Sept 19 – 26: Graz, Austria: Truth is Concrete – http://www.truthisconcrete.org/
October 11 – 14: Vancouver, Canada: The Festival- http://arcpost.ca/events/festival
Sept 19 – 26: Graz, Austria: Truth is Concrete – http://www.truthisconcrete.org/
October 11 – 14: Vancouver, Canada: The Festival- http://arcpost.ca/events/festival
OCCUPY ARTS ADMINISTRATION
HOW TO SHADOW CURATE IN RURAL SCOTLAND
A book review of ARTocracy – rule of art OR governance of or by art?: Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial HandBook in Collaborative Practice, edited by Nuno Sacremento and Claudia Zeiske. (June 2012)
Despite a remarkable wave of creative resistance to business-as-usual from Wall Street and Tahrir Square, to 53rd Street where stands the Museum of Modern, there nevertheless remains one edifice still to be challenged. Categorical assumptions and pedagogical orthodoxies dominate this field, and yet it is responsible for turning-out hundreds of largely self-effacing cultural operators who make possible the day-to-day operations of ‘serious’ Culture. Among other things they are also responsible for the public appreciation of art, regardless if it is framed as conventional, relational, experimental, or outright transgressive. Artist Maureen Connor describes this overlooked force as the invisible labour that services elite institutions, often at the expense of their own artistic practice and edification. Why then has something so profoundly elemental to the cultural life of society been spared an occupation, let alone a focused critique? Why is it that the very machinery reproducing the 1% art world not been dismantled and re-imagined? Why is this critical cultural space bereft of serious theoretical attention? Perhaps it is because the world of the arts administrator –the force in question here- appears so unassuming and so utterly ubiquitous that it is merely overlooked, much like certain service providers –street cleaners, curry deliverers, cargo handlers, even page-turners at a concert– invisibly carry on unnoticed. But when these dead do awaken, then what?
The real world of arts administrators is not pretty. Drearily tasked with reproducing the art world’s professional mien the hidden army of cultural managers consists of ‘executive’ directors working art spaces so miniscule that she or he must also answer the telephones and email, as well as carry out the rubbish. It is home to behind-the-scenes fundraisers and event planners putting their own art careers on hold in order to earn a living helping other artists exhibit their work. We should also list the armies of interns and volunteers drawn from surrounding communities and soulfully in search of deeper meaning, the installers and food handlers and guards, and of course the curators, no, not the stars of the global art scene seated first class to Venice or Miami, but rather those unheralded minions manacled to their cubicles in small towns and large, too busy to even glimpse an economy air seat because the next grant deadline, installation crisis, or technology meltdown looms around the corner. Yes, the subliminal troops of the art world keeping the local kunsthal clean, the not-for-profit gallery groomed, the residency programs programmed, and the community art spaces bills paid more or less on-time, this precarious 99% is poised for an unprecedented rebellion.
The critical curiosity stirred by Occupy Wall Street is nowhere to be found in the world of contemporary arts management. If you don’t believe me, start by searching for articles, essays, or teaching materials not conspicuously deferential to corporate modes of business management. End the crushing weight of student debt, indeed by all means, however, what if the debt amassed is also an ideological burden placed upon the shoulders of a future generation of museum staffers by those too timorous to challenge the power of Hugo Boss, Saatchi, BP, or Sotheby’s? Becoming a professional shill for public relations-greedy oil companies or cigarette manufactures has got to have some opponents, and indeed I note here two small intellectual oasis in this pedagogical wasteland: Derrick Chong’s pithy primer Arts Management (Routledge 2nd edition 2010), and Pierre Guillet De Monthwoux’s provocative treatise The Art Firm: Aesthetic Management and Metaphysical Marketing (Stanford Business Books, 2004). If the first book is a singular example of how to simultaneously present critical analysis while still providing a useful information to students, then the second, which admittedly is aimed at the MBA crowd and not the aspiring arts administrator, reveals through its sheer eccentricity just how uninspired the discipline of arts management has been and still remains. To these two let me add Artocracy.
Although published a year prior to OWS independent curator Claudia Zeiske and artist and academic Nuno Sacremento have produced a compact ‘handbook’ for arts administrators with a big title: ARTocracy: Art, Informal Space, and Social Consequence: A Curatorial HandBook in Collaborative Practice. Diligently focusing on rural cultural initiatives in Europe, Artocracy offers some alternative views on managing art in the provinces that just might be applicable to the city centers as well. Sacremento and Zeiske’s began their experiment at Deveron Arts, a small cultural venue located in the rural town of Huntly in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. According to the handbook the people of Huntly are not very partial to contemporary visual and plastic art. As architect and critic Paul Shepeard puts it in his foreword, ‘once there was people’s culture in saloons and brass bands – then “protest” culture – then an ironic art that was all critique and nothing more “what use is that?”’ Still, the handbook shows Huntliens quite active in other ways including participating in sports, gardening, listening to fiddle music, dancing, and of course playing the bagpipes. And perhaps it is telling that among the first visualizations we encounter in the book is that of a road-killed rabbit. What kind of sign is this? Is it meant as a warning?
In fact photographs of flattened fauna happens to be among Deveron Arts first research projects, carried out by artist David Blyth in 1995, except that appearing early in the pages of the Artocracy handbook I read the dead hare not as a reference to Joseph Beuys, but as a caution to sophisticated urbanites that cosmopolitan assumptions about art and culture should be kept in check. However, it is one of the shortcomings of Artocracy that such potentially bold assertions (if I am reading it correctly) are not followed-through as wholeheartedly as they might have been. Instead, all too soon the authors turn to focus on how to wed the needs of Huntly’s local ‘community’ to the logic of the global art world. It’s a perfectly fair turn to take of course, but isn’t it in those odd encounters where rural life and ‘worldly’ outlook collide that untapped sites for critical intervention reside?
