Thursday, April 23, 2015

River of Words Oral History Project: Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck, "Be Good," Re-Connecting to Community

I got to meet with the lovely crew of Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck, and their two kids, Mateus and Ana who provided silent and not-so-silent commentary throughout our interview. Their house boasts the word "Be Good," a phrase, Jorg reflected, that serves as a subtle reminder that one should strive to be good "inside and out." The River of Words project, he explained, serves as a kind of connection or spark for "trains of thought" as well as a means, Terri added, to reconnect with community, even with the time and energy demands of parenthood. The installation process served as an opportunity for "childish (in a good way) fun" for the adults in the neighborhood, to compare the words picked, to take pictures with their words and neighbors, a kind of "mini-explosion" of conviviality. The project is a source of "great affection" for the community, Terri commented, and a subtle reminder, Jorg noted, of one's neighbors just by seeing the words they picked and remembering conversations about why they were chosen. Thanks so much for your time!

TW= Terri
JW= Jorg
MW= Mateus
AW= Ana

CB: OK. So I am here with Terri and Jorg Wiezoreck as part of hte River of Words Oral History Project. Thank you so much for your time. I wanted to start with some demographic data, so, I'm trying to get a sense of the diversity of participants, so, could you provide me your name, address, age, race you identify with, and marital status.

TW: Ok. I am Terry Wiezoreck at 1701 Buenavista Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 42 years old, Caucasian, and married.

JW: Hi, I am Jorg Wiezoreck, I live at the same address as Terri, and I am 49 years old, and I am of German extraction, lived in the U.S. now for about 20 years, White-Caucasian instead of the racial identification.

CB: And how long have you all lived in the North Side?

TW: We bought out house-and have lived here since 2001.

JW: In 2001. April 15 to be precise.

Male Child (Mateus): One hour! What minute, what second?

CB: That is very precise.

JW: We moved in during the afternoon, because...

MW: What part of the afternoon?

TW: 1:13 in the afternoon.

JW: All of the afternoon.

MW: Ok! How many seconds?

Female child (Ana): Quit asking questions!

CB: How long have you lived in Pittsburgh?

TW: I've lived in Pittsburgh most of my life. I grew up here, I lived in Ohio for a couple of years for 
graduate school which is where I met Jorg.

JW: Terri and I moved to Pittsburgh together in the summer of 1998.

CB: Great. Is your house part of city historic district, do you know?

TW: No, we are part of the Federal historic district.

CB: Let's talk about River of Words for a little bit. How did you all get involved and what was that experience like?

JW: I got involved through Terri.

MW: That's how all of us got involved.

TW: I had seen something either through one of the neighborhood emails or facebook posts or something saying that there was this project, and I thought it was a great idea to get involved, we try to do a lot with Mateus and Ana that -- they've been to the museum, we let them interact with art, but I wanted them to experience that art isn't just something you look at or you listen to, but that it was something that they could be part of. They could talk to the artists and so we went to the first evening where they had the words available and so I walked over with the kids and they were the ones who chose a word, because they were veto-ing all of my choices.

CB: What word did you guys choose?

TW: Matti, can you tell her what word you chose?

MW: "Be good"

CB: Be good. So what does that mean to you?

MW: No idea.

CB: No idea? Really?

MW: I just picked it because they picked it...I was outnumbered by what I wanted to pick, I don't remember what I wanted to pick...just outnumbered.

CB: And so, did you get to talk to the artists at all?

MW: I don't remember.

CB: [Laughs] OK. So what does "Be good" mean to you? 

JW: To me, this is Jorg speaking here, to me it means that while it reflects through the window the transparent medium there from both sides, one way or the other, you can figure out that it means 'be good,' that you should be good on the inside to the outside, reflecting to the streetside. To be good.

CB: And what does 'be good' mean to you? [To Terri]

TW: "Be good" are two of the words that I think I say over and over and over again to the kids. 

MW: You say them more apart than together.

TW: But I like the idea...we kind of liked the idea that it was this outside reminder, and inside as 
well, and its something that at school they know to be good, at home they know to be good, and they wanted to share that. They liked the idea of having those words. I wanted "Biblioteca" but they didn't like that because it was too long and hard to say.

