The quickest way to put a quarter in me is to mention old Phoenix. I don’t mean historical Phoenix and important names and dates p e r s é , I mean the City of Phoenix. The streets, the shadows, the addresses, the tragedies. But mostly, the buildings. The real ones, the ones that have a history and are not simply historical. When I read about artist Perry Allen and his video installation at the Trunk Space, I immediately felt I was about to meet a kindred spirit. The installation was a film by Allen and described by New Times ‘historian’ Robert L. Pela as, among other things, a work that “covers the evolution of the city, from 1914 to 1957.” I had to see this ambitious undertaking but I am usually leery of Pela’s recommendations, as he likes to forgo the facts when it comes to Phoenix history, and prefers to make stuff up. I arrived at the gallery and discovered that this film was no exception.
Allen’s film was comprised of public domain footage found at the Prelinger Archives, and were presented on one screen in a grid, with four images simultaneously juxtaposed and with background music. The footage played continuously in a 7-minute loop, commencing with images representing the birth of the city (old health class films of conception and delivery). My favorite image was the stream of cockroaches emerging from a cocoon on a mission to destroy. The same way the powers that be eagerly devour and ultimately erase the majestic history of the city in a futile effort to make money. I did find a kindred spirit in Mr. Allen, who returned from Bard College to find his city being systematically destroyed. Allen felt he had to express his reaction, and did so with this recent video installation. The exceedingly generic footage he used hardly touched on the history of Phoenix, yet, as a filmmaker, it did capture my own frustration with the lack of access to the real Phoenix archives (the Phoenix Museum of History has been closed for 3 years now) and the utter disregard for the city’s pride and history. The once sprawling Arizona Room at the Phoenix Public Library has been moved to a tiny area on the southeast side of the building. The 4 microfilm readers for researchers to pore over the entire collection of the Arizona Republic have dwindled to 2.
I generally avoid video installations because, most of the time, I just don’t get it. As with indie films, I tend to shy away from anything requiring a guidebook. With the resources available to him, artist Perry Allen reacted the way an artist would. He expressed himself in the media he was comfortable with, and made the best use he could with what he had. He defines his installation as more about nostalgia and civic pride than angry expression. When the archives are returned to those who cherish them, there is no telling what this young artist will be able to accomplish.