That drawback aside there still is much useful information for the novice arts administrator in this concise compendium. For example, clever visualizations of how the pair carried out their cultural mission abound including pie charts and flow charts and graphic diagrams mapping funding sources, stakeholders, curatorial methodologies, learning mechanisms, and marketing models. This uber-display of managerial functions is clearly not aimed at the seasoned arts administrators, but is most likely intended for those artists, academics, and independent curators who, not unlike Sacremento and Zeiske, find themselves in charge of exhibition venues despite little or no professional training operating institutions. I would go so far as to call this handbook an attempt at demystifying the field of cultural management, of making it transparent and accessible to the 99%. It is this kind of visual occupation of a professional discipline that is only mountable by those who stumble into its parameters from elsewhere. And with that in mind, Sacremento and Zeiske offer up a pair of engaging cultural concepts for others to work with. The first innovation goes by the name ‘the town is the venue’. The second has the mysterious handle of ‘shadow curator’.
Borrowed by Nuno Sacremento from the Commonwealth model of a Shadow Cabinet or Shadow Minister, the Shadow Curator (which was also the topic of his PhD in Museum Studies) is meant to function like an institution’s internalized interrogator. Ensconced within a given administration the Shadow Curator is nevertheless charged with officially representing a contrary point of view. The concept is further elaborated upon in Artocracy by way of Chantel Mouffe’s anti-dialectical model of political agonism in which a discourse of respectful disagreement replaces a Marxist concept of class antagonism. Thus the Shadow Curator is ‘not a competitive position – not wanting to take curator’s place – but to be like the loyal opposition in a political party or government.’ (18) Setting aside the author’s fashionable nod to Mouffe’s utopianism, which is already withering in the wake of the financial crisis and its x-ray illumination of society’s concrete polarities, Artocracy’s Shadow Curator remains an engaging idea. For while it is prudent to question how someone embedded within an organization, including within its financial structure, can also generate genuine criticism of that same organization, I would say that this experiment seems justified as a good-faith attempt to reshape basic institutional hierarchies from within.
That said it is disappointing that there is no transcript showing precisely what kind of exchanges actually took place between the curator and her shadow other. What we do find instead are a few superimposed purple memos injecting mild doubts about the book’s official narrative such as ‘What does the town think of this?’ or ‘How deeply are artists supposed to engage with communities in short residencies?’ But this gambit to incorporate a bit of critical ‘shadowing’ in the handbook’s very layout is never fully realized, and disappears all too soon after a few pages. Artocracy, tells us about this shadow curatorial process, but it does not give us the chance to witness it for ourselves, and that seems like a lost opportunity.
The concluding section of the book functions like a literature review. It contains an annotated bibliography, a glossary of terms, and two reprinted essays on the theory of community art practice, one by American critic and activist Lucy R. Lippard, the other by European writer and curator Nina Möntman. The bibliography and other resources are limited by the lack of thoroughgoing research into they key topics addressed in the book, such as the history of social practice in art and cultural activism, as well as alternative forms of arts organizing and so forth, and yet it offers a starting point for additional research and discussion. Meanwhile Lippard and Möntman’s contributions primarily address the question of who makes up a specific community, for example the inhabitants of a place called Huntly, but they also seek to answer ‘what does the artist do with that knowledge, if anything?’ Lippard is long associated with breaking down barriers between art and life, artists and non-artists, and thus part of a process that complicates familiar patterns of cultural organizing. Möntman’s investigations on the other hand focus on institutional critique, and tend to eschew notions of community as an uncritical category that is external to any rigorous research in advance art practices. She favorably cites Miwon Kwon’s well-known call for artists to establish ‘experimental communities’, as opposed to intervening in seemingly organic ones. (167) Both of these reprinted essays are now several years old, and curiously, the positions of Lippard and Möntman or Kwon that once occupied opposite sides of a spectrum now appear far less contradictory. With the advent of social media, OWS, and the Arab Spring ideas of participation have fully entered the world of high culture. Museums now clamor to include ‘communities’ in their programming, effectively side-stepping the question of just how community should be defined. Add to this the irony that it is corporate sponsors who no longer feel comfortable funding elite culture without some attempt at pleasing a broader popular constituency. Its as though institutional critique and community arts have not so much merged with each other, as they have become superimposed within the same space and time.
So just how does one train a new generation of arts administrators to think differently, critically, even anti-institutionally when so much of their professional education is oriented towards the global art world and its corporate sponsors? These fundamental changes require not only developing new methodologies of working and teaching arts administration, but they demand a basic transformation in the language of cultural management itself. I recommend Artocracy therefore to those who are just beginning to tackle these issues because there is much to learn from here, as well as plenty to disagree with. Meanwhile let’s begin contemplating the overdue task of occupying arts management from the bottom up.
Collectively, the amateur and the failed artist represent a vast flat field upon which a privileged few stand out in relief…what if we turned this figure and ground relation inside out by imagining an art world unable to exclude the practices and practitioners it secretly depends upon? What then would become of its value structure and distribution of power?…click to read more: INTRODUCTION TO THE MISSING MASS
Greg to Abby (Abigail Satinsky of InCUBATE):
Living as Form presented so many models of micro-organizing activity that I was sometimes overwhelmed when trying to understand how successful they actually were in day-to-day terms. So I wonder, as someone seriously invested in the concept of self-funded cultural activity with the group InCUBATE that you co-founded in Chicago, or through the ongoing Sunday Soup granting project and its expanding network, what did you come away with from New York’s Lower East Side, were there activities you did not know about, projects that add to your understanding of sustainable culture, organizations whose form will live on in your own theory and practice in the future?
