This past Friday, I went to view XS Collaborative’s opening exhibition, a series of three converted New Haven storefronts on College Street. XS Collaborative is a mixture of graduate students drawn from the Schools of Art, Music, Architecture, Forestry among others. According to their mission statement on their Facebook page, XS views itself as an “interdisciplinary collaborative student group that seeks to open up siloed knowledge and production at Yale.” After seeing how XS publicly engaged with Friday’s events on their Facebook page, I would urge XS to extend their collaborative spirit to everyone in the greater New Haven community.
On my way to the exhibit, I heard a very worried man expressing his concern about one storefront that he was certain contained toxic asbestos. This man then waited for about 20 minutes to speak to the event’s organizers. One visitor who had gone into the exhibit before I arrived on the street said to me, “It seems moldy.” After I saw the man talking to the appropriate people in charge of the event, I went home. The last words I heard from this man were, “I’m so nervous about this, I’m literally shaking.”
I do not know this man, and I do not know if his claims were true. But I do get the sense that his intentions were good. However, his cautioning for the safety of XS members and their visitors was not properly acknowledged in XS’s follow-up note on Facebook explaining Friday’s events and why police shut their exhibition down.
This Facebook note, authored by XS founder Saga Blane, made light of the potential danger of this situation and delegitimized this kind man’s actions. To introduce what had happened, the note says, “A member of the Yale community arrived on site and began to complain about potential hazards in the space.” The use of “complain” implies that this man’s intentions were baseless and disruptive. “Potential hazard” does not even begin to cover the potential danger that this man, as a concerned passerby, began to express. This note also unnecessarily questioned this man’s motivations and cast him as an outsider to the art event, saying, “we don’t know how or why he came to the show,” and “our evening … caught unintended attention.”
Furthermore, I am extremely surprised by the lack of acknowledgement or apology for possibly endangering the health of their visitors. Not once was “asbestos” mentioned in XS’s note. Instead, their note only vaguely refers to “potential hazards”.
The note, which focuses on who the man was and questions his motivations, does not ask the real question — did whoever owns the storefronts wrongfully endanger XS Collaborative members and their visitors by neglecting basic safety protocol? It is indeed terrible that XS’s yearlong effort got shut down with one phone call. But now XS has the responsibility to figure out if someone or some company endangered the lives of students by not appropriately testing the space.
This kind of urgent digging requires a leap of faith, an empathetic response to this stranger who clearly had no malicious intent. This leap of faith is something that XS promotes and seems to achieve well among themselves as practitioners.
A public and respectful acknowledgement of this man would have strengthened my opinion of XS and Friday’s opening exhibition. I believe that truly civic-minded dialogue occurs not with people who think the same ways that you do, but with people who think in different ways than you do. That is the real challenge, and one that artistic collectives like XS are uniquely disposed to achieve.