“A certain suspicion regarding art as a specialized realm is encoded into the DNA of OWS.” Yates McKee
Time Magazine’s “person of the year” is just my ploy to draw attention to two much more worthy reports on the Occupy Movement, specifically as they intersect with the arts. Yates McKee’s thorough overview of occupy and the arts in the Nation is a passionate catalogue and valuable archive by a sharp art historian. He considers the OWS Arts and Culture group, visual strategies to expand the movement, and longheld suspicions about the arts and activism. Domenick Ammirati discusses the events of Dec. 16-18 (storefront for art and architecture, various publications, International Migrants Day, etc.) in Artforum with a tone that I think was supposed to be objective, as in distanced, but it comes off as a touch Gen-X apathetic, exactly what we don’t need. Nonetheless, it’s great to see the coverage and good to get some details from the ground.
From the beginning creative strategies have been key to the Occupy movement, which was sparked by the Canadian magazine Adbuster’s call “to flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades, and occupy Wall Street on September 17” and its visually arresting poster (above). Of course, the movement’s initiation was actually the work of many activists and community organizers on the ground in New York, preparing for America’s resistance movement since at least the Arab Spring (but actually well before, e.g. Keystone pipeline, Wisconsin, Seattle…activism is an unstoppable continuum of resistance since…um…the beginning of humanity).
My dissertation, whose writing has occupied my time, is an attempt to draw out some particular historical lineages to artistic activism along the side of reform rather than revolution through the sociological art movement in the 1970s in France. I am hoping that this historical and intellectual work will some day contribute to understanding and supporting the Occupy movement, even if the timeline is years in the making. For now, I want to just keep up with the goings on and support worthy creative endeavors (two recently supported on Kickstarter include Sam Mayfield’s film Wisconsin Rising and Beautiful Trouble, a toolbox for the revolution). As my favorite bumper sticker from my teens read: If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.
Art sign language cards from the Art Institute of Chicago, 1979
I am fascinated by how the movements of this language reveal structures of belief. Museum as Greco-Roman edifice, gallery as visual wrapping space, and sculpture as the figural hourglass. But what about “artist”? It’s a wave movement with the letter “i” and then a grounding down like the museum. Is it “I in the museum” or “I/drawing/museum” or some grounding line…? If we can assume that some words developed from the etymologies of the written words, others must have emerged from non-verbal forms of communication, from histories of gestures extending as far back as life.
Photos: APG members at Documenta 6 in Kassel, 1977, from left to right: Ian Breakwell, Barbara Steveni, Nicholas Tresilian, John Latham and Hugh Davies, copyright APG/Tate Archive; From of the Flat Time House, 210 Bellenden Road, copyright Ken Adlard/FTI-lo
Home of the late British artist John Latham turned art space, the Flat Time House has an interesting exhibition program. This summer Mathieu Copeland mounted a photocopied ‘bootleg’ version of the 1964 ICA exhibition “A Study for an Exhibition of Violence in Contemporary Art” alongside other studies of violence in music. You can download the exhibition catalogue here.
Latham was a founding member of the Artist Placement Group (APG), a collective that worked to integrate artists as experts in businesses and industries in the late 1960s and 70s as a way of re-imagining the role of the artist in society. With the social inclination and redefinitions of artistic labor in recent work, there has been a surge of interest in the group. See the APG timeline by the TATE as well as Claire Bishop’s thoughtful essay “Rate of Return” (Artforum, October 2010), Peter Eleey’s essay (Frieze, 2007) and this re-published series of APG reports by John Walker at artdesigncafe.
Latham’s most infamous project was to have his students at St. Martin’s School of Art chew up and spit out (literally) Clement Greenberg’s Art and Culture in 1966, but he had a fascinating, if obscure, philosophical theory of time and events. Two particularly relevant ideas he developed in various texts in the mid-1970s were “a change of time-base” and “a new accounting system,” both of which sought to re-orient the blind presentness of flowing capital. He discussed investing in the future rather than participating in the economic imperative to concentrate on the present, short-term needs and adopting a system that measures levels of self-awareness and “units of attention” rather than GDP. If only the US could adopt some of these concepts…