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Sn 3 - Ep 2

TAR BEACH
By
Elleza Kelley
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All across the city, above our heads, the roofscape exists as an exploded expanse of planes. In her illustrated quilt-turned-children’s-book, Tar Beach, Faith Ringgold flattens and tilts the rooftops towards the viewer, signaling both their multiplicity and ubiquity while also suggesting a spatial continuity that tethers them to one another. It makes a claim for the roofscape’s status as a usable geography and highlights its undomesticated openness, the possibilities of its sprawling blank slate. As a “field” in more senses than one, the roofscape becomes a canvas, a blueprint, a page, a stage, upon which various modes of creative production take place. It becomes “Tar Beach,” which is not only a beach, but a backyard, garden, living room, kitchen, and bedroom all in one: a place to dance and eat and laugh, a place of romance, of sociality, a place to be alone. The roofscape troubles the spatial ordering of social relations and activities, refusing to draw lines between inside and outside, public and private, while also claiming the excess, uninhabitable dead zone as a place of life, of necessity, of intimacy, of interiority.
“Tonight we’re going up to Tar Beach,” Ringgold writes, “Mommy is roasting peanuts and frying chicken, and Daddy will bring home a watermelon. Mr. and Mrs. Honey will bring the beer and their old green card table.” [1] But, up there, we also find laundry lines, plants, a mattress and blanket to fall asleep on. Tar Beach is ephemeral: the form it takes is always contingent upon what people bring to it, how they curate, produce, and re-produce the space. Perhaps it is the site of a lovers’ rendezvous, or the rooftop that Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man traverses as he flees from police. In this sense, the private world that Tar Beach might hold neither promises privacy nor constitutes private property – rather, it is one possible iteration of a partially hidden commons whose capacity for metamorphosis and collective production refuses the very terms of ownership under capitalist logics. Though secluded and invisible to the street, the rooftop is shared by those who use it and in commune with adjoining rooftops – here, enclosure creates the conditions for marronage. As a “blind spot” it threatens the neoliberal ordering of space and bodies in the city, becoming a liberatory site of possibility and protection for those seeking refuge from surveillance, state violence, dispossession, and the crushing weight of capitalism.
But rather than encourage the incorporation of the roofscape by architects and planners, the informal (and sometimes insurgent) occupation of the rooftop offers a mode of collective, clandestine, and improvisatory counter-planning, where the intent is not the utopian regulation of futurity but rather the making of a world contemporaneous with, and yet apart from, the one that appears to structure everyday relations — a world made on the move, on the run, in flight. And flight — both flying and fleeing — is easy, Cassie reminds us, “All you need is somewhere to go that you can’t get to any other way.”
NOTES 🚘🏀🐤🍏🌎🍇

Image: Woman on a Bridge #1 of 5: Tar Beach / Faith Ringgold / 1988 / © Faith Ringgold / ARS / Art Resource.

[1] All quotes from Faith Ringgold, Tar Beach (New York: Dragonfly Books, 1991).
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