Anchorage / 5th Avenue & C Street Lot
June 7, Friday Site-Specific Performance: Urban Memory Forest
A movement performance will take place in and around the Urban Memory Forest, a site-specific installation developed by Klaus Mayer and Petra Sattler-Smith of Alaska Design Forum with Look Again director Brian Jeffery. Urban Memory Forest anchors the Look Again Project at 5th Ave & C Street, consisting of metal pilings erected to reflect this particular sites environmental history, the installation is a tangible meditation on a boreal forest. From June 3rd-21st Urban Memory Forest will act as a point of departure for other events surrounding Look Again, evoking questions concerning what we have lost, what we remember, and what remains in our contemporary environment.
Dr. Genie Babb, Chair, UAA English Department, offers this site perspective
Picture the vacant lot at 5th and C. Not easy, is it? A vacant lot by definition is void, empty. You can picture the streets and landmarks that surround it-the 5th Avenue Parking Garage and YWCA to the north, the 5th Avenue Mall to the west, the handful of small shops in frame houses to the east, a Community Service Patrol Transfer Station to the south. But to picture the lot itself taxes the memory. A vacant lot is negative space known only by what frames it, not for what it is itself.
Of course, these frames are modern impositions, as old as Anchorage itself, which was founded as a “Tent City” in 1915 to headquarter the building of the Alaska Railroad. Before that, the lot was far from vacant; in fact, it was part of the vast circumpolar boreal forest that spans Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia, Northern Scotland, Russia, China, and Japan. Called the earth’s “emerald halo” or “green wreath,” this ecoregion comprises one-tenth of the planet’s total surface and one-third of its forested area, making it the world’s largest natural ecosystem.
Derived from the Latin “Boreas” god of the north wind, the boreal forest dates from the end of the most recent Ice Age. Its extreme climate and acidic soil hosting hardy spruce, fir, larch, alder, birch, and aspen. Water sources abound: rivers, lakes, fens, and bogs. Over 200 species of birds, along with mammals such as caribou, lynx, black bear, moose, beaver, wolverine, mink, hares, squirrels, and voles inhabit the boreal forest. And human beings? Eons before Captain Cook “discovered” the area in 1778, the pathless forest was traversed by first the Eskimo and later the Dena’ina Athabaskan peoples.
What remains of this ancient history on the site of the 5th and C vacant lot? Nothing but a memory. No visible trace of its Boreal forest grandeur. Only the ornamental trees and shrubs that line the sidewalks distantly allude to the birch and spruce that once inhabited the area. However, this forgotten, effaced, and erased natural history will be revivified this summer with the Urban Memory Forest installation. Will we ever look at this lot as “vacant” again?