YOUNGSTOWN & STEEL TOWN
video, color, sound, 6 minutes and 15 seconds, 2008
Youngstown presents footage of the steel mills in Youngstown, Ohio from a 1944 propaganda film in an arrangement of brief repetitions. The steel mills’ dramatic contrasts of fire and darkness and heroic views of industrial labor combine to make a portrait of a place consumed with the war effort. A sophisticated orchestral score propels the film forward and glamorizes the work of the men in the mills.
Youngstown eliminates almost all of the original film’s didactic voice over, leaving only a few phrases. The last of these, “the streets full of men, angry, questioning, wondering,” points to the possibility of a dark future for Youngstown, a city with an economy based entirely on heavy industry. The repetition of Youngstown’s soundtrack emphasizes what can be acknowledged only obliquely in the original material.
Steel Town, shot in Youngstown over forty years later, presents contemporary views of a city that no longer has its original reason to exist. Youngstown’s industrial economy has collapsed, and an urban scene that was once bustling is now uncannily peaceful. Few pedestrians and cars appear in the video’s long takes. The sounds of crickets and birds predominate, even in the downtown area of the city.
The last shots of Steel Town feature “The Steelmakers,” a sculpture by George Segal that commemorates the work that built Youngstown, Ohio. A bronze statue of a worker stands next to a massive hulk of furnace salvaged from an abandoned mill. Every one of the Youngstown’s steel mills working with raw materials has closed. All that is left is a representation of activities that once animated this industrial city.
Youngstown and Steel Town are both exactly 6 minutes, 15 seconds long, and the two videos are presented playing in sync at opposite ends of a gallery space.