Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism, edited by Robert Klanten, Matthias Hübner, Alain Bieber, Pedro Alonzo, Gregor Jansen. With essays by Pedro Alonzo, Alain Bieber, Silke Krohn (available on amazon USAand UK.)
Publisher Gestalten writes: Life has become significantly more political in the new millennium, especially in the aftermath of worldwide financial crisis. Art is both driving and documenting this upheaval. Increasingly, new visual concepts and commentaries are being used to represent and communicate emotionally charged topics, thereby bringing them onto local political and social agendas in a way far more powerful than words alone.
This book explores the current interrelationship between art, activism, and politics. It presents new visual concepts and commentaries that are being used to represent and communicate emotionally charged topics, thereby bringing them onto local political and social agendas in a way far more powerful than words alone. It looks at how art is not only reflecting and setting agendas, but also how it is influencing political reaction. Consequently, Art & Agenda is not only a perceptive documentation of current urban interventions, installations, performances, sculptures, and paintings by more than 100 young and established artists, but also points to future forms of political discourse.
Art & Agenda - Political Art and Activism is just one in a long list of books that demonstrate that, among all the publishers focusing on visual culture, Gestalten is probably the fastest at identifying and catching trends.
The artists represented in the book all have some kind of social commentary about the world that surrounds them. Their work conveys a message, a critique, an opinion. Sometimes also a provocation. Their work is socially-engaged art but i would not always define it as activism.
As much as i admire the work Maurizio Cattelan, Elmgreen & Dragset, Tom Sachs, or Kara Walker, i had never associated it with activism. What they do is ballsy, it's socially-engaged and adequately thought-provoking but i'm not sure i find it as efficient as the work of Packard Jennings, Lisa Anne Auerbach, Conflict Kitchen, The Yes Men, Superflex, or Ai Weiwei who seem to engage more closely with the public. They operate outside institutions when needed, take risks and are actively involved in trying to bring social change. I see them as the real agitators, the activists with a capital A.
All i can advise is to get your hands on the book and see for yourself. I wouldn't mind being contradicted on this topic.
One of the main strengths of the book is the incredibly broad array of political art it showcases, from the poetical and subtle urban interventions of Roland Ross to The Yes Men's media hacks, from Tom Sachs' stunning works for white cube galleries to JR's street interventions.
The other force of the book is a series of long essays by curators and art critics such as Alain Bieber (author of one of my favourite blogs, rebel:art and project manager of ARTE creative) and Boston-based curator Pedro Alonzo.
A few examples of the works you'll meet in the book:
Julien Berthier's Love Love sinking boat. The artist actually cut a sailboat in half, sealed it with fiberglass, fitted it with two motors and a new keel which make it fully functional. I'm not sure i understand what's political in this work but i'm glad i discovered it in the book.
Russia's culture minister didn't appreciate the "political provocation" of Blue Noses Group's Kissing Policemen (An Epoch of Clemency). The Banksi-inspired photo was banned from traveling to Paris for an exhibition of contemporary Russian art.
During two years, Roland Roos repaired broken, displaced or damaged things he encountered in public space. He took before and after photos of the unsolicited repairs and sold them for 320CHF each which is the average amount of money that is spent for one repair (materials and labor).
GUARANA POWER is a soft drink developed by a farming cooperative in Maues, Brazil in collaboration with the Superflex collective. The drink contains guarana, a plant native to the Amazon whose fruit has long been harvested by indigenous communities for its medicinal and invigorating properties. The farmers have had to organize themselves against a cartel of corporation whose monopoly on purchase of the raw material has driven the price paid for guaraná seeds down by 80% while the cost of their products to the consumer has risen. Besides, the beverage these companies sells is only a sugary, diluted energy drink. GUARANÁ POWER attempts to use the strategies of global brands as raw material for a counter-economic position, to preserve local economy and the livelihoods of the farmers and to reclaim the original use of the Maués guaraná plant as a powerful natural tonic.
Gregor Schneider's cells on Sydney's famous Bondi Beach questions "the ideal of a casual, egalitarian leisure-loving society", while evoking strongly another famous location by the ocean: Guantanamo Bay.
For one of their most recent radical performances, Palace Revolution, members of the Voina collective overturned seven police cars, some of them with officers inside, at St Petersburg's Palace Square. They called it an 'art installation.' Russian authorities were not impressed and arrested two of them. They were released on bail after but the charges still stand.
Parking For White Cars Only! The title of Helmut Smits' piece says it all. A guard made sure that the best parking-spots were accessible to white cars only.
The artist pushed the provocation even further with Photo Tip , an installation which allows people to be portrayed as a hostage flanked by threatening terrorists.
Czech guerrilla artist collective Ztohoven gained fame in June 2007 when they hacked into a weather forecast on national tv and inserted a digital image of a nuclear explosion on a live panoramic shot of the Krkonoše Mountains. Their intention was to point to the distorted view of reality in the media. Several members of the collective were prosecuted for scaremongering and spreading false information but the judge dismissed the scaremongering charges against the artists, citing public amusement rather than public unrest.
