m

Blade of Grass Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art

Our good friends and supporters at Blade of Grass are calling for applications for fellowships. Here’s the skinny:

Online application form opens: Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Application Deadline: Monday, November 24, 2014

The ABOG Fellowship for Socially Engaged Art is an active, year-long funding relationship for socially engaged artists and artist collectives working nationwide. Eight fellows will be selected in 2015 to receive project support of $20,000 with strategic support, assessment tools, video documentation, and other tailored resources. Click here to learn about our eligibility requirements, review selection criteria and access the online application!

Commitment to Local Artists
Beginning this year, ABOG will earmark four of the available eight fellowships for artists living in New York City. We recognize that there is a growing and vibrant community of socially engaged artists in our own backyard and we have a particular investment in strengthening our local artists and neighborhoods. The remaining four fellowships will be open to all applicants, regardless of geographic location.

How We Decide
This is a two-step application process. A panel of readers made up of an artist, a community organizer or participant in a community-based art project, a curator or arts administrator, an educator or scholar, and an ABOG representative will review initial letters of interest and recommend up to 50 semi-finalists. Semi-finalists will be invited to submit a full application with an extended narrative, budget, and a timeline for realizing each stage of their project.

Application: http://www.abladeofgrass.org/application/guidelines/

Gerry Hassan: Time for some fun with our politics — The Scotsman

Article in the Sunday Scotsman about the School for Creative Activism working overseas with Changin’ Scotland.  22 November 2013

Radicals, leave dogma at the door – embrace a sense of playfulness and dare to dream of a better Scotland, writes Gerry Hassan

To many of the tribes and partisans who inhabit our public life, all that matters is the contest and defeating their opponents. Democracy and politics in this mindset are in fine working order, beyond the difficulty of trying to get your own way. (more…)

Activist Art: Does it Work? — OPEN! Cahier

The first rule of guerilla warfare is to know the terrain and use it to your advantage. The topography on which the activist fights may no longer be the mountains of the Sierra Maestra or the jungles of Vietnam, but the lesson still applies. Today, the political landscape is one of signs and symbols, story and spectacle. Responding to this new terrain, there has been an upsurge in the use of creative, artistic, and cultural strategies as a tool for social change. This practice goes by many names: political art, activist art, interventionist art, socially engaged art, and social practice art. No matter the description, artists are using their aesthetic training and skill to wage battles for social change. Yet as practitioners and trainers in these forms of artistic activism, we are haunted by the question: Does it work?

So we started asking artists whose work we respect this very question:

SD&SL: As a political artist, how do you know when what you’ve done works?

Hans Haacke: I’ve been asked that question many times, and that question requires one to go around it before one really avoids it.

The above is just one example, and Haacke’s response is meant to be humorous, but in asking scores of talented and sophisticated activist artists this seemingly simple question, and in surveying hundreds of examples of activist art, we were struck by the inadequacy of the conceptualisation of the relationship between arts and demonstrable social change. Unfortunately, much of what passes for activist art seems to be aimed at four hazy targets:

The Whole World is Watching. The artist determines the success of a particular practice by the amount of media coverage it generates. If the work is covered by the mainstream news media, or the art press, or is noticed by the activist and arts communities at all, then the artist can count this as a success. This is not merely self-aggrandisement: the function of the media coverage is often thought of as a means to “raising awareness” and bringing the political or social issue to the attention of a wider audience.

The first rule of guerilla warfare is to know the terrain and use it to your advantage. The topography on which the activist fights may no longer be the mountains of the Sierra Maestra or the jungles of Vietnam, but the lesson still applies. Today, the political landscape is one of signs and symbols, story and spectacle. Responding to this new terrain, there has been an upsurge in the use of creative, artistic, and cultural strategies as a tool for social change. This practice goes by many names: political art, activist art, interventionist art, socially engaged art, and social practice art. No matter the description, artists are using their aesthetic training and skill to wage battles for social change. Yet as practitioners and trainers in these forms of artistic activism, we are haunted by the question: Does it work?

So we started asking artists whose work we respect this very question:

SD&SL: As a political artist, how do you know when what you’ve done works?

Hans Haacke: I’ve been asked that question many times, and that question requires one to go around it before one really avoids it.

