There's vestiges of crack-era Bronx circulating Venice, Italy. It's mixing and mutating there, making something new.
Directed by Elisha Smith-Leverock with production company Lief, "Triple Beam Dream" (or TBD) introduces us to Jon Gray, creator of culinary collective Ghetto Gastro. The phrase for which the film is named comes from a 2012 coke ballad by Rick Ross, featuring Nas.
It's also the name of Gray's first kitchenware collab, a tribute to the glass that gave us a decade of surprisingly sturdy crack pipes.
The ambient work is narrated by Gray, his voice set over a composition by Solange Knowles. He shares his birth year—1986—with the crack epidemic, when crack vials littered playgrounds in the Bronx.
It might feel like a synaptic leap to make the association between luxury glass and drug paraphernalia. But in a way, few things are more logical: "When I was stacking up cocaine, I was using beautiful glass plateware that my grandmother had," Gray observes. "I'd use a Pyrex measuring cup, a specific type of glass that was able to take heat and that was good for chemistry."
He wasn't the only one. The use of Pyrex was so common in the crack industry that the company's sale to World Kitchen, which reduced product integrity, possibly triggered a spike in stolen lab equipment.
Gray has given a TED Talk that explains how he leaped from mean streets to Murano masters. (Find it below.) In it, he describes how he dropped out of school and started selling drugs himself, brushing way too close to a 10-year jail sentence.
When he posted bail, he signed up for the Fashion Institute. The rest was history.
The TBD collection, created with Nuovo in Venice, is an elegant, smoky homage to the aesthetics of Pyrex glass. While we see precious little of the product, Smith-Leverock is mindful of setting the stage, combining the grit and aspirational glamour of the drug world with shots of Venice, and codes from the luxury sector, which, in the end, isn't so different.
"These are works of art, for sure," Gray says, "social sculpture … taking destructive narrative, creating constructive things out of them. That's the vibe."
To shoot the film, Smith-Leverock met with Gray in Venice, seat of the artisanal glass-blowing that's proliferated for over 800 years on the island of Murano. The result—sunny and smoky, warm but hard-edged—is so textured you can almost bite down on the cracklike glass chunks, dripping from top to bottom of the screen. (Editor's note: Don't ever bite down on glass. Or crack.)
"It's not uncommon for luxury items to be appropriated from things that come from the streets," says Smith-Leverock. "It's far more rare that you see these ideas pushing into the luxury space, created by people who have actually lived this reality. Jon and Ghetto Gastro are challenging ideas about who gets to tell these stories."
Gray aspires to demonstrate that the streets themselves are hotbeds of creativity. Ghetto Gastro's projects are poignant culinary productions conceived in pain: In 2016, for Black Lives Matter, the collective created a deconstructed apple pie with a chalk body outline.
"The future of Ghetto Gastro is really changing the narrative on who gets to create luxury items, what luxury looks like, and what's the history behind it," Gray says at the end of his film. "Really just disrupting that narrative … letting the empire strike back."
Watch his TED Talk below.
Director: Elisha Smith-Leverock
Producer: Margo Mars
Production Company: Lief
Director of Photography: Olan Collardy
Editor: Julian Fletcher
Sound Design: Ben Smith-Leverock-Esser
Colourist: Jack McGinty
VFX: Selam X
Video Commissioner: Katie Metcalfe (Nowness)