Homesteading: the very begining of explaining this massive project.

Here’s the first rough draft that might help to connect many of the pieces that make up “Homesteading.”

Homesteading is a project about Homestead, PA

And Homesteading is a multi-faceted project addressing some of the factors people are faced with during the shifts occuring as global industrialism shifts and changes.  Some might say we’re all up in “late capitalism” but, really, it’s “current capitalism.” Because who can say capitialism is late?  Maybe the current incarnation of capitalism is middle-aged. Anyway the project is about Homestead, PA, a deindustrialized and ravaged city that’s of great historical importance, on so many levels.  It’s a city that’s both real and metaphor. In 1892 Homestead is where the US’s second deadliest labor strike, the Homestead Strike, occurred in and is one of the United States most important cities related to labor history and industrialism. And now, Homestead matters a great deal in terms of urban planning, as we think about how to successfully shrink cites that once had been industrial boom towns. 

The Homestead Strike, or the Battle of Homestead, was a defining moment in labor history. In brief, union workers at a mill owned by Andrew Carnegie, known as Homestead Steel Works were locked out of the mill after failing to renew a contract after months of negotiation. It was announced that Henry Clay Frick, who Carnegie had placed in charge of the mill’s operations, had begun the lockout one day before the existing contract expired, violating the agreement that had been in place.  As a result, the striking workers were determined to keep the plant closed and their efforts escalated into a battle between hired Pinkerton agents and the workers and community, with blood shed on both sides. The strike resulted in major losses for the union and Carnegie Steel remained nonunion for forty years. Carnegie later sold the mill to JP Morgan among other investors, contributing to his enormous fortune. The Homestead Works was a working mill until 1986 and produced steel for the WWII effort as well as for a number of important American landmarks, including the Empire State Building.

Over one hundred twenty years later, there’s still great ramifications from this historical moment being felt in Homestead, a ripple effect globally. The effects of the deindustrialization that happened after the mill closed in 1986 and the resulting mass hemorrhaging of jobs are a part of the everyday reality of living and working in Homestead. When the mill shuttered, The Waterfront, a large mall with a number of big box chain stores was built on the footprint of the razed Homestead Works, effectively creating jobs but primarily in service and retail, and often not paying a living wage. People who live in Homestead now are still trying to figure out new ways to stay and work there.

One of the things Homesteading addresses is the way wealth is accrued and moves through the world in relation to this specific place, the place which generated the funds having built the Carnegie Museum and metropolises like New York.  As one of the components of Homesteading, I opened a portrait studio on 8th Avenue in Homestead. It has been set up so anyone who lives or works in the zip code, 15120, or is a member of the United Steelworkers union (currently or retired) can visit and have their picture taken. Two hundred of those who have been photographed will have their portrait featured at the Carnegie Museum, which is three miles away.After the closing of the International, the Carnegie will accession up to 500 images as a gift from the artist, with each valued at $1000.

Along with the portraits from the studio, there are a number of photographs made over the last year and several projections, which are a collaboration between myself and the artists Sharon Brown and Wenhua Shi, which will be screened both in the Carnegie Museum and at the Pump House, where the first workers were killed during the strike. Among the projections there will be a looped image of the Monongahela River running. The name Monongahela comes from the Lenape word mënaonke, meaning “where banks crumble and fall.” Here’s to Homestead’s place in the world, its ongoing struggle and to all the Homesteaders who shaped the world from there.  And here’s to all the Homesteaders who will continue to shape the city as it shifts, transforms and renews.  

here’s the first rough draft, I’m going to keep editing it here.