The above is just one example, and Haacke’s response is meant to be humorous, but in asking scores of talented and sophisticated activist artists this seemingly simple question, and in surveying hundreds of examples of activist art, we were struck by the inadequacy of the conceptualisation of the relationship between arts and demonstrable social change. Unfortunately, much of what passes for activist art seems to be aimed at four hazy targets:

The Whole World is Watching. The artist determines the success of a particular practice by the amount of media coverage it generates. If the work is covered by the mainstream news media, or the art press, or is noticed by the activist and arts communities at all, then the artist can count this as a success. This is not merely self-aggrandisement: the function of the media coverage is often thought of as a means to “raising awareness” and bringing the political or social issue to the attention of a wider audience.

What these artistic activist aims have in common is a faith that awareness can change the world without any specific follow-through. This is magical thinking. Ironically, this sort of magical thinking is deeply rooted in the rationalist Enlightenment tradition, which holds that knowing, expressing and conversing upon the Truth leads to social transformation. Knowledge = Power. There may have been a certain validity to this point of view once upon a time. When Church and State had a monopoly on Truth to entertain opposing points of view was an implicit strike against the powers-that-be, but in the age of the Internet – of information surplus rather than scarcity – this faith in the power of mere awareness strikes us as dangerously naïve.

These aims also share a fear. For an artist, declaring they will solve a social problem makes one vulnerable; it’s difficult, art school doesn’t teach it, and it is obvious to others when you fail. But awareness is safe and comes easily for anyone trained in the arts. In art school, we are taught to use shortcuts like, “make it big, red, and shiny”. Applying this lesson to activist art, we take some controversial imagery, mix it with a hot-button issue, and make it very public. Awareness can also just be a euphemism for attention, and everyone – especially perpetually under-appreciated artists – loves a little attention. But as people who believe that art and artists not only can bring about social change and, given the cultural terrain of today, are necessary to bringing about social change, we are deeply dissatisfied with these ambitions. We support all those artists who are working to bring positive and progressive change to the world; we just insist that they aim higher and shoot further. What is at stake is the efficacy of this practice.

Awareness is important, but it is also not enough. Awareness, and its attendant components: expression, revelation, distribution and dialogue are, to borrow a phrase from the social sciences, “necessary but not sufficient conditions”. Action without awareness results in an unthinking activism with stupid, and sometimes horrific, consequences. But awareness without action is just as bad. It results in the appearance of political engagement without any of its results. It can make an action into a release valve instead of a turning point. It is an activism of bad faith.

If, as artistic activists, we are to take ourselves and our work seriously, we need to trace out the explicit connections between our practice and the change we want to see in the world. This might mean measuring the effects of our work in changing public opinion, working within larger campaigns with clear material goals, or creating art practices that constitute new communities committed to collective action. We wish we had an easy answer but we don’t. In fact, we resist the easy answers because we don’t think a simple response would do justice to the power of art (an aspect of which must always be beyond explanation) and the myriad ways in which social change happens. Nevertheless, understanding the complexities of the process does not absolve us of the responsibility of envisioning and articulating clear outcomes, goals, even dreams for what we want to have happen and the means by which this will occur. We look forward to the day when we can ask the question: Does it work? And receive the answer: Yes, and here’s how…

http://www.onlineopen.org/columns/activist-art-does-it-work

School for Creative Activism, a project of the Center for Artistic Activism — Social Text

Overview

The first rule of guerrilla warfare is to know the terrain and use it to your advantage. No longer does this require navigating the mountains of Cuba with a rifle on one’s back, as today’s political topography is one of symbols and signs, images and expressions. From small community organizations to international NGOs, the School for Creative Activism works with activists looking to broaden their base of appeal and the effectiveness of their work through employing creative processes and using cultural resources. Our training helps these organizations meld tried and true organizing techniques with the avant-garde practice of creative activism.. 

The SCA is not just about “better messaging” or adding slick graphic design. Our goal is more effective organizing. Our curriculum updates the activist tool-kit through the reimagination and reconfiguration of tactics, strategy, objectives and goals in such a way that creativity and culture factors into every plan and every action.

In a weekend long workshop, we offer a broad-based education focused on the organizers and the cultural landscape upon which they operate. We teach a framework of overarching principles, perspectives, and skills of creative activism that they can apply to develop their own campaigns. Invention is required: we don’t just provide a set of cool tactics, we teach a proven methodology for developing creative campaigns. Steve Lambert is a practicing political artist and Stephen Duncombe is a recognized cultural theorist, and we have experience in professional teaching, grassroots organizing, and the arts. Our influences are a mix of all these experiences and the research around them.