Abby to Greg: I was particularly excited at this year’s summit by the inclusion of nonprofits that are doing visionary cultural and political work to be speaking alongside artists and activists, especially Appalshop, Alternate ROOTS and Women on Waves. When we began InCUBATE, one of our guiding principles was to interrogate the non-profit model for the visual arts, to see if it was really the way to collaborate and support politically or socially-engaged artists. We also wanted to bring out the creativity that administrators and cultural workers of all stripes bring to their organizing practices, and value that kind of contribution to the arts. It’s evident that the questions of accountability to communities or sustainability in the long-term is radically different between an artist practice and an organizational one and those should not be conflated. But to see how an artist such as Laurie Jo Reynolds from Tamms Year Ten approaches working with issues in the prison-industrial complex, affecting policy in tandem with advocacy groups and many communities, as a form of “legislative art” and then Appalshop, which has a forty year history in Appalachia, KY, doing a documentary project like Thousand Kites, a richer understanding of cultural activism emerges. Or that Women on Waves, collaborated with Atelier van Lieshout to design their vessel and were featured in the Venice Biennial, and now serve thousands of women around the world to have access to healthy abortions. When you hear the actual work these people do, the authority of the art-world to legitimate this practice as “Art” is thrown into question and becomes a secondary concern. As someone who now mainly works at a nonprofit and centers most of my creative energy producing projects through an organizational framework rather than as a collaborative artist, I see the language I use to describe my new practice as being different, but not the guiding principles. For me to understand the relevance of the projects in Living as Form, it seems necessary to place all these forms in dialogue, unpack their differences, see their blurry boundaries, and where unexpectedly, they may be alike.
Greg follows up with Abby: Do you see the Wall Street occupation and its spirit of consensual agency as something that might positively influence the creation of the kind of inter-art dialogue you hope to see emerge, and if so how?
Abby: I have just been a bystander to the process that is happening down there so i can’t really say that i know what eventual influence it will have. but I do see a group of people that are committed, willing to withstand ridicule from the press and casual observers, and are being conscientious about building a mindful community down there. i don’t think its necessary that their message is clear, they are building relationships that will develop over time which to me seems like a transformative process for its participants. i feel thankful to witness their attempts at a direct democracy. and most inspiring, the arts & culture working group seem like they’re having fun.
Greg to Gerald Raunig:
Giles Deleuze and Félix Guattari sought to make a radical break with (among other totalizing discourses) the powerful influence of Hegel’s dialectical thinking on Structuralists as well as members of the Frankfurt School and other followers of Marx. However this intellectual intervention refused to establish its own version of a master narrative. Undecidability, playfulness, and continuous discursive invention not only served to undermine absolute textual meaning, they also aimed to destabilize the rigidity of the European Left and its institutions. At the same time Deleuze and Guatari’s philosophical approach shares with this rejected, dialectical tradition a desire to not merely “interpret” the world, but to also change the world. Your bracing keynote lecture for this year’s Creative Time Summit charged directly into this contentious terrain, exposing an auditorium full of social practice artists to the complex, and at times inscrutable, vocabulary of Deleuze and Guatari, before concluding with what I would describe as a passionate call to liberate time itself from the disciplinary grip of neoliberal capitalism. And yet time is increasingly in short supply. This is especially true here in the United States where public support for culture vanished long ago along with the social safety net as neoliberal globalization swept over us more than three decades back. Given the difficulty of your theoretical model, just how would you recommend artists and activists go about generating enough concentrated time so as to gain some degree of fluency in this radical vocabulary?
Gerald Raunig answers:
Let me begin by explaining a few aspects I stressed in my lecture at the Creative Time Summit: Molecular revolution, as Guattari conceptualised it already in the 1970s, is not reduced to transforming the modes of political organisation, it spreads out in the pores, the molecules, in the new durations of everyday life. For these durations to be instituted, however, first requires an evental break with subservient deterritorialization in machinic capitalism. The molecular strike is both: duration and break. It is not leaving, not dropping out of this world, no time-out. The molecular strike is the breach in the time regime that we drive in, in order to try out new ways of living, new forms of organization, new time relations. No longer a struggle merely to reduce working time, but rather for an entirely new streaking of time as a whole. In machinic capitalism, it is a matter of the whole, the totality of time, its entire appropriation. The molecular strike struggles for its reappropriation, its streaking, piece by piece.
Interestingly enough, there is an early version of this form of a molecular strike, in the 1970s art world, Gustav Metzger’s concept of the art strike. For the exhibition “Art into Society – Society into Art” at the London Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in 1974, Metzger provided no object, but instead only a written contribution for the exhibition catalogue. It centered around inciting himself and his artist colleagues to go on strike. He called for years without art in the period of three years. Metzger’s appeal was not even discussed or considered for realization. He conducted the three-year strike from 1977 to 1980 by himself. This probably had something to do with him being far ahead of his time and daring to enter previously unexplored territory. In the artfield where the main components of the machinic modes of production were anticipated, long before the post-fordist paradigm had prevailed as such, Metzger prefigured what a strike could look like in the smooth and newly striated times. He attempted to establish the refusal to work specifically in the art field, which is marked not only by extreme competitiveness, strong innovation pressure and an extreme diffusion of production locations, but also by the specific smoothness of its temporality. The time regime of artist production anticipated certain aspects of today’s machinic capitalism that appropriates the time in its totality.
And of course, one could see these early experiments of art strikes, together with more recent ideas of care strikes, migrant strikes, precarious strikes, also as prototypes for the molecular strike of today’s occupying movements, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Puerta del Sol in Madrid, from Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv to Liberty Plaza in New York City.
More on all of this, see the upcoming issue of the transversal web journal http://eipcp.net/transversal/1011, due to be published oct 4.
