Resident Aliens: CEPA Gallery 2002/2003 Regional Resident Artist:
[ Gary Cardot ]

Artist's Statement


“One knew of places in ancient Greece where the way led down into the underworld. Our waking existence likewise is a land which, at certain hidden points, leads down into the underworld-a land full of inconspicuous places from which dreams arise. All day long, suspecting nothing, we pass them by, but no sooner has sleep come than we are eagerly groping our way back to lose ourselves in the dark corridors. By day, the labyrinth of urban dwellings resembles consciousness: the arcades (which are galleries leading into the cities past) issue unremarked onto the street. At night, however, under the tenebrous mass of the houses, their denser darkness protrudes like a threat, and the nocturnal pedestrian hurries past-unless, that is, we have emboldened him to turn the narrow lane.”

Buffalo is an example of a city of layers deposited from the decades of history and built into the mass consciousness, dreams of past glories and architectural wonders. Benjamin’s essays on the arcades of Paris meant much to me when I began photographing the neighborhoods and their iconic buildings in the older parts of the city. There are wounds and gaping holes throughout Buffalo but I was amazed at the resilience of its people and their love of their city. Unfortunately, Buffalo has been a victim of national economic trends and world events that no city could withstand. However, I saw in the emptiness all the signs of rustbelt disease and more important, American dysfunction in race, class and social loneliness. These streets and buildings are haunted by the mistakes of the 50’s generation and the lingering stains of racism and unbridled capitalism.

“The city is only apparently homogeneous. Even its name takes on a different sound from one district to the next. Nowhere, unless perhaps in dreams, can the phenominon of the boundary be experienced in a more original way than in cities. To know them means to understand those lines that, running alongside railroad crossings and across privately owned lots, within the park, and along the riverbank, functions as limits; as threshold, the boundary stretches across streets; a new precinct begins like a step into the void-as though one had unexpectedly cleared a low step on a flight of stairs.”

The names of the neighborhoods of buffalo and their histories take on strange meanings when you realize the wanderings of their ethnic groups, the churches that have no congregations or have been replaced by other sects, the stores long closed, the factories empty for years. This disembowelled, once mighty and muscular urban body, is now a disfigured wreck felled by the twin disease of capitalist self-interest and social lassitude. All rust belt cities suffer from white flight and white Americans will have to answer to a lack of imagination and a death wish for apartheid. This ethnic cleansing of whole sections of the city results in not only a lack of community but a withering of the social contract and a disregard for black Americans who have suffered from centuries of oppression and racist distancing. No longer any significant commerce in the city, the youth are left to languish in neighborhoods free of jobs and free of hope.

The emancipation of the ghetto will allow for the integration of Buffalo’s ethnic minorities and the increase in diversity in its neighborhoods. The residents of the old East Side could be relocated to suburbs in new and better housing and the entire metopolitan area could decide on the proper course to be taken to revitalize the old avenues like Broadway, Genessee, Fillmore and William, to name a few. The East Side to this photographer is a gold mine for Buffalo waiting to be developed. This whole city within a city would be developed according to the needs of Buffalo’s economy but only if the city and the outlying suburbs, the whites and the blacks, the rich and the poor work together. In my travels in the industrial heartland of the United States, one of the grave handicaps of the rust belt is its racial fragmentation and class divisions. The most American in diversity of all the region of the country has succumbed to a 50’s style segregation that mars its solcial relations. People who are aiming for a better life are not going to want to live in a city stuck in the race attitudes of the Civil War. The architecture in the downtown could allow for all races and religions to re-unite Buffalo and still keep their heritage similar to what Toronto has today. The rich, architectural heritage of Buffalo will be the starting point for its return to a livable, walkable, social city.


We are properly fearful of violent crime. But far and away, the greatest cause of unnatural death and serious injury for Americans of all ages-especially young people-is car accidents. The New York Times surveyed mortality statistics on the New York metropolitan region and found that a young person grouwing up in suburban Bergen County, New Jersey, one of the ten wealthiest countis in America is three times more likely to die before the age of twenty-four than a person growing up in Greenwich village, Manhattan. The reason? Car accidents.

Despite major safety improvements in cars and highways, half of all fatal car accidents are so violent that even seat belts and air bags cannot save the victims. Car fatalities have been part of our society for so long that people tend to take them for granted. Because of the heavy emphasis on crime by the media-most people believe it is the greatest threat to their health and well-being. Statistics tell a different story. It’s cars.

Buffalo must institute a rapid re-introduction of electric rail systems, trolley cars, expanded bus routes and the gradual weaning off of dependence on the car. The Balkanization of Buffalo began with the car, and the restoration of Buffalo as major city in North America will begin with the death of the car. Since the 1920’s, America’s cities have expanded outwardly with suburban sprawl, growth of fields in the inner city, parking lots asphalting acres of once vibrant commercial blocks and walkable neighborhoods reduced to the oldest parts of the wealthier and more educated districts. The city must encourage the return of the social contract with stores to walk to, churches to belong to right in one’s neighborhood, gyms and libraries and the British “high street” of shops and community centered-ness.

I once thought it is the loneliness and desolation of 30’s America that Edward Hopper painted but sometimes I wonder if his sense of depression and the unease in urban life was a fortune-teller’s tale done in oil. Possibly Burchfield’s wiggly, ghostly Victorian mansions have been reincarnated in the horribly disfigured houses you see in any old rust belt neighborhood. Rather than preserve the ancestral areas of our cities we destroy them with parking lots, red-lining, convenience stores and fields.

“Could this be America? A vibrant downtown, the sidewalks full of purposeful-looking citizens, clean, well-cared for buildings, electric trolleys, shop fronts with nice things on display, water fountains that work, cops on bikes, greenery everywhere?” Kunstler is talking about Portland, Oregon, a city that rejects the open spaces that look like gap toothed mouths, stretches of fields and abandoned factories, parking lot wildernesses and tower apartment houses. Portland has urban growth boundaries that cover a three county area that preserves the countryside and fills in the city, limiting subdivisions and encouraging inner-city apartment dwelling. All the government officials of the industrial northeast should visit and study the bucolic northwest and then the solutions will appear for any city that wants to be democratic and alive.

When you see a city of beauty you want to photograph its energy, its atmostphere and its color. The energy of Buffalo is its industry and history, the atmosphere is its tonal mass of rich architecture, the color is its rich ethnic mix. Photographs of the city must illustrate this heady mix of huge grain elevators, of Sullivan designed wonders, of eastern European cathedrals, and turrets and towers of urban romanesque. This Buffalo will never lose its magic and this Buffalo endures. It is the city without homogenized strip plazas, the city of raucous bars and ethnic restaurants, not chains of boxy retail, far from the suburbs of 90’s rectangle death.

When Buffalo rejects all that afflicts American society, the uncontrolled sprawl, the racial apartheid, the un-democratic class segregation, Buffalo will lead American society back to its roots-and to Buffalo’s roots.

Capitalist thought will awaken from its own selfish, self-destructive declaration, No Controls on Planning! to catch the ancient American commonwealth consensus, “Save the city, save the land, let the people decide how to best live the civilized life.”

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