2 degrees of separation is a conceptual mapping project that examines the diverse ways in which women and girls perceive and navigate urban space. Building on The South Side Atlas, an earlier work that focused on the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh, next question added material collected throughout Buffalo but in particular from South Buffalo. next question explored the physical, cultural and emotional geography of the two neighborhoods, mapping them with other women and girls in a series of investigations.

Several groups of girls worked on the project, creating their own artwork based on the subject of women and space. In Pittsburgh, high school girls studying photography examined the South Side block by block, collecting objects and taking pictures of details that they found. In Buffalo, the Urban Girls, a group of middle school and high school poets conducted interviews with a wide range of other girls and women including older girls at several high schools on the East and West Sides of the city.

The installation documenting the project was on view at CEPA gallery in Buffalo as part of Unlimited Partnerships.

Below is the essay that appeared in CEPA Gallery’s catalog for the show.


Two degrees of separation.

Yeah, two degrees of separation.

That’s what I heard when I first moved here…I’ve only lived here four years, but anywhere I go, I run into somebody I know.

It’s really not a big city; it’s just a large room.

The Project

Two Degrees of Separation is a conceptual mapping project initiated and documented by the group next question (Emily Blair, Michelle Illuminato, and Phuong Nguyen).

Working in collaboration with many women and girls, we examined the diverse ways in which women perceive and navigate urban space. Two Degrees of Separation added material from Buffalo to our earlier mapping project, the South Side Atlas, which took place in the South Side neighborhood of Pittsburgh. In symmetry with this previous work, we concentrated on the area of South Buffalo. Attention to these specific urban spaces allowed stories of women’s interactions with the city to emerge, yielding a mingling of narratives rather than essentializing generalizations. However, the project continually flowed beyond the borders of South Buffalo, as indeed had been the case in Pittsburgh.

For we strive to keep our approach as flexible as possible. The question of how women navigate space is admittedly a broad one; its ambiguity allowed many points of entry for collaboration. In the interviews we conducted with a variety of women throughout Buffalo, we let the respondents guide the course of the conversation based on their own interpretations of the project. Most importantly, the two groups of girls with whom we collaborated were able to devise projects that interested them within the loose framework.

The Bridge…

Ah, the bridge, it’s so beautiful.

There’s a bridge in Delaware Park. It’s underneath
the highway. And we go there, you have to cut across this little
field…

Don’t …I was gonna say don’t say exactly where
it is.

Oh yeah, cause we don’t want a lot of people to go
there. It’s like our spot there.

In Pittsburgh, high school girls studying photography examined the South Side block by block, collecting objects and taking pictures of details that they found. In Buffalo, the Urban Girls, a group of middle school and high school poets , chose to focus on the East and West Side, interviewing older girls at two high schools and talking to people on the street. Three of the girls also created an audio tour of places important to them. Some also wrote new poetry about navigating urban space, including a group poem composed of conflicting components which three girls read antiphonally, creating a sense of the hybrid and shifting character of city neighborhoods.

The Installation

The title Two Degrees of Separation reflects both the proximity between participants as well as that between Buffalo and Pittsburgh. It also describes the structure of the interactive installation, where specific stories in a variety of audio, video and written formats are placed side by side, with multiple opportunities for gallery visitors to add their own words as well. The narratives enhance, redirect, and contradict one another.

Gallery visitors can journey down the main streets of the neighborhoods, which are represented by large-scale lightbox displays of text and image.

They can read about places that have been important (often in an everyday way) in women’s lives and indicate their own personal landmarks on a large-scale map of Buffalo.

Marcello’s will be something in my mind because I always used to flip through the Art Voice and see the white party and I was like, “Oh, I want to go there someday.” I thought it was like this huge club, and the first time I went there, it seemed so big and I was scared. I couldn’t dance. I felt I was such a nerd. I was with my friend. He was like, “Oh, you gotta come here and I went– that was my first time there. The third time I was there is when I got asked to dance there and right after that day I started putting in tits every day and living as a woman and so I’ll never forget Marcello’s. It was the scariest and the safest place to me within a matter of days.

Plugging headphones into jacks in a chalkboard, visitors can hear women discussing the places they are most and least comfortable and then add their own observations using chalk.

Stepping into the labyrinth, they can listen to audio collected by the Urban Girls on the East and West Sides of the city.

Placing their heads beneath a beauty-salon hairdryer, they can listen to the “audio detour”, constructed from interviews with women in both cities.

On opening night, visitors could also hear the Urban Girls perform their poetry.

Listening

What kind of material is that?

Sweater.

Oh. Well wear it tomorrow. Maybe he’ll let you out
the door.

Yeah, but I can’t dance in that .

Why? It’s got a big slit halfway up your leg.

Cause then I’ll have to wear.. shoes. What the
hell I’ll get it anyways.

Get it. Maybe you’ll get stationed somewhere cold.

Listening attentively to collaborators is crucial; as important as the installation itself and central to this project which also used recorded sound to construct an audio landscape of South Buffalo, which was displayed as text in the gallery space. Attentive listening made clear that although a neighborhood is often thought of as having a unified character, a single voice, it is instead composed of endless conversations, patterned yet unpredictable, between those who move through and live in its spaces.

The Urban Girls who participated in the project are Aquila Alexander, Vanessa Blaylock, Moira Carman, Regina Ernst, Leslie Feldballe, Michelle Ferri, Dominique Gadley, Faith Houston, Shalona Hogue, Gretchen Kamke, Dominique Montgomery, Shari Rosario, Rebecca Sipos, Lydia Thornton, and Ashley Watkins. Their teacher is Suzanne Diffine.