Last Friday Creative Time held its 3rd annual Summit on socially engaged art, and then simultaneously opened a massive exhibition organized by chief curator Nato Thompson entitled Living as Form at the old Essex Street Market on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. What follows over the next few posts are some conversational questions about the events beginning with Nato:
Greg to Nato:: The Creative Time Summit and Living as Form exhibition are bold and inclusive projects staged at a moment when progressive culture in the United States has lost its sense of connection to any broader political or artistic momentum. And yet as much as the project is an experiment in temporary community building it also resembles an enormous Dickensian orphanage: a space in which heterogeneous practices converge like so many aesthetically abandoned heirs to a lineage of activist art they may not even recognize, let alone remember. At a time of failed institutions and neoliberal enterprise culture this orphanage is a place of refuge, and perhaps a space of new intimacies and relationships. At the same time, how do you envision the connectivity made possible between, say, a group such as Voina (WAR), along side of Rick Lowe, Temporary Services, the United Indian Health Services, or an art star like Francis Alÿs (to chose only some of the impressive groups and individuals we encountered this past Friday)? Are we in a position where we must pin our hopes on the orphanage, that is to say a hope that by bringing together these many actors in one space and time they will somehow, at some moment, spontaneously conjoin into a more concrete inter-connectivity of theory and practice?
Nato: Perhaps, as opposed to pinning our hopes on the orphanage, it is a chance to inspire folks to join the orphanage. And in so doing, to push the metaphor even further, the orphanage becomes the scale of the city and beyond. For it has been my experience over the last three years of doing the summits (and with each year having them become increasingly more geographic and disciplinarily disperse) as well as the last weekend in conversations with artists of multiple generations, that this array inspires new forms of actions and new possibilities for collective and isolated action. So it isn’t about pinning hopes so much as producing larger networks to act on them. It’s almost as though if we cast the net wide enough, we can gather the disaffected, disgruntled and aggressively searching members of a variety of disciplines to cohere.
That being said, I also feel these associations are long overdue. It is my humble opinion that many of these socially engaged cultural producers share many strategies because the conditions of spectacle necessitate a form of cultural production that adjusts for its radical encroachment into contemporary life. To be more clear, I suppose, it isn’t the summit or the exhibitions bringing these practices together, but the logical extension of cultural producers resisting capital that have found affinities across methodologies. An artist who works on housing like Rick Lowe doesn’t do so just because he thinks it is a novel form, but in fact because he realizes he cannot address symbolic culture in Houston’s Third Ward without simultaneously addressing and adjusting vast disparities in housing. The geographic must be worked on at the same time as the semiotic terrain. So, this basic equation should certainly also be found in the work of Decolonizing Architecture in Palestine whose assessment and investigation of the occupation is both a physical as well as symbolic interrogation. These registers are not manufactured but in fact, strategies developed to adjust for the material and political conditions of contemporary life.
As a last point, one must also acknowledge that this radical interdisciplinarity strategy is hardly new. Poetically enough, some of the groups presenting were born out of the legacy of ’68 when moving across disciplines was obvious because the political urgency exceeded the inherent disciplinary limits. Alternate Roots, it must be said, was founded by the same institution that trained Rosa Parks. In times of global resistance, these formal disciplinary categories fall away in the name of urgency. Lets hope that this movement reflects are a larger political resistance. My gut tells me it does.
Greg: And just one quick follow up Nato, as you know the Wall Street occupation emerged simultaneously with Living as Form and I see you and others involved in the art event made it a point to go down to Liberty Plaza and get directly involved in it. Perhaps its too soon to ask this, but do you see this as another link to the Summit and the exhibition, or as something more integral to their spirit, and therefore capable of playing a transformative role of some sort for social practice art going forwards?
Nato: I wouldn’t want to place too much emphasis on the spontaneous walk down to the occupation as frankly, it was the only reasonable thing to do. Participating in existing social movements is critical for anyone alive today let alone socially engaged artists. I mean, lets face it, having this occupation at the same time of the exhibition and summit was something that is hard to ignore. It has been an extremely poetic convergence and I am glad that even a hand full of folks have gathered down there and are now working to add what they can to the movement. That said, we could certainly use more help. If you are interested in joining the ranks down there, this is your invitation (I am speaking to the readers). Just walk down to Liberty Plaza, go to the info desk and ask how you can plug in. The more, the merrier.
Dual testimonials to top-down government arrogance is how artists and activists viewed the World Trade Center towers in the late 70s. First proposed during World War II by Chase Manhattan’s David Rockefeller the priapic complex was finally constructed some three decades later on a site once crammed with small electronic resale merchants, many of Syrian origin. I moved to the Lower East Side in 1977 just after the massive blackout and while the city was still in the midst of a double-dip recession that left large parts of its infrastructure in tatters. Hovering over demolished urban blocks were the two towers, their enormous scale and minimal façades at once a means of orientation, and an improbable artifact strangely disconnected from the rest of the downtown skyline. Visual alienation is key here because what was meant to signal to the gods of global capital that Manhattan is still the center of the monetary universe, was also perceived as an omen of gentrification soon to replace a blue-collar workforce with “no collars,” to borrow a term Andrew Ross coined for the seemingly déclassé armies of the emergent techno-creative class.
Ironic is therefore the correct way to describe the double metamorphoses of a contentious monument to money, first into the “Lusitania” of the Iraq War, and then again into a place of reflection whose precise focus nevertheless remains intentionally imprecise. As curator and critic Olga Kopenkina puts it “the memorial in the city center is not only supposed to remind us about destruction of an important commercial area, it is a mode of survival, a lever with which capitalism creates a new platform with which to leap forward and capture a bigger territory for the purpose of not only re-building destroyed parts, but creating an entire landscape that unfolds in both physical and psychological space.”[The entire text is here: Olga Kopenkina on 9/11]
To put it another way: goodbye crater, hello new affective space in the form of heart-rending mausoleum, or monument to national willpower, or secularized tower for peace? (Or is it merely a refurbished beacon for calling forth the deities of global finance all over again?) In any case, just as the militarization of the WTC followed its actual dematerialization, the site’s de-militarization seems to have been made possible by its architectural resurrection.
