Observations on Ingenuity and Appropriation

Lifeline, part of Ingenuity Festival (Cleveland, OH), September 24th-26th 2010

The proletarian revolution is that critique of human geography whereby individuals and communities must construct places and events commensurate with the appropriation, no longer just of their labor, but of their total history.[1]

Without pretense to revolution, many in Cleveland, Ohio are taking it upon themselves to critique the physical and social geography of their city, questioning, however temporarily, the viability and vitality of underutilized spaces. Most recently, this phenomenon took form in the staging of Ingenuity Festival on the derelict trolley level of the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge from September 24th to 26th.

Ingenuity has been held at various locations in Cleveland for six years, but only this year has it found its unlikely and inimitable home. Abandoned since trolley service ceased in 1954, the bridge’s lower level once connected public transit from near west neighborhoods to downtown. In recent years this massive piece of infrastructure, nearly two thirds of a mile long and 75 feet wide, has piqued interest as a potential public amenity on par with New York’s High Line. Ingenuity, in concert with last year’s Bridge Project, organized with the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, have brought upwards of ten thousand visitors to judge for themselves.

Aside from the bridge occupation itself, Ingenuity’s most visible appropriation came at the hands of artists Kidist Getachew, Michael Lehto, and John Thomas, who, in collaboration with the City of Cleveland Division of Water, created a sixty foot waterfall at the apex of Veteran’s Memorial, plummeting one hundred thirty feet to the Cuyahoga River below. This urban waterfall was obviously derivative of Olafur Eliasson’s similar work for New York in 2008, but transposed to Cleveland it became an unavoidable reminder of the city’s greatest natural resource, and a fundraiser for fresh water access in Ethiopia.

Notable among the many performances hosted by Ingenuity was “The Myth of Cleveland,” a play by a group of young thespians on the myth of Sisyphus. Characters pushed a papier-mâché boulder up one of the bridge’s many access ramps, only to have it roll back down, a metaphor for the futility, but also necessity, of reviving a city long since in decline. The ten-minute play ran every hour on the hour during the entire three-day festival. In what may have been the festival’s most astute but least time-consuming installation, some modern-day psychogeographer simply scrawled on the bridge’s concrete structure in chalk: Guy Debord!

[1] Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1995), 126.