Teaching

In our model training, the instructional timeline is compressed – we teach our curriculum in two and a half days. We’re not opposed to learning from “tradition” and using what we know from standard university teaching. A great deal of our trainings takes place through collaborative, “hands-on” workshops, where we work together in imagining goals, planning stategies and devising tactics. But we also believe that in order to work together effectively we need to have a common knowledge base, and in order to convey this information efficiently we use a more traditional lecture and slide format. Since we’re often working with professional organizers it helps to be able to meet them on some safe, familiar ground. However, we also push the boundaries as far as we can over the course. For example, after a long day of instruction on the history and theory of creative activism, we get out of the safety zone of activist culture, taking immigrant rights workers on field trips to a comedy night, having Occupy Faith organizers compete against each other in a game of Monopoly, or spending a night at a sports bar with anti-segregation activists. The lesson they learn here is that activists have to leave the domain they are comfortable with if they ever hope to communicate their message to, and work effectively with, a wider audience.

Our participants are generally experienced activists who are looking for new ways to approach their work. We try to create new groups of collaborators at the same time, so the activists may not all be from the same organization. To create a more creative dynamic, we often include a few local artists among the activists as well. To date the SCA has run training sessions working with local artists and Open Society Foundations organizing partners in New York, North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, and Massachusetts, as well as East Africa and The Netherlands. In the coming year sessions are planned for the United States, Scotland, and Russia.
 You asked a few specific questions we want to respond to:

Questions of funding are important. For both of us, this is the most uncompromised work we do and having autonomy, in that regard, from our funders means there needs to be some barriers between money and our curricular decisions. For this reason, we decided when we founded the school to never do this work for businesses. Charging tuition can bring income and a level of “investment” from students, but this can also exclude the very organizers that we want to work with the most. So far, we have been able to win grants from Open Society Foundations and others so that all participants’ expenses (food, lodging) are covered and they are paid a small stipend for committing to the training. Paying the participants honors their time and commitment to the course. This is a core principle for us. Accreditation is not important to us. We teach the same topics in the SCA that we do in our respective universities because we feel this perspective is critical to understanding culture and citizenship. However, in the SCA we’re able to teach these ideas exactly the way we want – over the course of the weekend, with active practitioners, and without committee meetings or getting signatures from administrators. We work with the people we believe will benefit most – not college students, but experienced activists. And activists don’t really care about accreditation either (though we do have a ritualistic graduation ceremony where we play music, drink champagne and award a diploma).

Stephen Duncombe teaches at NYU and Steve Lambert at SUNY Purchase. Having one foot in these institutions while running an independent school gives us some latitude for our independent pedagogical endeavors, but also improves our teaching within these schools. Ultimately, we don’t want to feel that we need to go elsewhere to teach what we think is most important, and we’d like to bring the SCA into our university classrooms. This, however, raises the question of the purpose of the classroom versus that of the SCA. We don’t have any set goal in our college classrooms other than creating more inquisitive, creative and learned students. We strive to foster the same qualities in the participants in the SCA too, but there’s an important difference. We believe art and knowledge is always instrumentalized – it is unavoidable – it’s just a question of how and for whom. The SCA was created for the express purpose of helping activists to be more effective in challenging power and changing the world. The goal of the School for Creative Activism is, in a word, revolution.

– See more at: http://socialtextjournal.org/periscope_article/school-for-creative-activism-a-project-of-the-center-for-artistic-activism/#sthash.cKg083m3.dpuf

George Lakoff in 3 minutes

Before anyone on the Left was talking about the importance of understanding the cognitive science of political decision making and action, and the necessity of framing, metaphor, story and association, there was George Lakoff. He’s been telling his story to anyone who will listen for more than a quarter-century. Here he is giving his rap in a little over three minutes.

My Political Faith

The following is a short piece I wrote for an on-line journal called freq.uenci.es who asked me to write about spirituality. At first I said no; I don’t think of myself as a spiritual person. But then I started thinking about some of the training work that Lambert and I do in the School for Creative Activism, and the following is the result:

My Political Faith
Stephen Duncombe

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.

