Tuesday, September 29, 2015

RIP Adam Purple: Goodbye Stories Connecting all of US

Memorial for Adam Purple. Bottom photo by Times UP!


We all wore purple to the memorial.  



Public Space Party Tie Dyes


A few of us tie dyed on Friday.  Others recalled or read poems.  Harvey, who took many of the iconic photos we see of the Garden of Eden, staged an exhibit of photographs at MoRUS.  We all feel connected to that garden on the Lower East Side and the anarchist visionary who spurred a movement of urban gardeners some four decades ago. His memorial was a testament to the circle still emanating from that garden on Forsyth Street.





“I wish I had known what those purple feet meant,” Caroline explained, recalling the lines of purple feet which used to extend all over Lower Manhattan. But we did not really have to know.
This story about a garden, earthwork, and commons connects us in any number of ways, some conscious and some elsewhere.

Best known for his incredible 'The Garden of Eden,' an eARThWORK Purple began creating in 1975 in a vacant, garbage-filled lot between Forsyth and Eldridge Streets, Adam Purple, born David Wilkie in 1930 in Missouri, was a white-bearded and purple-clad fixture of the Lower East Side and Williamsburg, noted Times Up!  'The Garden of Eden,' which covered 15,000 square feet with planting beds in Taoist, concentric circles and featured a staggering variety of vegetables and 45 trees, was so luminous, that according to urban legend it was seen by NASA from outer space. 

I never saw it.  But my neighbor Norman did.  And he wrote about it in New York Magazine in 1979 (The Purple People, New York magazine, 27 August 1979).  We talked about the old article sitting out on a stoop here in Brooklyn. So I rode my bike up to Williamsburg to meet Mr Purple, then residing in a closet in the Times UP! space where I’d spent countless nights through the years, hanging out, organizing, planning, conspiring, picking up supplies for our own garden down the street over the last few years, but I never saw Purple, that was until last summer when we talked a few times.  At Norman’s son’s Bar Mitzvah, I met Harvey, who took those majestic photos of Purple and the Garden of Eden.

In between interviews with Purple, I read up on some of the history of the garden and his efforts to create a livable space within the laboratory of the streets of New York City, eschewing electricity or paid work, in a favor of a life organized around recycling, reusing wastes, and creating compost.

"I'm teaching lessons about how to survive, an experiment on making earth," he told McKinley in 1998. "Of course you could do it outside the city, but the challenge is here." He pauses for a second, and then, as is his way, reconsiders. "It's the Athenian oath," he said. "The Athenian oath. The duty or responsibility of every citizen to leave the scene a little better than when they got there, to improve things,” (McKinley, 1998).
My friend Norman Green helped me compile a list of questions for Purple.  He wrote the first long article about him for New York Magazine back in 1979.  (Green, 1979).
            Ask him what he means by , “Your red shifts universe is on the psychic slips,” noted Norman.  And so I interviewed him one more time the next week and asked him about the psychic shifts.