In early October, 2001 I first stood at the site of the savage attacks that immediately came to be known as ground zero; perhaps the most ubiquitous of several military terms that –along with asymmetrical warfare and surgical strike- are now part of our everyday language in the United States (and as theorist Gene Ray urged this moment of terminological linking was a lost opportunity for national self-reflection). Though still chaotic and unprocessed just enough time had passed to absorb some of the immediate shock. What I remember most from that day were several National Guard soldiers who forbid those of us in the crowd from taking pictures, and in one case even confiscating someone’s roll of film (non-digital photography was still in common use at the time). Asking about this situation one soldier explained to me this was an official policy, it was after all a crime scene, though I wonder now if the enthusiasm of this ban was not just these particular guardsmen acting independently (for certainly there is no lack of WTC wreckage images, and a google image search using the terms “world trade ruin” returns over five million hits).
Perhaps at that moment, at that place, and for these guardsmen, the debris field may have appeared too ethereal to be captured by a mere photograph. I seem to actually recall one soldier who brandished a strip of exposed35 mm film from her ammo belt like a semaphore of deterrence, but I am no longer certain. Whether official, or informal, this diligent prohibition against picture taking actually served to underscore the singularity of a rare communal encounter in which, eyes pointed in one direction, we collectively did not see something.
Then came the souvenir torrent, the t-shirts, posters, children’s collages, but also the American flags that appeared like displaced tourniquets everywhere following 911. Less noticed was the rise of a another un-seeable colossus, a multi-billion dollar surveillance industry seeded by a secreted stimulus package (recently taken up by Washington Post reporters Dana Priest and William M. Arken) And what about the CSI generation’s preoccupation not with who done it, or why, but with the scrupulous minutia of “how”? Furthermore, the WTC event was marked by appearances and vanishings and returns that make it an all but impossible subject for representation. Nevertheless, I offer here a different set of encounters and responses to our national wound: a collection of six art works that, in different ways, complicate the sweeping prognosis made on 911 that irony and postmodernism are henceforth ‘dead.’ * Significantly, irony is, or was, merely a starting point for many of these pieces, even as I suspect none of the artists who created them would ever be fully comfortable with the description “post-modernist.” *
A decade after the World Trade Center was completed artist Rebecca Howland created a sculpt-metal version of the towers merged with a huge, flailing octopus. The work was installed out of doors, on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1983, fully within view of the twin towers. At the time Howland was associated with the independent cultural center ABC No Rio, itself the offspring of a squatter action known as The Real Estate Show.
Ten years later the group REPOhistory installed a set of metal street markers on a lamppost outside the south tower. The signs were part of the group’s Lower Manhattan Sign Project and were researched and designed by Janet Koenig and Lisa Maya Knauer (below left). The specific historical site they “repossessed” was the office of the highly successful 19th Century abortionist Ann Trow, AKA Madame Restell. The second metal panel showed US Postal Inspector Anthony Comstock who assailed Restell and other proponents of women’s choice through anti-obscenity laws that socialist playwright George Bernard Shaw once lampooned as “Comstockery.” Abortion was eventually outlawed and by 1873 The Comstock Laws forbid distributing information about birth control. Awaiting arrest Restell took her own life. REPOhistory’s project was created in 1992 at a moment when Roe V. Wade was under direct attack by the senior George Bush’s neo-conservative Supreme Court appointees David Souter and Clarence Thomas. Several months later in 1993 Koenig and Knauer’s sign was demolished by a truck-bomb detonated inside the WTC’s underground garage.
Artist Michael Richards collaborated with REPOhistory in 1992 on the construction of a large gallery installation at Artists’ Space entitled Choice Histories: Framing Abortion. Richards’s contribution was in one section of the project dedicated to issues of race and class. Later Richards began sculpting a series of works about flight including the self-portrait Tar Baby vs. St. Sebastian in which more than a dozen miniature aircraft project from his realistic cast body like arrows. The artist died during the attacks of September 11th 2001 while inside a studio space in Tower One operated by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.
Kill the Chickens to Scare the Monkeys is a Chinese proverb. It is also the title of another REPOhistory alumni Todd Ayoung’s visceral photomontage about which the artist explains “some of us are chickens and some are flies sacrificed to keep the monkeys (also us) in their place after 9/11.” Ayoung’s work refers to what our leaders describe as a state of unremitting, asymmetrical warfare in which national security concerns are frequently cited as a reason to suppress civil rights, conceal information previously considered publicly accessible, and for gathering and processing images and personal information about a population snared in an unceasing state of networked catastrophe.
Not everyone took this “code orange” state of continuous emergency in stride. Between 2004 and 2007 a group of artists and legal activists known as Visible Collective sought to visualize the stigmatization and detention of a still unknown number of Islamic, Middle Eastern, or North African people inside the country targeted for suspension of habeas corpus and mass cataloging, as well as the virtual disappearance of many others who were “renditioned” to “extra-juridical” zones within Pakistan and Syria and other places where human rights do not stand in the way of extreme interrogation methods (or as we have seen over the past year, places where calls for democracy are greeted with state organized brutality, including Libya – according to the Guardian newspaper the CIA and MI6 collaborated with recently ousted president Muammar Gaddafi following the 911 attacks in processing terror suspects).
