Brooklyn director Marcin Ramocki isn’t trying to ridicule Williamsburg in his new documentary, Brooklyn DIY (debuting at the Museum of Modern Art tomorrow), although it might come across as such. In the film Ramocki, who also directed the video game documentary 8 BIT, examines the creative renaissance that arose in Williamsburg in the early ’80s, and the ensuing gentrification that’s been taking place in the area ever since. The neighborhood is also the director’s home; he talked to us from there about his decision to make a documentary about the ever-evolving hipster mecca.
What attracted you to doing a project based on Williamsburg?
I guess happily living and making art here, for almost a decade. It’s easy now to slam Williamsburg. It has become sort of a caricature of itself, mostly due to its own success. As happens with all New York art migrations: after the hip, utopian artist communities comes big capital. And I’m not out there to hunt real estate developers: it’s simple market economics. I wanted to make a light, funny portrait of an art community, which is facing a rapid extinction, at least in its DIY version. I experienced the last moments of the wonderful, creative mess that Williamsburg used to be in the late ’80s and ’90s. That era is over, but a certain spirit of anarchistic, rude, crappy beauty continues until today.
I’d like to remind the New York art world that Williamsburg was a genuine and powerful cultural phenomenon, it simply wasn’t heroic. It was about participating in the community. This was the spirit of the early utopian artist communities like FourWalls, Organism, Rubulad or Green Room. And the same tradition keeps some 40 galleries open today. Living in a real art town makes you realize that this graduate school idea of a heroic genius-creator is not only boring, but also false.
Were you at all surprised by the results that you compiled throughout the filming process?
I was surprised to find out how fragmented Williamsburg’s 20 years of art history were. I was expecting one community and found this multiple “camps” and groups, often related to migration periods, geographic locations or academic affiliation of the members. South side and north side were entirely different worlds: the giant warehouse parties were totally different crowd than Pierogi or FourWalls. Younger Electroclash folks almost completely didn’t overlap with the gallery scene. It was kind of a monadic universe. I hope Brooklyn DIY shows some common threads between all these moments.
What’s been the reaction to your film from the community thus far?
Pretty awesome so far, everybody offered help and access to their archival materials. I am sure many people will find my version of history idiosyncratic, and what can I say: It probably is!
What’s next on your project list?
There is a thing I am thinking about making with Paul Slocum and Kevin Bewersdorf. We have been working on this internet surf club: spiritsurfers.net. It is sort of a blog-based conceptual art project. We want to make “Spiritsurfers: the Movie”, which would be a feature film entirely created within context of the internet and this new lo-fi-Google-Facebook pop culture. So no cameras.
What are you favorite Williamsburg hangout spots?
Recently I have been mostly hanging out in the editing room, but back in the days when I had a life, Pete’s Candy Store and Bembe were my spots. I also like this little French bistro on Graham Avenue called Fanny’s.
Catch Ramocki’s film at MoMA, tomorrow at 8:30. A discussion with Ramocki and participants in the film follows the screening.