LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Video mash-ups illuminate Cleveland’s hidden beauty


By Lila Hanft, Cleveland Jewish News, 11/23/07

During much of Cleveland’s recent past, its leaders have subscribed to a particular vision of Cleveland’s future as a rebuilt city saved from economic doom by demolition and new construction.

Other stakeholders in the city’s future don’t agree that rampant development is in the city’s best interest. These advocates support historic preservation of buildings; small, local businesses -- and public art.

One day, Norm Roulet, founder of the online community RealNEO, posted links to public art created by a group that calls itself ClevelandSGS. ClevelandSGS captures myriad images of Cleveland - old signage, public events, nature - and posts them online in an extensive gallery of original and recombined (or “mashed-up”) images on its page.

Uniting the diverse members of ClevelandSGS is their love for the city and their mission of uncovering the spiritual reality and beauty that exists beneath Cleveland’s reputation for relentless urban decay.

This art includes the video “mash-ups” made by an artist variously known as Modesto Speed, Ernie Miscreant, and Scorpio Diamante, none of which is his real name.

Scorpio contributes still images as well as video mash-ups. “In my case, a mash-up is the recombination of digitalized commercial imagery with the intention of conveying spiritual concepts,” Scorpio explains. Taking video footage created by someone else, he “alters or reorders (them) to convey a feeling or message not initially intended by the original author.”

An example is the mash-up on YouTube in which Scorpio “turned a ‘Halloween Safety Video’ into a ‘Video of an Unsafe Halloween.’” (There are links to both the original and derivative works so the viewer can see for herself how the original work has been altered.)

This is the signature ClevelandSGS video mashup (be patient: the embedded viewer may be slow to load):

Scorpio restricts himself primarily to images from the city of Cleveland. “From there I cut and paste until my message is clear ... or I am just too tired to go on.” The work that results “are more like ecstatic utterances than intellectual works.”

Some of his mash-ups honor the work of local sign-painters. Other images pay homage to businesses that have closed, leaving their signage behind. Many photos are “of existing commercial enterprises (because) small business transactions constitute a long-tale of love and good will.”

Although the word “Elohim” appears frequently in Scorpio’s work, he is not Jewish. ClevelandSGS’s “fixation on Elohim as a general term for the Divine came from the Institute of Divine Metaphysical Research sign on Pearl Road,” he confesses.

And what's the fascination with signage? “I guess that I am attracted to the unintended messages that signs often convey,” he muses. “They comfort us as we pass by … (they) become anchored reference points in our personal story.”

Drawing upon old signs and other images of Cleveland, Scorpio’s work is “meant to spark imagination in people. It puts our history as a city in context while leaving much to the imagination … leav(ing) us to create our own personal colorized history.”

Scorpio chooses to work in a digital format in part because it is a “language” that most people understand. He hopes the images he creates slip into people’s day, and that in “remixing” their environment, he has shown them a new way of seeing.

A sample of ClevelandSGS's static mashups.
For more images, visit the ClevelandSGS Flickr page.

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