1 Corinthians 9:19-22

 

A few Sundays ago I was in what I suppose passes for my church: an activist space in an old warehouse on the edge of the city. I was there with my partner to train a group of veteran organizers on how to employ creativity and the arts in their activism in order to become more effective political players in our media-saturated, culture-rich world. Standing in front of the organizers, I got to a point in my stock presentation where I introduce Jesus as an example of a creative activist. My proselytizing was of a secular rather than religious nature: it wasn’t the spiritual figure of Christ I was interested in but the purely historical Jesus, a radical Mediterranean Jewish peasant building a revolutionary movement two millennia ago. Jesus, I explained, understood the fundamentals of using story and spectacle, signs and symbols as means to criticize the status quo and offer up an alternative vision. When, for example, he entered the main temple of Jerusalem and overturned the tables of the money changers and sellers of ritual objects he was staging an effective political performance. He could have stood outside and harangued the passerby with his opinions, the ancient equivalent of the activist on the soapbox, but instead he demonstrated his politics though a spectacular act of civil disobedience. Through such an action he not only demonstrated visually and bodily his political ideals, but did it in such a provocative way that news of his deed, and therefore his message, was sure to travel. In modern parlance: Jesus went viral.

I then spoke of Jesus’ use of parables and how, by employing these often oblique stories, he created an opening for his audience to make the message their own. Unlike a list of grievances or demands, easily understood and just as easily ignored, the parables asked listeners to puzzle through the mystery of the stories and their meanings. It was an “invitational form of speech” to quote the Bible scholar Marcus Borg, which does not command, but instead works in its “ability to involve and affect the imagination.” One can almost imagine the scene following an impromptu teaching by Jesus: people walking away, debating amongst themselves exactly what this crazy holy man meant by comparing the kingdom of heaven to a mustard seed. But with every argument and counter-argument, Jesus’ words ceased to be his alone and became the common property of his audience.

Finally, I discussed how Jesus was able to prefigure his vision of a better world tomorrow though creative actions situated in the present day. By sitting down to dinner—a deeply meaningful ritual in Biblical times—with women, tax collectors, sinners and the ill, he enacted in the here and now the egalitarian community he prophesized for the future. Similarly, by entering Jerusalem on a donkey, the titular “Son of God” seated upon a lowly ass, he acted out his ideal of a world turned upside down in which “the last shall be first, and the first last.” Jesus, I concluded, took the ideal of a political “demonstration” quite literally… and thus employed it very effectively.

I was done with this lesson and ready to move on to a discussion concerning the use of creative tactics in the American Revolution when one of the participants raised their hand and asked me if I was a Christian. The question threw me, and I had to think for a moment. I was raised Christian and I know my Bible, my father and grandfather were both ministers and, most other Sundays, I attend a “real” Church with my family. But am I a Christian?

By way of an answer I explained that a large majority of Americans—anywhere from 76 to 83 percent, in fact—identify themselves as Christian and that many of the guiding myths, symbols and ideals of the United States have their roots in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. I argued that religion, as a compendium of stories, a system of ethics, and a model of behavior could be drawn upon as a popular alternative to norms and ideals of competitive consumer capitalism. I admitted that there’s much to condemn in religion, its bigotry and intolerance for starters, but also pointed out that most religions also extol such virtues as love, community and responsibility for others. Good material for an astute organizer to work with.

I also reminded the activists in the room of the first rule of guerilla warfare: know your terrain and use it to your advantage. Whether we approve of it or not Christianity forms the contours of much of American life and consciousness; it is a, if not the, lingua franca. If you want to be an effective activist in the this country you need to be able to talk the talk, even if you are uneasy walking the walk. We might profit, I concluded, from the words of the Apostle Paul, the crackerjack community organizer of the early Church, who wrote: “Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible… I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

By the end of my jeremiad I realized I had my answer. I am a Christian, but only because I believe it makes me a more effective political activist. In a word, I am an opportunistic Christian. (A public admission made more awkward by the fact that the minister of my—albeit activist—”other” Church was participating in the workshop). So much for the authenticity of my faith. But sitting down to retell this story now I realize something else. I do have faith in Jesus, but a particular and perhaps peculiar faith. Do I believe that Jesus walked on water? No. Do I believe in the divinity of Christ? No. Do I believe in God? No. But do I believe that Jesus cared about those who are used, abused or forgotten by society? Do I believe that Jesus wanted to radically transform the world? Do I believe that Jesus can teach me something about how to be an effective political organizer? The answer is Yes, yes and, again, yes.

I believe. I believe that all history, to paraphrase Marx and Engels, is the history of social struggle. It is a bloody and brutal history of those who use their power and privilege to kill, oppress, demean and regulate others in order to maintain and increase their own power and privilege. But there is another history too: a long tradition of people who have stood up to those in power and teached and preached and organized and demanded the redistribution of power and privilege. And there is an even more radical history of those who have envisioned and demanded a world in which power and privilege are abolished altogether.

