Miami River

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Barbara Jo Revelle on the Choragraphic Drift

I am living on the Miami River and the art project is taking this very particular shape. There are just two rules: (1) Each day spend an hour writing about my waking life, dreams, what I read, what is said to me, whatever happens... and (2) be responsive-go out and photograph and video-taping whoever or whatever comes up in the writing. If I read about a baby girl's body rolling out of a sewer pipe into the river and it strikes me-go there, even if it happened in 1938. See what happens. Two days ago I filmed Winston Murdock (the Jamaican I met in El Capitan Restaurant) standing on what is left of his cargo boat- burned mysteriously in what he said was some kind of foul smelling play, you can know that for the truth." Winston mentioned a Haitian boat owner whose boat, Lady Bernadette, was seized and held on the river for three months by the Coast Guard, declared "derelict and unseaworthy", then finally sent back to Haiti empty- its intended cargo left in a warehouse that was eventually broken into by thieves.

Last night I dreamed about going into some kind of boarded up warehouse house on the river with crates and bundles of old clothes and trash, but also gigantic, hypnotic floats like in some Fellini film- the same floats with all the Snow White and Speedy Kilowatt kinds of characters I photographed across from the 17 Ave. Bridge ship yard last week. Inside the dream warehouse were Haitians speaking Creole and doing some kind of voodoo ceremonies, and two dachshunds so skinny and dehydrated that when I put down a bowl of water they sank their heads all the way under the water to drink like some kind of fish or manatee. People say there are manatee in the river. I keep thinking I see one-a manatee-but then it turns out to be a submerged paper bag. The dachshunds kept melting into other kinds of creatures, which makes sense because the heat was so bad yesterday that the head lines read: "Miami Melts."

Because of this dream I found the warehouse that Winston Murdock told me about today--the one broken into after the boat was sent back to Haiti. I met and filmed a woman who was moving as if in a trance, looking through the piles of ripped open boxes, broken open bales of discarded clothes, old mattresses, bicycles, refrigerators, bags of onions, and other undifferentiated debris, all smelling of shit and rot. She said she comes here every day from Little Haiti, where she now lives, trying to find something she had sent to her family in Haiti.

One thing I've figured out is about mapping my own childhood- growing up on Pleasant Lake- onto the Miami River- or why I am, of all the things one could choose to think about on the river, most attracted to the Haitian boats, docks and warehouses and the sanctions against the people. What I know is that when I grew up on my little Upstate NY lake I was forbidden by my father to cross (transgress) to the other side- which he called "skeevers ville", meaning shanty town, as it was inhabited by poor people who lived all year in un-insulated little cottages intended by their builders only as summer camps. There were drownings over there, dog packs, rapes. I was told these people were dangerous, stupid, and immoral. Anecdotes such as how Betty Stupp, unwed mother of nine children, cooked a turkey while it was still frozen with all the packages of giblets and organs, still stick in my memory. Linda McDonald had a basement crammed with broken furniture and bedding, as her father made a living doing upholstering when he wasn't drunk. This basement is where the kids from "across the lake" hung out, killed rats, and did sexual things hidden in the stuffing and the debris.

For me the Miami River is the embodiment of two radically different things smashed up against each other-Hegal and Genet--the bright condos of reason, order, air-conditioning, River Walks and cheerful, jazz filled tourist restaurants the developers are pushing the Haitians off the river in order to construct. Clean, safe boats inspected by smiling coast guards, all reassuring with their loose leaf binders full of Problems and Solutions. And this all slammed against-what? The dark river of evil, shadows and submerged secrets, inchoate stuff of sensation, waters of the unconscious, literature, rank smells, melancholy, mystery, drug dealings, floating decapitated chickens from some Santeria sacrifice....Winston put a gun under his seat before he drove me around the river that day-Haitian boats stuck here in the river beside their rotting cargo because the coast guard declares their boats unseaworthy-dystopia and utopia. The river achieves this kind of composition. It constitutes an unthinkable space. It connects all that's unconnectable.

Code Of Safety For Cargo Ships Operating In The Caribbean

The Code has been developed to provide a regional safety standard for small ships engaged on voyages in the Caribbean Region. The Code principally applies to new ships. The maritime administration should, as far as is practicable and reasonable, apply to existing ships the standards specified in this Code. The provisions of this Code should facilitate the operation of small ships to which the provision of the relevant Conventions are not applicable thus ensuring a level of safety for such ships and personnel on board.

Barbar Jo Revelle interview with Coast Guard

Barbar Jo Revelle: Go.

Commander: Hello, uh I'm Commander Bill Umberti. I'm the Executive Officer here at the Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Miami. And presently, uh, before I had this job I was chief in the Inspection Department, which was the person in charge of enforcing inspection laws for the Miami River here. Now, you've asked me to uh explain what a typical operation on the Miami River is. And I can show you that today by telling you how it's different from a normal way business is conducted on the Miami River. Really, what happens is a foreign ship 'il come in and she'll be empty, she won't have any cargo at all. And then she'll come in, she'll tie up at the dock and they'll send out handbills saying that this vessel's in port and that they'd like to solicit cargo for whatever port they're goin to, usualy Haiti. And so, what happens is people will come down and they'll bring their cargoes, their mattresses, buckets, bags of rice, bags of flour, old clothes, bicycles, whatever it may be, and they negotiate a price with he master and then the master then, that's how he makes his money to pay his crew and pay the expenses for the voyage. Then they go to Haiti. He sells them there. He pays off everybody and makes another trip back with no money to start this all over again.