More recently, the artists altered photos of themselves using morphing and applied for new ID cards using these fake pictures. Over the course of six months they used the IDs to travel abroad and vote, and one of them even got married. The whole project was presented at a gallery in Prague under the name Občan K. ("Citizen K.") The performance was a critique of the misuse of personal data and of constant surveillance that sometimes leads to a loss of identity that reduces individuals to numbers. This time again, the action led members of Ztohoven to deep troubles with the police. They were accused of breaching paragraph 181 of the criminal code that states that anybody who damages another person's rights by deliberately misleading them faces up to two years in prison or a ban on their work activity.
kennardphillipps was created in 2002 to produce art in response to the invasion of Iraq. It has evolved to confront power and war across the globe. The photomontage above points to proposals for a third runway and a sixth terminal at Heathrow, a plan pushed forward by Gordon Brown and opposed by Greenpeace.
The Three Gorges Dam project in China is the world's largest capacity hydroelectric power station with a total generating capacity of 18,200 MW. However, its construction flooded archaeological and cultural sites and displaced some 1.3 million people, and is causing significant ecological changes.
Artist Yang Yi went to his hometown just before it was completely submerged and documented the remaining scenery before it disappeared. Using both photography and digital techniques, Yang Yi's Uprooted series depict a ghost town engulfed by water, whose inhabitants go about their daily lives wearing snorkels.
Views inside the book:
I'm afraid this is another photo exhibition i'm going to review! I know they are not the most popular on this blog but for some reason, London seems to be all about photo shows this week.
I'm just back from Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan which has opened a few days ago at Tate's best kept secret: the Level 2 Gallery.
Simon Norfolk went in Afghanistan for the first time in 2001, when the US began to bomb the country as the prelude to the so-called Operation Enduring Freedom. He came back with the series Afghanistan: Chronotopia: Landscapes of the Destruction of Afghanistan. A few years later, someone from the National Media Museum in Bradford showed him pictures by the nineteenth-century British photographer John Burke. Burke, who is thought to be the first man ever to have photographed Afghanistan, accompanied the British forces during the invasion that became the Second Anglo-Afghan War of 1878-80. Burke's splendid sepia photos gave Norfolk the desire to follow the footsteps of the Victorian photographer.
In October 2010, Norfolk flew back to Afghanistan to shoot a new series that respond to Burke's Afghan war scenes in the context of the contemporary conflict. A 17 minute video shown at Tate shows Norfolk explaining that although Burke and him are collaborating over time (130 years!), their perspective is quite different. While he did not glorify it, Burke was nevertheless embedded in the British Empire. Norfolk is a free agent whose aim is to show that, alas!, history is repeating itself. He hopes that his photos will communicate his disappointment at the situation in Afghanistan where thousands of people have already died. Norfolk sees the war as a murderous manifestation of imperialism.
The new body of work is presented at the gallery alongside Burke's original portfolios.
Burke + Norfolk: Photographs From The War In Afghanistan remains open at the Level 2 Gallery, Tate Modern in London until July 10, 2011.
A few months ago, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris decided to ban photographs of the artworks and of the inside of the building, allegedly 'to preserve the comfort of visitors and the safety of the artworks.'
OrsayCommons is a performance pro-photo, pro-remix and pro-public domain at the Musée d'Orsay that civilly and cheekily protests against what its participants call "a measure not only at odds with our times but also illegitimate since it concerns public heritage." The Louvre tried to impose a similar ban in 2005 but had to lift it soon after. Taking pictures is allowed at MoMa. Even the venerable British Museum recognized, as the NYT puts it, that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em and started collaborating with wikipedia this year.
OrsayCommons invites people to leave a protest message on the Museum's online guest book, follow #OrsayCommons on twitter but also participate to a series of action-performances where visitors would meet in the museum, take photos within its walls and upload them on flickr, Twitter or Facebook.
I found the action of OrsayCommons important because matter how imperfect they are, the pictures that visitors have taken themselves bear an emotional charge that no postcard bought at a museum shop can ever replace. But also because OrsayCommons finds echoes in my professional life (details at the end of this post if ever you're interested*.) I therefore asked the ever-stylish Julien Dorra who participated to the first OrsayCommons action to tell us about the experience:
How did the first OrsayCommons action go?
We were precisely 10 people! The security team of the museum easily outnumbered us.
Considering that the call was made anonymously just 5 days before and that we asked people to be there at 11:30 am on a cold Sunday morning, not knowing if there will be something at all, it's a very encouraging first step :-)
There is two aspect to OrsayCommons. The first one is being there, in the museum. Taking pictures and sending them out in the cloud.
And the second aspect is what happens when we send these photos in the cloud. We like to picture it as an aura of phototographs, radiating from the museum, escaping from it via 3G mobile networks.
That small aura of photographs, generated by only 10 people, made a lot more people talk, exchange, tweet, and write about the role of the museum, the place of photography, the importance of the public domain, etc.
In fact I was totally amazed that the conversation lasted more than a week, and still last, about an action that in itself lasted only 1 hour.
Did you take openly the pictures or was it more of a covert action?
We took the pictures totally openly. That's the whole point of the action, actually.