MW: What! It's not too hard to say or too long.

TW: That's what Ana said. And then we talked about the word "Wolf" but Ana thought that was too scary.

MW: Why's it scary?

TW: You'll have to ask her.

CB: And so having this word on your house, ahs it caused any interactions with people, or conversations?

TW: What I've enjoyed is that two of us, one of our neighbors across the street, she wanted to be part of it, and we were, and then other people started to see that something was going on, and then it became this thing of many people in our stretch of the block could we get to have a word, and it was kind of neat watching people be on the sidewalk and be like 'Oh! They have such and such word! I wanted that word!" sort of this interaction of...I don't want to say that it was childish in a bad way, but it was kind of childish in this fun, gleeful way of like "ooh, what did you get? what did you get? what color is yours?" and "Oh, they're coming to put my word up!" And everybody running outside to see.

CB: You had said you wanted your kids to have chances to interact with the artists as well, so what 
was that like, did they?

TW: We went to the reception once all of the words were up, and its kind of interesting because sometimes they don't realize who they are talking to, they just like talking to people and I think that they had a great time, and I think that they've learned about artists sort of in a historical sense and I like that they meet people who are artists and musicians, they don't necessarily know, just getting that sense that yes, everybody is just a person and people do interesting things. They may not remember but they did have quite a long conversation with the artists and the peope who were involve and the woman from the City who was overseeing the project as well.

CB: Maybe Silvia? Ok, so since the words have been up, its been over half a year, have the meaning of the words changed at all for you?

TW: There was a moment, Mateus and I saw it. We were getting ready to go somewhere and the words are in our front window and the way the sun came in it was casting a shadow over the words on the wall going up the stairs. And it was kind of at this point where I had almost forgotten the words were there, at this point because its been winter, we haven't been outside as much and it was really neat to just turn the corner, and "oh!" there was this reminder and it sort of brought it back, new again. That the meaning of why we wanted the words to be there, but also--

MW: I forgot it was there also.

TW: Just to remember that we'd been part of this, and thinking about being outside, and summer, and it was the sunlight shining through again, and so I think the words have come to represent just what we remember, at least for me, about interacting with people.

CB: What about for you, Jorg, have the words changed in meaning?

JW: Well, a little bit, but not tremendously because obviously at the beginning we didnt have a clue how big this would be or not. So, now it occasionally reminds me when I'm coming up the street and I see the sign that there are these signs all over the place, and going through the neighborhood it is kind of a reminder, occassionally, to look at those details and reflect on what some of these words mean, some of these neighbors that we actually spoke to about why they picked the words they picked. So it brings a little bit of trains of though about connectivity, even though you don't see your neighbors all the time it is an additional, if you like, point of contact, even though its just in your own thoughts, its there. In that sense, its a good thing.

CB: Can you all speak a little more explicitly about what you think the overall significance of this project is? You've already kind of gestured towards it, but if you have other thoughts...

TW: I think of the overall significance, one of the things for me was when we moved into the neighborhood before having kids we were a lot more involved with the neighborhood as far as there were projects, there were committees...there were things that we did, that we were connected with people. I had this sense of connection to people through the work we were specifically trying to do, whether it be public safety, beautification, however it was. And, we've kind of gotten away from that and where our house is, we are sort of the northern end of of the neighborhood, and sometimes we are sort of like our own little island up a little higher from everybody else. And what I really liked about the significance of the project, talking about the connection to a neural network, mapping something through the neighborhood, and the significance to me was for a lot of us it brought back the sense of "Yes, we are connected, it is a community, we do have these relations. 

JW: I mean thats really what it boils down to in the end, its just another activity that seemed to be sort of fun, potentially interesting, just as a thought process, and building connectivity, points of contact with the neighborhood and I echo basically Terri's statements. Now, almost nine years since having these guys around, the ability, the energy, the time left to actually interact with neighbors has been limited, and that was one opportunity over the summer to do that. 

CB: So I wanted to turn now to the HRC controversy, so, I don't know how much of it you are away of or if you have any thoughts or opinions on it.