B: And most boats that come in to either the river or into the Port of Miami come in empty? More.


A virtual tourism enhances and augments the features of literal tourism as an interface giving access to problems-in-progress. Indeed, in the context of theoria it is possible to understand as a kind of virtual tourism the desire of the network news organizations to have their cameras in Baghdad to witness the effects of American missle strikes during the Gulf War. The specific nature of our approach to problem solving is clarified at this point. We do not claim that the arts should replace the empirical disciplines in having jurisdiction over public problems, but only that the failure to grasp the relevance of aesthetic methods to policy concerns deprives public culture of a major resource. The accepted relationship between pure and applied research is that of knowing to doing: pure research does not apply to a practical problem directly in terms of solutions, but indirectly in terms of knowledge--there is something about the practical problem that is unknown or poorly understood and that must become known before any practical action may be taken. IMAGING FLORIDA makes sure that this relation of arts understanding to action carries over to the public realm.

We propose to test the hypothesis that the juxtaposition of tourists with ongoing problems could create a new condition in which the act of public observation (of witnessing and testimony) would alter the conditions being observed. Our website would attract attention to problems configured by arts criteria with the aim of opening them to new kinds of examination. The design challenge of the web of attractions is to learn how to visualize invisible processes. For example, consider the Challenger disaster. The visible part of the problem was the O-ring failure leading to a spectacular explosion shown repeatedly on television; the invisible part of the problem was the institutional operations of NASA administration that, in response to various political conditions, suppressed repeated warnings from the engineers about the O-ring dangers. Representations of this institutional failure are buried in official reports. Every problem has its O-ring attractor and its NASA chaos. With this premise in mind, the purpose of the Problem Tours is to use virtual tourism to anticipate and hopefully prevent problems from becoming disasters. What if there had existed during the period of time leading up to the last Challenger launch something like an internet site (which of course did not exist in its present form at that time) that used the visualization capacities of the arts to relate administrative data to engineering features in a way that dramatized the chances for an explosion. Such a site would have applied a counter-pressure of attention to the bureaucratic pressures that resisted the empirical advice of the engineers. In fact, the action of the rocket boosters on the fuel tanks is the very image of the action of politics on procedure. A visualization of the shuttle problem would have shown that NASA "exploded" before the Challenger did.


We are interested in the capacity of the internet to facilitate and augment connections among the different institutions of our society. Once our prototype is in place we will test it with the help of colleagues in the public schools. For this test we will adopt as a model a specific link between schooling and tourism, one that makes explicit the contribution of tourism to national identity. Many school districts in the Eastern half of the United States promote citizenship by sponsoring a trip to the nation's capital for those students participating in safety patrol (or some similar service activity). The purpose of the trip is to give students direct experience of the monuments and documents representing the values and history of our nation. Our website is related to this school project, as a means to prepare students for taking a share in the responsibilities associated with citizenship in a democratic society. The site invites virtual tourists to visit our problem-in-progress and, using the interactive resources of the internet, to collaborate on a brainstorming experiment aimed at generating solutions to the problem not already offered by the empirical planners. Our prototype uses arts methods to relate public school curricula to public problems. The "solution" to the problems genereated by the educational institutions within the community itself are juxtaposed with those coming from empirical consultants. The knowledge of creativity cultivated within Arts and Letters is disseminated to the point of need and put to work by those most affected by a problem. Student testimony about the effects of a problem on their lives has the potential to transform the priorities and agendas of the distant agencies that until now have neglected this dimension of experience.

The challenge of the new consultancy is to adapt the practices of Arts and Letters to the task of community problem solving and policy formation. What sort of expertise do we possess? We may call upon the methods of our various theorists for models, such as the one provided by Roland Barthes. "The text, in its mass, is comparable to a sky, at once flat and smooth, deep, without edges and without landmarks; like the soothsayer drawing on it with the tip of his staff an imaginary rectangle wherein to consult, according to certain principles, the flight of birds, the commentator traces through the text certain zones of reading, in order to observe therein the migration of meanings, the outcropping of codes, the passage of citations. While we are interested in discourse, our text includes an actual place, a rectangle cut out of the map of Florida, a place that has earned the status of "wound": the Miami River.

We will consult this site in the manner of the soothsayer, as a zone of reading or mapping, not to solve its problems, but to reopen the question of "problem" as such. The zone is a map of contemporary spirit. The new consultancy reverses the direction of explanation: the problem explains us; the external scene provides an image of us, collectively, the "we" that is left out in the spelling of "holism."

The first step in the process is simply to accept what appears as information associated with this zone.

The soothsayers' responsibility?- To interpret for the policy makers the meaning of this collective dream.