Just last week I visited Pedro Lasch’s exhibition at Stephan Stoyanov Gallery http://www.stephanstoyanovgallery.com/ on Orchard Street (the official opening is September 7). Known more for his conceptually-based museum interventions such as Black Mirror, Lasch has spent the last ten years producing a series of meticulous oil paintings in which monolithic twin tower’s appear like phantom limbs around the world including Budapest, Kabul, and perhaps most effectively in Gaza as airstrikes sprout pointillist smoke trails that pay unexpected homage to Seurat. (To propose other locations for the WTC apparitions log on to Twin Towers Go Global (TTGG)
Becky Howland’s trade center cephalopod; REPOhistory’s bomb-blasted street sign; Michael Richard’s uncanny plane-pierced portrait; Todd Ayoung’s prickly eco-trauma; the tenacity of Visible Collective; and Pedro Lasch’s painted phantoms offer a different series of stations from which to observe the disappearance and reappearance of events as we wait and wait for the final melting-away of an irony that I suspect we almost certainly could not bear to live without…not yet.
* For a commentary on this phenomena made at the time by journalist David Beersby see: “Irony is Dead! Long live irony,” in Salon.com written two weeks and two days after the 911 attacks: http://www.salon.com/life/feature/2001/09/25/irony_lives/print.html
In Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise culture I wrote about a group of artists known as the Aaron Burr Society (Brooklyn, NY) who have defiantly re-tooled “the conservative Tea Party imaginary for left-libertarianism, while distilling illegal, untaxed whiskey as a protest against the economic crash.” This “spirited” approach to artistic political dissent is the vision of Burr Society founder (and REPOhistory alumni) Jim Costnzo. Rather than invoking middle-class colonist’s resistance against the East India Trading Company’s monopoly on trade imports (aka the Boston Tea Party of 1773), Costanzo invokes a different moment of dissent known as the Whisky Rebellion that took place several decades after the Revolution in 1790. It was in fact one of five mini-revolutions against bond speculation in the early years of the United States. The Whiskey Rebels said that they were protecting the Revolution’s democratic inheritance, which they described as the government’s unjust and oppressive redistribution of wealth from ordinary citizens to the affluent. They also denounced the “evil” of creating a single Bank of the United States thus turning over financial authority to a handful wealthy, private men. **
Costanzo named his new group after Burr, a man known to many Americans as a national traitor. In fact the former New York Senator championed by Gore Vidal staunchly opposed big banks and financial speculators. Along with brewing illegal, untaxed spirits Aaron Burr Society has performed “exorcisms” against Wall Street vampires and distributed hundreds of “free dollars,” I am pleased to kick-off thus blog I call Diary of a Thirst – an occasional series of interviews, observations, and debates aimed at satisfying the craving for progressive discourse about contemporary art, politics, and culture– with Aaron Burr Society founder Jim Costanzo who comments on the topic du jour: The Tea Party, The Debt Ceiling, and Tax Revolts.
Here is what Costanzo/Aaron Burr Society had to say:
Most people think the politics of the Debt Limit is political theater but its not. It’s a Christian morality pay with the bankers and their corporate cronies as demigods. Everyone seems to be bowing to the Ayn Rand fiction of the aristocratic “job creator” as savior when, in fact, corporate America and their politicians have legalized bribery and fraud while usurping what little democratic life was left in the Republic. What we need is a crass Punch & Judy style anarchist theater showing the king has no clothes.
The 2008 international economic meltdown was a bank robbery by bankers.* Our debt, both national and in most personal cases, was caused by their fraudulent speculation. Government deregulation and corporate fraud crashed the economy, again! This should not be a surprise since it happened many times before and many progressive economists were warning about economic “bubbles” before the 2008 crash. The roots of the problem go deep. They begin in the years leading up to the Revolution and continue on up to the founding of the nation with the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution.
During the Revolutionary War soldiers, farmer, and merchants were paid with War Bonds. By the end of Revolution, these bonds were worth pennies on the dollar. Soldiers would sell all of their bonds to buy one set of new clothes to replace the torn rags that passed as uniforms. Small farmers and merchants were also forced to sell because money was scarce and they were desperate. The speculators who bought the bonds used their wealth and political influence to pressure the government to buy back the bonds at face value resulting in outrageous profits. Worse yet, money raised to pay for the bonds came primarily from taxes paid by the soldiers and farmers who were original cheated.
Individual states issued paper money and set up agencies to give loans to help farmers and the “middling classes” pay their taxes and other expenses. But creditors complained that this cheapened the value of their bonds. The Constitution was written, in part, to help creditors and establish a minority rule of elites that disenfranchised many soldiers who were not property owner and thus unable to vote. Of course woman and people of color were also denied the rights of citizenship. In addition, the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton instituted a two-tiered economic and tax system. His other polices included opening the first National Bank, the equivalent to our Federal Reserve Bank [the Fed] and the Federal Government’s assumption of the state’s debt, which made war bond speculators millionaires, or billionaires if you count inflation. Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson protested, stating that Hamilton’s polices created a new aristocracy of speculators and later resigned his position. Together with New York Senator Aaron Burr, Jefferson fought against Hamilton’s policies and as a result of their efforts opposing Hamilton, they became president and vice president in the election of 1800.