            “That’s just a conflict with a capitalism,” explained Adam, with a shrug.  He gave me a high five when I told him I knew Green. Purple talked about the ways gardens and libraries are really alike.  They both open up ideas and secrets. 
“Put down http://www.zentences.com/,”  he recommended, pointing me to a site full of number games and back histories of the garden of even.   As others have noted encountering Purple, knowledge extends across fields from radical ecology to literature, philosophy to conspiracy theories.  “Adolus Huxley used the phrase, general enlightenment,” explained Purple, referring to a sort of cultural SOMA.   “Better than willful ignorance.  Keep em ignorant.  Keep em sick so they can be exploited.”  Yet, there are ways to see another world. He points out texts for me to look up:
“Go to the Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Literature and Antiquities and look up under mysteries.”    
A subtext of the conversation is the modern world of technology vs an older premodern era. “There were orgies,” he explained.  Yet, they were shut down.  “The Catholic Church did that in the age of darkness… and we still have it. “
            “Go the New York Public Library, to the third floor, look in the little books for Zentences,” he counseled. Zentences, is of course, Purple’s book, that he self-published, and stashed at the public library.
            So, why purple, I asked.
            “Purple is the name of a magic mushroom.  It’s the color of royalty,” he explains, noting that he no longer wears Purple, not since the city bulldozed his garden.  But he’s still enamored with the work of Empedocles (490 BC - 430 BC), the philosopher who wore purple, who postulated that all life was made up of four elements – fire, water, air, earth – while love and strife account for their mutual attraction and separation from each other.
            Green suggested I ask Purple about oral sex.   And the answer was no simpler.
“There was a madam in Alexandria who wanted to give a story to the sex workers.  She gave them a trip to Eleusis in Greece. Each enjoyed a drink, during the orgy.  Each walked  by candle light to Athens in a sacred  celebration of life as we do not know it.  Socrates got in trouble for making his own orgy with youth.  Throughout our conversation, Purple hints at a kind of colonization of the city by development and blandness, reason over passion.  Yet, there is always the revenge of the repressed. When Purple talks, he seems to be grappling with a way of thinking about passion  and emotions contending with a system of reason and order; here the imagination opens up a world of ideas in harmony with a more spontaneous cosmos (Berkman, 1979, Suerdem, 2013).
            “Look up LIFE with les(s) ego,” he counsels, “of separateness of all else expectations.” His point is that we, as humans, ask for too much; we hope to have more than we need.  We “overshoot. The species overshoots, the environment we live in is caused to die off with our species.  Look up homo colossus.” 
            The conversation gradually moved to the topic of chemtrails. 
            “Bill Clinton nearly destroyed Harlem,” he explains, becoming more specific. “Why do you think I called it the Garden of Eden? These people can’t stop with their machines.”
            The garden was an antidote to this.  Purple gave supporters poems if they contributed to the garden.
“Why do you ride your bike backward?” I asked.
“There’s a reason for that,” he explained.  “If you ride with traffic you can get doored.  You can get hit from behind. You gotta see whats coming.
“Its all gonna come to an end, this industrial world,” he mused, referring to a world with rising sea levels and too much development.   He muses that the future may not be pleasant. 

Red Slips
            “They say the universe is expanding.  The further things are away the red shift, doupler effect, what if its contracting?  Its all coming to us.  Death is not what is degrading.  Life is.

            “I have two or three libraries that are lost… I have lots of libraries.  I have had a virtual library.
            “I don’t have a credit card, that’s a way to rob from people.”