TW: My parents live in the 1200 block, I believe you interviewed my mom, and so they are part of the City Historic District, where it effects them, and you know, my first thought was, "It's words, it's art, how could this be a problem?" I understand the larger legal issues of if its in a historic district and you are saying anybody can put any word, or sort of...I see both sides of wanting to preserve the art. And people are very attached to their words. It meant a lot to a lot of people to be part of this project. Not being in a city historic district, we plan to leave ours up indefinitely. I like having it there. And it would be a shame if there was just, sort of, along the city historic district line, if the project was truncated, because I believe most people who are outside of the city historic district plan to keep their words up. I would hope that somehow the Historic Review Commission could, in whatever way, just acknowledge that the individual houses in the City Historic District are part of this larger project, and that there is value in keeping the larger project intact, since, overwhelmingly people want to keep it intact.

CB: Yeah. Jorg?

TW: I think he's been less aware. [Laughter]

JW: I can't really comment intelligently.

CB: That's fine, that's totally fine. I wanted to close with your thoughts on the role of public art in the North Side, and then in Pittsburgh in general. What is the purpose of public art in this neighborhood and who does it serve? What does it produce?

TW: Do you want to say something before I say all the words?

JW: What does it produce? Well it produces, again, a sort of trains of thought in people, I would hope. The whole spectrum, usually public art tends to be not too provocative because it is in a public space, so, it's usually in a sense, positive thought that it provokes, and interaction of the public with it. From a practical point of view, some of the public art installations are maybe challenging because they have to be sustainable, if they are not sustainable then they quickly tend to turn into less of an art object, or at least they lose their intended meaning significantly...and in my view it can have a positive affect on interactions of the public, which in this case is a neighbor where there is a fair amount of walking public that they can actually sit down and appreciate just even waiting at a bus stop or something like that. The positive visual impact of having something interesting around them, that's just [otherwise] a vacant piece of land.

CB: Alright, Terri?

TW: One of the things about public art, there is so much diversity in this neighborhood that we do have struggles and we do have tensions with everybody wanting to be recognized and included as they should, and I think in the neighborhood one of the times we failed was when we tried to come up with just one thing that everybody feels they can buy into. Because, everybody wants to be recognized for their individual contributions and differences, and I think public art is a great way that people can express their part of the community. They can express themselves. We have Jefferson Community Center near our house and there is a large mural on a retaining wall on the side of the basketball court and there were some people, I admit, I got very upset with, because they felt that the mural didn't reflect them, it just reflected a certain segment of the population, but I think there is so much room that we can have public art expressing everybody's contribution. And so I think public art is a great way for everybody, if you look at public art as a single thing everybody can contribute a piece of it, and so it can accomplish that overall goal of reflecting who lives here. It can reflect the diversity of everyone who is here.

CB: Do you all have any additional comments or anecdotes that you would like to share? Or haven't 
had a chance to talk about.

TW: One of the things that I really liked is that our words are the stickers on our front windows, and our front windows don't look like that high, but it was this sort of scramble, the people who were doing the installation, they had one ladder but it wasn't big enough, and it was this kind of comical running around where it was like "Ok! We need another ladder! Let's do this, let's do that!" everybody comes out to see what's going on [the kids laugh] everybody wanted their picture taken with everybody else, they wanted their picture taken with their word, and there is this mini-explosion on Facebook of everyone who lives right by us as we are all putting up our pictures with our words, and it was just kind of funny the way, like I said, sort of childish in a good way, that there was this glee of being part of something, and I think for a lot of adults, depending on your job, we don't always express our creativity, we don't always get involved in something, and I think that just tapped into that desire for a lot of people which wasn't exactly what people were expecting. [to the kids] Do you want to say anything about our words? You don't want to say a word do you? You helped pick them, I though you would want to say something about them. Do you still like our words? 

AW: Mhmm.

TW: Why? Anything you want to say Mateus?

MW: Uhhhh.

TW: There was one great moment that I liked, he [Mateus] was on a facetime call with a friend of his from school and he said "I gotta go, I have an art reception to get to." And his friend said, "What? You have to do what?" and he said "It's for River of Words!" and he said it like, "Dude, don't you know? It's River of Words!" But it did become just...just what we were doing.

CB: Anything else you'd like to say?

JW: No.

CB: Ok. Thank you so much for your time.

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