During this period, there were at least five armed rebellions against war bond speculators. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1791 to 1794 was the most significant action taken against minority rule and speculation, which transferred wealth from the small farmer, merchants and workers. “From start to finish, the Whiskey Rebels had said that they were protecting the Revolution’s democratic inheritance. They had complained about the government’s unjust and oppressive ‘Redistribution of Wealth’ from ordinary citizens to the affluent. They had condemned the “insulting” provisions to enrich war debt speculators by taxing the ‘laborious and poor class,’ whose only form of money was the whiskey they distilled. They had denounced the ‘evil’ of creating the Bank of the United States and turning over financial authority to a few wealthy private men. All these policies, they said, would ‘bring immediate distress and ruin’ to a countryside populated with indebted farmers suffering from the scarcity of a circulating medium [money].’ Moreover, they said the excise (tax on whiskey) and all these policies undermined democracy and liberty by further concentrating wealth and power.”**
Today’s debt crisis, though different, is based on the same economic principles that caused the Whiskey Rebellion. Debt is about power, not just money. Especially since the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling that gives corporations the same rights as citizens, which of course means that citizens have no rights because they have little to no access to their elected representatives. Some believe that the Court’s appointment of George W. Bush as president in 2000, 9/11, the financial meltdown and the Citizen United ruling were all part of a Right Wing conspiracy. That’s for others to debate. What is clear is that the economic meltdown was planed and that the Citizen United ruling echoes the anti-democratic political positions that Alexander Hamilton promoted. These polices included appointing George Washington emperor for life, lifetime appointments to the Senate [similar to the British House of Lords] and a planned economy with government subsidies and tax relief given to the elite members of the establishment. Hamilton did not believe in democratic processes, free markets or free trade; he wanted to control the government and the economy.***
To counteract Hamilton’s polices, Burr created the Manhattan Company in 1799. The company brought clean water to New York City as well giving loans to the working classes. Burr was a radical in the French Jacobin tradition, but without the Jeffersonian hypocrisy toward slavery and the working classes. In addition to a clean environment, micro financing and social enterprise, Burr allowed the working classes to own shares in the Manhattan Company, giving them input into how the company conducted business. This broke Alexander Hamilton’s banking monopoly in New York and also threatened the National Bank, the heart of Corporate Capitalism. And if that weren’t enough, Burr was a proto-socialist. He created land co-ops so that more people could become property owners and thus vote. This was a direct threat to Madison’s Constitution, which created minority rule. The Aaron Burr Society believes that the lessons of the Manhattan Company are relevant today.
Therefore we in the Aaron Burr Society (founded 2008) propose:
1. Debt remission incurred from fraudulent financial transactions. This includes both the National Debt and personal debt. We also demand the prosecution of those who committed the crimes.
2. We propose the nationalization of the Federal Reserve Bank [Fed]. Ron Paul and Conservative Libertarians want to close the Fed. Progressive Libertarians want to nationalize the Fed and give direct, low interest loans to the People.
3. A Constitutional Amendment that clearly states that Corporations DO NOT have the Rights of Citizens.
4. Repeal NAFTA and all Free Trade treaties and replace them with Fair Trade and an International Living Wage. We will never have a clean, sustainable environment without international social and economic justice.
5. Change the color of the American Flag to Red, White, Blue and Green with Green signifying the environment and economic justice. Jim Costanzo/ABS August 1, 2011
Notes and references;
*The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One: How Corporate Executives And Politicians Looted the S&L Industry by William K. Black [http://www.utexas.edu/utpress/books/blabes.html]
** Revolutionary Founders Rebels, Radicals, and Reformers in the making of the Nation, edited by Alfrd F. Young, Gary B. Nash, and Ray Raphael [http://us-intellectual-history.blogspot.com/2011/06/sehat-on-young-nash-and-raphael-eds.html]
***Something That Will Surprise The World: the Essential Writings of the Founding Fathers, edited by Susan Dunn, forward by Joseph J. Ellis [http://www.curledup.com/somesurp.htm]
Below is an excerpt from the last section of Chapter 4 of Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture. Though it was written several years ago I think it might have some relevance to debates surrounding recent tragic events in Norway:
Acid green and grainy, the four-minute streamed snuff video Homeland Security Part 2 is framed in a dark, circular vignette. Allegedly shot through the lens of a night-vision riflescope we see a distant rock outcropping that appears as if underwater. Then a male voice, in English. ‘He’s low crawling…Guy with a backpack. I bet ya it’s probably full of dope’, Breaking from the rocky ridge is a shadowy figure moving tentatively across the desert ridge in the dark. ‘You know what?’ a second male voice responds, ‘I’m going to take a fuckin’ shot.’ A cracking sound, and a bit more conversation: ‘Get the shovels, get some lime… and hey, grab me a 12 pack, too.’ ‘Roger that. We fuckin’ nailed him, dude!’
Purportedly the video shows the murder of an unarmed, illegal immigrant somewhere in the desert border between Southern California and Mexico. The snuff movie was made by members of the Mountain Minutemen, one of over a hundred informally organized vigilante groups that emerged after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. This particular video appeared briefly on YouTube in August 2007, was removed from the Internet after thousands had seen it and commented on it, many with a grisly appreciation. After an investigation by the local sheriff the video’s authors insisted it was staged, no one had been killed. Although some members of the broader Minuteman Project publicly denounced the alleged farce, describing its makers as ‘renegades’, the farce has since taken on a mythic status amongst anti-immigrant extremists and white supremacists. 