            “What inspired you to create the garden of even, I asked.
            “The first time I came to New York, I saw backyards full of junk, and little inspection.   I was working on the backyard in Forsyth street.”  And he started gardening there in the mid-1970’s.  The site expanded and expanded, in concentric cirlces, expanding out into his neighbor’s yards, eventually taking up some 15,000 square feet,  composed of lilies and roses, rasberries and fruit trees.  Publications including the National Geographic  as well as several foreign magazines ran stories about the garden.  Some went as far as to compare it with the earth sculptures of artists such as Walter De Maria and Robert Smithson (McKinley, 1998). 
    "It was an absolutely astonishing creation," said Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblet, an expert on street life and a former head of New York University's Department of Performance Studies. "Besides its natural beauty, Ms. Kirshenblatt-Gimblet said, the garden had an inherently political message. "He made a garden out of a ruin," she said. "So symbolically it was an especially strong indictment of the failure of the city to do the same," (quoted in McKinley, 1998).
            While residents saw and international journalists saw this as a work of art, the city viewed it as a vacant lott, they had every right to build housing upon.  “They got away with lies,” noted Purple. “They held a hearing in August of 1985, a full evidentiary hearing.”  It did not go Purple’s way.  “Poverty pimps,” he grumbled.  “Weasel wording.”  The majority of Purple’s ire about the loss of the garden, then some 28 years prior, was directed at Merian Frielanderr, the council member from his district, who disparaged the garden in public hearings, noting the kids faced dangers from the thorns from the black raspberry bushes.  “She was a liar.”  But the blame for the garden’s demise, or as he put it, “This r(apid)evolutionary EartHwork was vandalized by govERRnme(a)nt goons (then-Mayor Ed Koch, later-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, NYCity Councilperson Miriam FriedlandERR, Margarita Lopez, et al.) on 8 January 1986, while its 1985 case was pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit--a POLITICAL HIT!”  (Purple, undated).  Nonetheless, “the garden started a revolution.”
            Purple suggested his work had more to do with a view of the world.  FL Right said, “the box puts you in prison  Its square.”  Yet, you’ll find no straight lines in nature, none on the body.  Lines are not straight. They are fractured, he suggested. “Consciousness means being aware of  the environment.  Frank Lloyd Wright said there is no pillar in the corner of a window.  You are at liberty to look at one corner at a time. This is an idea that traveled around the world.  You can look in more than one direction at a time. There is another system.”
            Through composting, reusing waste, and gardening, Purple was pointing at another kind of a system.  “Get your shit together,” he pointed out. “There is meaning in these idioms.”
            Referring to his “law of return,” he suggested “ignorance of the law is no excuse. It’s a parasidic species,” he explained referring to humans, who take without giving back to the land.
            Our consciousness can expand.  We can imagine something else, he mused. That’s the only difference between you and I, consciousness.
            Go the library, see if its there. LIFE with les(s) ego.
            You may have to move the book because the sea is rising, two miles of ice is melting.  Gaia principle.  The earth takes care of itself, he explains, referring to a theory of the evolution of the world: living organisms have been here for a long time, adapting and evolving as a system always changing and impacting the chemistry, the conditions of living here.  “We have no one to blame but ourselves.”
That interview was the last time I saw Adam.  Leaving he asked that I go to the New York public library and find one of his books. Come back when you find the book, he told me.  I never found the book.  But the connection between the flowering of ideas, from the trees, the ground, the books, the ideas, the dialectic between nature and civilization, our head and the body, intellect and feeling, that always stuck with me.  More than a garden, the space felt like a new way of looking at the city , one we’re still fighting to achieve today.
I loved talking with friends about Purple.
We even ran into Harvey Wang, the photographer who recognized the importance of Purple’s art, documenting it for decades.  We talked about Purple and his books that he seemed to miss.  Wang recalled those books and the days in the garden.
He also heard through the grapevine about Purple’s passing.
Some sad news...Adam Purple died yesterday; a heart attack while biking across the Williamsburg Bridge. It's hard to imagine NYC without Adam. Most recently, he was working and living at Time's Up Brooklyn, 99 South 6th Street, where there's already a sidewalk memorial. I remember him best in the days when he was working on The Garden of Eden...”
I had heard from the Times Up! grapevine that he was gone, as we rode to a Public Space Party meeting.
But it doesn’t make me sad to think of him gone, noted one of the Bike Mechanics.  I was just glad to hear know him, this legend.
It was like seeing a ghost to run into him at Times Up! 
“Damned drunks,” he mumbled to himself, tearing off the top of a beer can he was recycling, clad in blue cut off jeans, his ubiquitous beard and ideas flowing.
He was one of the great artists of New York, noted another Times UP! volunteer, recalling Purple.
I remember seeing him when I was a kid in central park, recalled Catherine.  I was like nine and there he was in his purple tie died outfit, picking up horse maneur.  He was like a hundred then and that was 1979.  And then I saw him at Times Up years later.  

Everyone had stories about Adam Purple.


But my small story was only a part of this labyrinth of interconnecting tales.
As usual at the Harvest Festival, marching bands romped through the Lower East Side and we remembered lost heros of the movement.  I sat in El Jardin Paraiso andthought of Michael Shenker who died five years prior.









