the Piazza

In Fall 2002, Reanne, Eliza and I were artists in residence at the McColl Center for Visual Art in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a memorable, epic, hilarious 3 months, and yielded a lot of ambitious new work, including Mail Order Bride of Frankenstein.

McColl Center for Visual Art (plus Jung’s Laundry & Cleaners!), Charlotte, 2002
MOB having an orange-pants-day in the McColl Media Lab, Charlotte 2002

It was probably around the first week or two of the residency when the Center arranged for us to attend a lecture given by the great Faith Ringgold. Later that fall, we also got to see a lecture given by the great Dr. Jane Goodall, as well. Legends!! If there’s one thing I love, it’s watching a highly-accomplished older woman school her audience. The confidence and comfort with self that she often shares is an absolute delight and an inspiration.

Faith Ringgold
Faith Ringgold

Ringgold’s lecture was wonderful. She was an engaging, charismatic speaker with a clear sense of her own worth, many great tales to tell, and a solid understanding of her legacy in American history and contemporary art. She LOVED herself. This was fantastic to witness, and I don’t say this lightly. Women, artists, and minorities tend not to easily communicate this kind of warm self-assuredness so publicly, so experiencing this with such clarity was fabulous.

However. There came a point in Ringgold’s lecture where her sense of self drifted into the slightly-delusional diva place that I might love even more. Many great creative and comedic moments come out of this state.

Ringgold had gotten through talking about her various art projects, and had decided to start sharing images with the audience of some home renovation projects she was working on, for reasons unclear at the time. She showed us slides of her backyard landscaping project, describing to us in great detail where she intended her piazza to be installed. Her. Piazza.

59 naples2
Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples

At this point, involuntarily and completely independent of one another, Reanne, Eliza and I started silently convulsing with laughter. Perhaps it was simply that Ringgold had meant “gazebo” and not “piazza,” but to us, it was something greater. In that moment, we had simultaneously identified and celebrated Ringgold’s use of “piazza” as shorthand for our own expansive, imaginative, ambitious delusions of grandeur.

“Piazza” is still a term that we use to this day when we embark on another one of our own over-the-top projects.  It comes up when one of us is getting a little carried away with herself in the scope of things. It governs that weird, bouffant-ed slice of the Filipina psyche that Imelda Marcos inhabits for us. And it has much to do with our love of the Madonna Inn, which, situated front and center in our collective mental piazza, is our true spiritual home.

MOB in production for ‘Always A Bridesmaid’ at the Madonna Inn, 2005