Fallow urban terrain, like Cleveland's Plot 118 north of Euclid Avenue, is sometimes called "drive-by" space — a place commuters speed past on their way to somewhere else. But such places are too numerous to ignore. According to a recent article in Urban Affairs Review, vacant lots make up about 15 percent of most large American cities' downtown real estate. At best scruffy and at worst polluted by decades of industrial use, they're hard to like.
There's no easy fix for these rubble-strewn areas, often isolated behind chain-link fences. But a quickie makeover is another matter, or as Cleveland-based artist Corrie Slawson puts it, a "fun remediation." Assisted by about 20 SPACES Gallery volunteers armed with 260 rolls of bright Finnish fabric ribbon called poppana yarn, Slawson has made a couple of local acres a bit more loveable. Her project, Work Party 118, is underwritten by SPACES Gallery's SPACELab. It's the first of four experimental works the retooled program will undertake in 2010, reflecting a tighter focus on both area artists and the region.
Once the center of Cleveland's garment industry, Lot 118's land runs along the city's flashy renovation of Euclid Avenue, just a few steps from a lot of freshly poured concrete and gleaming futuristic bus stops. Most of Slawson's multi-colored poppana was used to make a sort of drawing, stretched out in long, map-like lines on land at the northeast corner of East 69th Street. A local resident told Slawson's group that there was once a gas station there, but now it's tumbledown pocket park, a ward of the nonprofit MidTown Cleveland Inc., which promotes the stewardship of the surrounding two-mile-square area.
On a sunny morning last week, Slawson and her team wrapped the hot pink, baby-blue, lavender and lime-green ribbons around several steel rods sticking up from a partially demolished cement-block wall. From there, they unspooled long lines of color, tying strands to low stakes set in the ground. The resulting triangular shapes shimmered above the snow, vibrating in the breeze like a stringed instrument. Nobody was expecting anything quite so sweet. The crew also collected and wrapped trash to take back to the gallery, where it will be part of an installation conceptually linked to the physical site.
"We're doing something," says Slawson. As cofounder of the (defunct) publication Hotel Bruce, which covered the intersection of art and urban affairs, Slawson is a veteran Cleveland activist. "No great claims — this is quick and dirty," she says. But as a kind of drawing on one of Cleveland's smudged, blank pages, Slawson's ephemeral work, with roots in '60s artist Robert Smithson's earth art and experiments with offsite mapping, is a kind of marker in the neighborhood's long history, a quick and happy sketch of future time.