Leaving the garden, I walked up to MoRUS, where I greeted Bill and Harvey and Elson.  Harvey’s pulsing photos and Norman’s story about the garden from nearly four decades ago were all on display on the show about Purple.
































 I spend the last few weeks wondering why the city was not able to find the heart to save the garden when it could.  Sure I know the reasons.  Real estate is the permanent government of New York City. But couldn’t we see a way to incorporate this majestic testament to sustainable urbanism?  And if not, why not?

That question was on everyone’s mind as the memorial speak out began.  But so were the poems.  While the evening was organized as a memorial, the poems for purple were many. Adam told me purple was a majestic color.  His colors inspired generations of gardeners and urban ecologists.

“It felt like the old times, painting those purple footsteps,” Bill and George Bliss mused. 





Many had no idea what they meant; others understood completely.  We all live in a labyrinth in the city, leading us between ourselves and the unknown.

Bill asked that I mc the memorial for Mr Purple. 
The Public Space Party was on hand in the tie dye they'd made the Friday before. 







Austin, who’d lived with Purple at the Times Up space in Williamburg was there, visibly moved, grieving.

A lot of us were. 







MCing, I read Allan Ginsberg’s plea for the city to save the garden from 1984.

This writer MCing by Nadette Stasa.


The day after Mr Purple died, I found an old copy of one of Octavio Paz poems. Stories about gardens grow from page after page of the work. I read
“a tale of two gardens.”
A house, a garden
            are not places:
they spin, they come and go.
            Their apparitions open
another space
            in space.
Another time in time.
            Their eclipses
are not abdications:
The vivacity of one of those moments
                                                would burn us
if it lasted a moment more…

            A garden is not a place
Down a path of reddish sand,
We enter a drop of water,
We drink green clarities from its center,
We climb the spiral of hours
Up the tip of the day, 
                                    we descend
The consummation of its ember.
Mumbling river,
                        the garden flows through the night

That one in Mixcoad, abandoned,
covered with scars,
                                     was a body,
at the point of collapse.
                                                I was a boy
And the garden to move was like a grandfather.
I clambered up its vegetal knees
not knowing it was doomed.


 Was the garden really doomed?  That was a question we’d all consider.

JC ushered Purple’s spirit, riding through Central Park to pick up some horse droppings as Purple had so many times, his legend living beyond him.



“All we are saying is give shit a chance,” sung JC. The crowd followed, laughing as he displayed his collection.

 Ray Figueroa of the New York City Garden Coalition welcomed everyone, setting the stage.
“How many of you are feeling good in this garden?”  he asked.
Everyone raised their hands.

Ray Figueroa


“As you enjoy it, remember, this happened because of visionary lovers of the earth were out organizing, getting arrested…we need not forget this history.  We need to stay vigilant in the face of those who say affordable housing is at odds with community gardens.  Today, we need more sustainable models of development.  If it means anything to you, you have to come out. Thank you for your love and affirmation. This is a romance.”

It certainly is.                                                
                                                     
Paula Seigel, of 596 Acres, followed noting gardens across New York are under the same threat that the Garden of Eden faced three decades ago.  We need you to show up on October 19th and 22nd at court over the fate of these spaces, she explained. 

“We need you to show up in those little windowless rooms, where decisions about places like this are actually being made,” she said.

Upcoming Community Garden Court dates:
Maple Street Community Garden, Oct. 13 at 360 Adams St., Rm 441, in Brooklyn at 9:30 AM.
“Roger That” garden in Crown Heights Brooklyn will be fighting eviction on Oct. 22 in 141 Livingston St. Rm 603 in Brooklyn at 10:15 AM.
Eldert St. Garden in Bushwick will fight eviction on Oct. 27 in 141 Livingston St. Rm 603 in Brooklyn at 10:15 AM.

 It was a theme repeated over and over again by garden advocates.