Jesus is part of this history, as is Moses and Buddha and the Prophet Mohammed; Karl Marx, Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King too. This is my community of faith. I may be opportunistic in the material I draw upon for inspiration and lessons. I will readily become a Christian amongst the Christians, a Jew amongst Jews, and a Muslim amongst Muslims, not to mention a Communist or Anarchist amongst Communists or Anarchists—“I have become all things to all people.” And while this sounds coldly instrumental, I can assure you it is not; it’s something deeply spiritual. I feel impossibly yet intimately connected to those who have fought, and continue to fight, to radically transform the world. Their history is my history and mine theirs. Together we share a faith that we can make heaven here on earth.

 

 

Is This What Civil Disobedience Looks Like? — Nathan Schneider

 

Nathan Schneider, from Waging NonViolence makes an excellent point here in his coverage of the mass arrests of Occupy Wallstreet on the Brooklyn Bridge about what are we trying to “demonstrate” in our demonstrations: “One might wonder, however, whether causing such an obstruction is really the proper mode of civil disobedience given the purposes of the protest. It’s helpful to recall a maxim of Gene Sharp’s: “Either you
do something you’re not supposed to do, or you don’t something you are supposed to do.” To put it another way: do something good that’s against the law, or refuse
to do something bad that the law demands of you.”

Read on for the full report….

Mass Arrests On The Brooklyn Bridge: Is This What
Civil Disobedience Looks Like?
by Nathan Schneider
Waging NonViolence
October 1, 2011
http://wagingnonviolence.org/2011/10/mass-arrests-on-the-brooklyn-bridge/

News is by now getting around that today there were mass
arrests of Occupy Wall Street protesters-700 or more-on
the Brooklyn Bridge. As over a thousand marchers made
their way toward the bridge a few minutes after 3 p.m.,
they split into two groups. Some followed members of the
Direct Action Committee who led the way up the elevated
pedestrian walkway in the middle of the bridge. Another
group, however, broke away and took to the Brooklyn-
bound road on the bridge’s south side, eventually
filling the whole roadway so that no traffic could get
through. The front row of them locked arms and
proceeded. At first, police had blocked neither
entrance.

“That was not planned at all,” Direct Action Committee
member Sandy Nurse told me, looking down from the
pedestrian walkway onto those marching on the roadway.
“I think there’s a lot of people in that group that
don’t realize what they’re getting into.”

Before the marchers on the roadway reached the first
stone tower, and having been led by a phalanx of senior
police officers, they were intercepted from the other
side. (Even The New York Times offers evidence that the
police intended to lure marchers into a trap.) Out came
dozens of dark-blue shirted officers with plastic cuffs-
actually, cardboard boxes full of them. Some officers
unrolled the same type of orange nets they had used the
previous Saturday to make nearly 100 arrests, while
others lined up opposite the protesters, halted them,
and began to apprehend and cuff them, one by one.

For a few minutes, the scene was very tense, as could be
observed from above on the pedestrian walkway, where
hundreds more marchers were passing by. On the roadway,
there were scuffles as some force was used against those
being apprehended. “This Is a Peaceful Protest!” people
chanted. And: “No! Sleep! Till Brooklyn!” But soon the
whole process assumed the appearance of routine, and,
for those waiting to be taken away, of solemn dignity.

At the front and back, with the crowd of marchers on the
roadway surrounded on three sides by nets, police
continued cuffing them and leading them away, one at a
time. Slowly. Most of the marchers sat down and waited.
“If you sit down, there is no fear,” called one marcher,
each phrase echoed by the others in the “people’s
microphone.” They talked, and smoked cigarettes, sang
songs, and chanted. Many smiled as they were led away.

Meanwhile, more police arrived on the pedestrian
walkway, and they used more nets to cordon off the area
directly in front of where the arrests were happening.
And so it went on and on over the course of hours, as
police vans and city buses arrived to take away those
arrested. It started raining-lightly, at first, and then
hard.

The several hundred marchers who had been on the
pedestrian walkway and had been turned back down to the
Manhattan side rallied at the base of the bridge. They
marched around some in the rain, including to 1 Police
Plaza to demand the release of their comrades. Then they
debated where to go next, and finally agreed to return
to Liberty Plaza. On the way, they were joined by
several hundred more, who had made it to Brooklyn on the
pedestrian walkway and returned on the Manhattan Bridge.
As a mass, together, they all returned with a sense of
victory to the plaza.

It was dark by then. Dinner was ready, and they
celebrated and started planning the next move.

