring the ideas to life more in a public way to announce the book. I also knew I was moving away from San Francisco and I wanted to do one more big fun collaborative project with a bunch of friends before I left. The show was conceived at a time when morale seemed really low in the City, so I thought it was time to ask people to consider what our Utopian inspirations for San Francisco really are, and how our hopes and dreams fit into the long history of the city and the hopes and dreams of the past.

Our plan is to build a city in the Luggage Store Gallery on Market Street that will house visual art and various room installations that take on these themes. The show will also feature some Diggers-inspired type of stuff like free food, a free library, a free store, etc. For the length of the show there will be nightly events, performances, talks, forums, skill sharing, teachings and storytelling. There will also be public art and public performance to bring these ideas out into the surrounding neighborhood. I think the show got so ambitious because of my lack of experience in the art world; I didn't know enough to know how much work this would all be! But the whole thing has been a really amazing experience for me that has required a ton of reading, research, and thinking while introducing me to many new interesting people and collaborators and bringing me into a bunch of really stimulating conversations.

OZ: Echoes of Occupy, yes?

EL: The show was originally scheduled for May of 2011 but got pushed back a full year. The irony is that in that year, the moment changed quite suddenly, and the Occupy stuff started. The Occupy camps in many ways embody my exact vision for the functional aspects of the show. The free food, the meetings, the events, etc., not to mention some of the content. In October a friend sent me a text message that said, "Dude, your art show is in Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland!"

...I sift through these layers in search of lost political, art, literary, and Utopian movements. The possible futures that never happened. I consider SF's lost movements and how they are in conversation with each other across time and space and I try to consider my own life and experience and mortality in this context.

It's pretty amazing: the ideas in our show were also germinating unknown to us in so many people all over the country at the same time. People have been longing for this. One aim of the show is to turn the gallery space into a laboratory where we can explore ways to bring the Occupy ideas into the neighborhood more. Not everyone can or wants to go live in a tent downtown, but they are still interested in making change. To me, the "Utopia" we address in the show is not a prescriptive blueprint of a city of the future as much as a potentially ephemeral or floating locus where people come together to make these connections. Hopefully people will come together and then leave behind seeds of something new when our show necessarily tears itself down and disappears.

OZ: Can you tell us about your new book?

EL: The book is actually not coming out for a while. That's how much time and space the art show has taken up in my life-the show is no longer even literally connected to the book that inspired it! The main thing, though, is that I was about to turn in my rough MS in late 2010 when my computer with the book on it and all the notebooks related to the book were stolen! They were in a bag that I had been forced to check at a bookstore in Olympia, WA, and the bag was stolen from behind the counter. No part of this book was ever recovered. SO?I have been slowly putting the book back together. That's why the show was delayed a year. It sucked. What can I say? But the truth is the book and the show are much better because of the delay.

The book is about time and the city, about the layers of history written in the streets. It's an urban archaeology in which I sift through these layers in search of lost political, art, literary, and Utopian movements. The possible futures that never happened. I consider SF's lost movements and how they are in conversation with each other across time and space and I try to consider my own life and experience and mortality in this context. It will come out when it comes out!


Streetopia opens at The Luggage Store gallery in May 2012!

Links for Streetopia, Erick Lyle books and others:

Streetopia website
Punks Against War
Streetopia/Brooklyn Artists Alliance
On the Lower Frequencies book
Scam Zine
Bookslut on Scam