“I cried when I heard it was bulldozed,” noted Magali Regis, of the NYCCGC. “At that point, I became an activist.”  Decades later, she is still at it.

Magali Regis


MCing, I was trying to create a cadence of voices, to remember the Lower East Side icon.

Harvey Wang, who took those iconic images of the garden, followed describing Purple (or rev.les ego) as a social activist, philosopher and gardener / revolutionary. He was also the author of countless essays, pamphlets and books, including Zentences and life_with_les_ego.

Harvey Wang


Daniel Bowman Simon passed out copies of pages from the book, bringing purple back with his words.



Visibly moved, George Bliss followed, feeling the gravity of the moment, noting: “I don’t know where he got the idea to start making circles in a city of squares and to say right here that it was going to happen…. To get organized to go up to Central Park to bring horse manure.” But those circles seemed to emanate through space and time, neighborhood by neighborhood, inspiring a generation of gardeners, who saw cities as works of art and emulated his efforts.


George Bliss


Bliss groaned thinking about the false debate between housing and gardens. “I am horrified to hear that the same ploy is being used today.”



When the garden was finally destroyed, Bliss saw him standing looking at the last tree.

 Bliss recalled Purple’s reaction. “We are dealing with reptiles here.   We have to understand that.”
He summarized the lesson of Purple’s life. “We have to create what is right, not react to it. But create it, connecting with everything… Bringing it here was a gift.”
“So I decided to paint footprints to remind the world about the garden,” he explained.  “They were a metaphor to follow him. The gardens that remain are a testament to his work.”

Marlis Momber, whose majestic photographs of El Jardin Paraiso offer up an image of a work of art growing up out of the rubble of the city, recalled some of the other women, who were garden icons. Whispering she recalled Purple and the movement that grew out of this rubble of a city.
Standing there, everyone seemed to want to talk, to connect their stories with the larger narrative taking shape, standing there in La Plaza.

Marlis Momber and her photographs of el jardin in the 1970's.


Howard Branstein, of the 6th Street Community Center, followed, tracing the story of El Jardin Paraiso, in relation to the Garden of Eden.  He recalled talking with Purple about ways to organize to save the gardens, perhaps collaborating with the New York City Community Garden Coalition and or the community land trusts.

Howard Branstein


“I’m not going to deal with the city. They stole the land from the Indians in the first place. I’m not going to deal with them,” Purple was said to have replied.
Those listening at La Plaza broke out in applause.

Howard was quick to point out that Purple was not always practical.  When he stayed in his building after the owner left, he was unable to organize the remaining tenants, many who were vegetarians. Many around him left or were turned away for ideological reasons.
“They would not shit in the garden,” Purple told Howard.
 “Well that’s not helpful,” recalled Howard, somewhat frustrated he was not able to organize the other tenants.

“He was a messiah and inspiration for the garden movement.  In 1984, when beauty died, a stronger garden movement was born.  When El Jardin’s fate was put up for a vote, the whole community board supported it, as a consequence of the loss.”

“Reclaiming urban land, that was Adam’s idea,” explained Bill Weinberg, a radical historian who got to know Purple in 1985. He described the destruction of the garden as a “political hit. There really were lots and lots of vacant lots in the vicinity. But the city went after this garden. “There were vacant lots everywhere. It was chosen for political reasons. Finally, they came in the dead of winter and took the garden.  It was a political crime. They tried to do the same thing with La Plaza and the community fought back. We need to keep organic culture here in the Lower East Side.”




a cavalcade of speakers, including Bill Weinberg, author of avant gardening


And Purple was certainly that. Shortly after Purple died, I tried to make sense of the interview I had completed with him. 

Themes of Greek philosophy and feces, Socrates and Shit run throughout the interview, I explained to Morales when he told me Adam had died.