This was the second major Saturday march halted by a
mass arrest, largely on account of obstructing traffic.
One might wonder, however, whether causing such an
obstruction is really the proper mode of civil
disobedience given the purposes of the protest. It’s
helpful to recall a maxim of Gene Sharp’s: “Either you
do something you’re not supposed to do, or you don’t
something you are supposed to do.” To put it another
way: do something good that’s against the law, or refuse
to do something bad that the law demands of you.

Creating such an obstruction certainly does fulfill the
purpose of occupation-it is a way of reclaiming public
space, of being heard, and of stopping business as
usual. But it also obstructs a lot of people who are not
the protest’s targets. Therefore, this may not be the
most appropriate law to be arrested for breaking-or at
least not the one that sends the clearest message.

What might be better? Perhaps something along the lines
of Tim DeChristopher’s well-known obstruction of an
illegal oil and gas lease auction, for instance. In this
and other classic cases of civil disobedience, from
Gandhi’s salt march, to the sit-ins at segregated lunch
counters, to the Freedom Rides, to Rosa Parks’ choice of
seat on a Montgomery bus, resisters took care to break
the precise laws or rules or customs that they opposed.
Their message, even without having to say anything, was
absolutely evident. Especially since many people
complain that there isn’t enough clarity of message from
Occupy Wall Street, more clarity of action might go a
long way to winning even more people to the rapidly-
growing cause.

Today, hundreds of people were arrested, many surely for
the first time. More seem likely to follow. The world
was watching (including tens of thousands on the
movement’s livestream TV channel), and what it saw were
entirely peaceful protesters, in the streets to oppose
an unjust economy and a corrupt political order, being
arrested en masse while bringing their messages across
one of New York’s greatest landmarks.

8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back

Steve sent me this article in response to a question we were batting about around why there is seemingly no public outrage surrounding the burn the public or boil the public “debate” on the debt limit, especially in comparison to what has happened or is happening in Egypt, Spain, Israel and elsewhere. I think the author is pretty spot-on in his analysis of the barriers in the way of youth mobilization, and it’s definitely worth reading, but there’s something that really bugs me about this type of lament — one that’s all too common on the Left. The problem is that there’s nothing we can do about any of this. In essence, it’s a recipe for depression because these are all structural/institutional problems and the best we can do at this point is say NO! Don’t watch TV, NO! Don’t go to school, NO! Don’t pay your student debt, etc. I think our job is to get to YES.

(Also I’m betting that in Israel a month ago, Spain six months ago or Egypt a year ago, they were writing the same type of thing)

8 Reasons Young Americans Don’t Fight Back: How the US Crushed Youth Resistance

By Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet
Posted on July 31, 2011, Printed on August 9, 2011
Link to AlterNet story

Traditionally, young people have energized democratic movements. So it is a major coup for the ruling elite to have created societal institutions that have subdued young Americans and broken their spirit of resistance to domination. (more…)

Poor Immigrant as Muse

The following is an article about the artist Tania Bruguera and and her year-long project of living with and “as” an immigrant in NYC. This raises the question of: How does this art address and/or effect poor immigrants’ lives? The most charitable reading is that the artist intends to use her position of power and access (she is being written about in the Times after all) to shine a light on the conditions of  immigrants in NYC.  But does anyone really not know about the poverty and living conditions of most immigrants? And…does knowledge really change anything anyway? But this position of “Artist as Truth Teller,” as Steve likes to call it, is a common fallacy; what disturbs me even more is the possibility that the artist is using the poor immigrants as mere subject matter, or worse: as a source for inspiration. As Walter Benjamin commented upon in an essay long ago (The Author as Producer) there is a big difference between art about poor people, and art that eradicates poverty.

An Artist’s Performance: A Year as a Poor Immigrant
New York Times, May 18 2011
Sam Dolnik

Tania Bruguera has eaten dirt, hung a dead lamb from her neck and served trays of cocaine to a gallery audience, all in the name of art. She has shown her work at the Venice Biennale, been feted at the Pompidou Center in Paris and landed a Guggenheim fellowship.

But now she is sharing a tiny apartment in Corona, Queens, with five illegal immigrants and their six children, including a newborn, while scraping by on the minimum wage, without health insurance.

She has not fallen on hard times. Ms. Bruguera is performing a yearlong art piece meant to improve the image of immigrants and highlight their plight. And she is bringing her high-concept brand of provocation to a low-wattage precinct of taco stands and auto-body shops, where the neighbors have responded with varying degrees of curiosity, amusement and befuddlement.

Complete article here