Minuteman Project co-founder Jim Gilchrist graphically depicts himself superimposed over the United States Constitution on his own website. He sports an arsenal of compact surveillance equipment: a short wave radio, cell phone, and small video camera that he clutches in his hand much like a handgun, finger crooked as if ready on the trigger.  Another website for the Campo Minutemen shows an image of a man speaking into a walkie-talkie with a rifle slung over his back. He is silhouetted against a spare desert landscape at sunset. The website banner reads: ‘Doing For Our Country What Our Government Won’t.’  This slogan, much like Gilchrist’s montage, or the nocturnal snuff film’s ironic reference to homeland security, simultaneously invokes ‘the law’, only to insist that it is either fraudulent or too abstract and therefore insufficient. No written statute it seems can protect the homeland, only flesh and blood guardians who grasp its deepest, most basic truth: vigilance and sacrifice. ‘At some point’, reads one anti-immigrant manifesto, ‘we must stop this interminable flood of humanity or suffer our demise by its sheer numbers as they impact every aspect of our teetering society.’  A sense of visceral, existential panic comes across in this nearly Biblical representation of pending disaster. Nevertheless, the representational violence and racism only hinted at on the websites of informal border patrols is granted full expression elsewhere. A visit to the webpages of the far-Right Militia Movements, or the openly fascist Stormfront Media Portal articulates what the Minutemen dare not say: the rising flood on the nation’s borders is not just a tide of unwanted surplus, it also not white surplus.  Sartre might have described this thinking as Bad Faith: a kind of self-deception in which an alleged external threat –in this case the rising tide of dark human surplus– is in fact a response to the wounded fantasy of those whose sense of national integrity and personal identity has been forever ruined by an era of de-territorialized global capitalism.  Still, no less than De Certeau’s ‘everyman’, this grotesquely retrograde resistance appears inseparably woven into the networks of neoliberal enterprise culture, and the darkest of its ‘dark matter’ reinforces what Eve Sedgwick Kosofsky described as ignorance effects that are capable of being ‘harnessed, licensed, and regulated on a mass scale for striking enforcements.’  Proponents of the new, networked economy insist that digital technology is fundamentally changing for the better how individuals ‘interact with their democracy and experience their role as citizens…and their relationship to the public sphere.’  The notion of networked ressentiment does not seem to have crossed their minds.
Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals pivots on a dialectical flash, an instant when the blocked desires of the subservient class first gain knowledge of their collective advantage over their masters. It is first and foremost an opposition to a world that exists outside the self, new form of negative creativity the philosopher calls ressentiment. The word conjures not only resentfulness, but also active repetition and the folding back upon oneself. Out of the repeated experience of humiliating submission the meek give birth to intelligence and self-knowledge. Ressentiment is a reactive project of survival, and with it emerges a previously unrecognized repertoire of skills: the ability to counterfeit and conceal oneself, to be patient in getting what one desires. Against this furtive artistry Nietzsche opposes the fierce appetites of the master class who have no need for self-consciousness or places of hiding. Although Nietzsche is openly contemptuous of this new servile morality, he also acknowledges that, ‘a race of such men of resentment will necessarily end up cleverer than any noble race.’ One thing is clear, whether merely bitter or revolutionary, undeveloped or reactive, this survival project inevitably makes use of whatever resources it finds at hand, including the misappropriation of the ‘master’s’ own voice, the principal means of expressing political will today The non-market dark matter that Benkler refers to is shot through with just such stealthy, frequently ambiguous expressions of resentment and rebellion. It is replete with acts of theft, rich with double entendre and knowing acts of indirection. Scott describes these ‘weapons of the weak’, and,African American scholar Cornel West lectures that as ‘Nietzsche noted (with different aims in mind), subversive memory and other-regarding morality are the principal weapons for the wretched of the earth and those who fight to enhance their plight’.  However, this insubordinate dark matter can just as easily take the form of regressive brutality like that associated with racist football hooligans in the UK and elsewhere. Sociologist John Wilson describes the participants in such disconnected collectivism as ‘unclubbables’ who are eager to take advantage of public festivals and fanfare to stage group transgression of disciplinary controls. However, we might also describe this species of angry dark matter as a kind of poisonous gift that circulate as much in ‘real spaces’ as in cyberspace. Fortunately, as West assures us, the forces of subversive memory born of repeated failure also seek to establish a kind of shadow jurisdiction with their own outlaw justice and bottom-up counter-institutionality. Indeed, the archives, public projects, exhibitions, and publications of Temporary Services, PAD/D, AWC, Critical Art Ensemble, as well as even the premise of this book for that matter would probably not be conceivable without the creative negativity made possible by a shadowy Ressentiment.
 See Gilchrist’s follow-up commentary to his own Op Ed in the Los Angeles Times of July 1, 2008: http://opinion.latimes.com/opinionla/2008/07/jim-gilchrist-r.html – the video was briefly offline, and is now visible again received over seventeen thousand hits (not necessarily unique) as of December 2009.
 Jim Gilchrist’s Minuteman Project: http://www.minutemanproject.com/
 Campo Minutemen: http://www.campominutemen.com/
 This is a citation from Minuteman Midwest from November 2008. The site is no longer available. However, the same phrase can be found at From http://www.rense.com/general81/dept.htm, a similar angry, patriotic resentment aimed at the administration of Barak Obama is evident amongst middle and working class members of the newly formed Dallas Tea Party based in Texas: http://taxdayteaparty.com/teaparty/texas/
 Stormfront was founded in the early 1990s as an electronic bulletin board hosted by the Ku Klux Klan and has since morphed into an online news and merchandising source for white supremacist and ultra-nationalist organizations with built-in translation software for Serbian, Croatian, Gaelic, Dutch, Russian, Hungarian and Afrikaans, see: http://www.stormfront.org/forum/showthread.php?t=218412
 For a digitally interactive cultural and political ‘response’ to the border vigilante mobilization and other forms of nationalist xenophobia see the free online video game ICED, in which the player assumes the role of a teenager attempting to avoid capture and deportation by officials:
 Eve Sedgwick Kosofsky, Epistemology of the Closet, University of California Press, 1990, 5.
 Benkler, op cit., 272.
 James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 1990; Cornel West, The Cornel West Reader, Basic Civitas books, 1999, 275.
 John Wilson, Politics and Leisure, Allen and Unwin, inc., 1988, 56-61.
 Here I offer my own observations of several conversations overheard following a 2007 parade celebrating the winning game of a New York sports team in which young white men, presumably from the suburbs and outer boroughs, gleefully described running atop parked automobiles, leaping over crowd-control barricades, and becoming publicly aroused by groups of inebriated female fans, as police watched on helplessly in Lower Manhattan.