“Well, that was Adam,” noted Father Frank Morales, when I recalled the story with him.
He was more than sympathetic with Purple’s struggle. Purple was his friend and he helped all of us to contemplate the politics of shit, explained Morales.

“Adam was the most thorough revolutionary that I know. He was all of it, one part Karl, another Groucho Marx. I’m still in denial that he’s gone.  I keep thinking he’ll be coming back on the third day.  Its always great to see the family,” the father mused saying goodbye.



Father Frank Morales


“He was an urban survivalist,” noted Chris Flash, who interviewed Purple when he was fighting for his housing, running a story about him in the Shadow, after going through edit after edit, revision after revision. And they always made the story better. “Some people talk about creating a garden, but he did it.  He did it,” explained Flash in wonderment. “I think of how you live and how you die.  I can really admire a guy who could live on his own terms.”




chris flash, of  the shadow


This was not to say, he was not frustrated that Purple did not organize more to save his home, but that was for the MichaelShenkers of the garden movement, who helped outline a model for organizing a model for saving the gardens, connecting direct action and legal advocacy.  Countless lawyers who followed this model were there to support these efforts.

Joel Kupferman, a long time garden lawyer, confessed the people like Purple made it all worth while.
More Gardens and the Lower East Side Collective, Times Up!, 596 Acres, and Public Space Party were all born of this ethos.

Joel Kupferman


Aresh and Kate showed toward the end.
Kate recalled a Adam coming by Childrens Magical Garden when it was facing the bulldozers.


JK lead us through a spiral dance, through time, recalling Adam as one of the greats. And so we wound our way through the garden, greeting and saying goodbye. 
“We all come from the garden and to her we return.
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, 
Flowing to the ocean

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, 
Flowing to the ocean

Hoof and horn, hoof and horn
All that dies shall be reborn
Corn and grain, corn and grain
All that falls shall rise again

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, 
Flowing to the ocean

Sage and crone, sage and crone, 
Wisdom's gift shall be our own.
Crone and sage, crone and sage, 
Wisdom is the gift of age.

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, 
Flowing to the ocean

We all come from the Goddess
And to Her we shall return
Like a drop of rain, 
Flowing to the ocean”

Today, my head spins thinking of Purple and all the stories growing from the caring community which grew out of his inspiration.
Toward the end of the memorial, Dana talked about the Yippies and a woman pulled out an accordion and started to sing. 


In “Concert in the Garden,” Octavia Paz writes:
It rained.
The hour is an enormous eye.
Inside it, we come and go life reflections.
The river of music.
Enters the blood.
If I say body, it answers wind.
If I say earth, it answers where?

The world, a double blossom, opens:
Sadness of having come.
Joy of being here.


I walk lost in my own center.


sarah Adam-Purple-on-Roof-by-Harvey-Wang


Afterthought from Monica Hunken



I attended Adam Purple's memorial this weekend. It was incredibly moving and humbling to hear stories from people who have been fighting for community gardens and a livable city for over 40 years! There was beautiful George Bliss tearing up recalling how he painted purple foot prints all over the streets until people took note of Adam's garden of Eden being bulldozed. These are the people who planted seeds where there was no green space, when Adam biked up to Central Park to collect horse droppings for his own DIY manure, when he took the shattered bricks from torn down buildings to construct a walking path.
I wrote a little poem for him which I didn't read at the memorial. Here it is:
Adam
There is Adam wandering almost naked without a trace of shame
out of the red velvet fridge in Times-Up
to Warn me about Turning off the lights, closing the door,
not running the water
Always a mind to resources, to the source,
to preserving,
conserving,
serving
There is Adam in a cap and plaid passing me on the Williamsburg bridge laden with a heavy load on his tricycle
Patient and steady
There is Adam soaking up the sun but looking to the skies with a weary eye
Chem trails again. Here we go. But I can't help but smile
There is Adam in his glory planting the swirling garden of Eden
Breath into the city
Green into the grime
Life into the death chambers
Life life life

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