Well, the guardians were coming to us as we were walking in the museum, telling us that «taking pictures is forbidden».
So we generally answered something like: «Yes, we know. That's exactly why we are here taking pictures».
And, of course, they were totally puzzled by that answer, and didn't really know what to do. Then of course we started talking with them, explaining the action.
Which the manager following us didn't like at all : we heard her expressly asking employees to not talk with us.
Was there any official reaction from the museum? the press?
We got some press in a very small circle of museum bloggers, professionals, and consultants.
The Orsay museum knew we were coming, but as we were only 10, they thought it was pretty much a false alarm.
But just wait for OrsayCommons #2 :-)
Any upcoming action in the same or other museum?
Yes, if you are in Paris, please come and join us on Sunday February 6th for OrsayCommons #2
The invitation is here.
Le Musée d'Orsay is free on every first sunday of the month, and we plan to do an OrsayCommons every month.
Your target is mostly public national collections, because the artworks shown there belong to the municipality or the State, hence to citizens. Do you have any take on exhibitions in contemporary art museums? a few years back, i was almost thrown away from the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris (they are always remarkably rude in that museum) for brandishing a photo camera. Whereas in other contemporary art museums, showing sometimes the exact same exhibition/artworks, visitors are free to take pictures. Is that a situation where OrsayCommons would like to intervene or is it too blurry?
First, OrsayCommons is not a group, it's a particular collective moment.
So, there is this specific museum, Orsay, with a particularly stupid and unfair rule suddenly banning photography. And doing something was really at first a way to fight back against that stupidity. (and all those ugly signs everywhere in the museum, too)
After the first action, we saw Orsay to be the best place now to start an important debate about: the museum as an open platform; photography as a way to relate to artworks; the conservation/conversation opposition; the visitors as an active participant; the public domain; free as in free entrance, versus free as in free to share.
The fight is so clear at Orsay, everybody hates that ban so much, that it makes our task very easy.
But we believe there is something more general in OrsayCommons.
Depending on the museums, there might be similar actions to conduct, or maybe different actions. We'd love to see more people hacking their favorite museum: organizing pirate tours that the museum don't offer; printing alternative catalogs; offering better audioguides to download; and, of course, setting up photography workshop in museum that ban photography!
And even better, we'd love to see museums openly embrace being hacked by their visitor -- that's what we call the museum as an open platform.
We think it's the way museums can join us in the digital culture era, by stopping being only cathedrals, and start being a little more bazaars.
*My blog consists mainly of a series of reports from cultural events. Most of the times i'm invited to openings, screenings and festivals and usually, i'm allowed to do my job. When i'm not invited, i simply contact the press office to get some images of the show as well as an authorization to take my own pictures. Press people don't mind that i give the institution or gallery they work for some exposure. Too often however, they not only send me unsuitable press images (showing, for example, artworks exhibited in another context or interactive installations in an empty room), they also forbid me from taking any picture inside the exhibition. I used to adopt a defiant approach. In the past, i'd take pictures anyway and blog about the show. Nowadays, i don't bother anymore, i simply don't write about the exhibition. It's frustrating but not as much as illustrating my report with miserable or unsuitable pictures. Guardians have been instructed to tell visitors that it's the wish of the artist that no one would take picture of their work, except 'the press' (I'll let 'the blogs are not press' insinuation pass). I respect artists and their decision to allow pictures or not, except that when i contact the artist it often turns out that thy don't have such concern.
Herman Joshua Wallace has spent the past 38 years in Solitary Confinement (or closed cell restriction) in Louisiana's State Prison System. For a minimum of 23 hours a day, he is shut up in a six-foot-by-nine-foot (2m x 3m) cell. It is very likely that Wallace didn't commit the crime he has been sentenced for.
Along with Robert Hillary King and Albert Woodfox, Wallace is part of The Angola 3. It is believed that the men were framed for trying to speak out against inhumane treatment and racial segregation on the prison. Using non-violent protests, they were trying to draw attention to the corruption, discrimination and abuse reigning in the biggest prison in the US, Angola, an 18,000 acre former slave plantation which got its name from the country most of the slaves traveled from. On a page listing a few facts about the prison, one learns that every physically able prisoner (78% of whom are black) is required to work for 4 to 20 cents an hour a minimum of 40 hours a week. Inmates work fields of sugar cane, soybeans, cotton and corn, they also look after a 1,500 cattle beef herd. They even built a 11,300 seat arena which houses the annual Angola Prison Rodeo. The Louisiana's State Prison provides more jobs than the local nuclear power plant and paper mill combined. Even more surprising, Angola boosts a Prison View Golf Course on its grounds.
Wallace was originally imprisoned for robbery but he, Woodfox and King (who was freed in 2001) have been confined to solitary after being convicted of stabbing to death prison guard Brent Miller in 1972 during their protests. The circumstances of their trial was so suspect that there are no doubts among their supporters that the men are innocent. Even the victim's widow, Teenie Verret, doesn't believe in their guilt.
In 2003 artist Jackie Sumell contacted Herman Wallace and asked him: "What kind of house does a man who has lived in a 6' X 9' box for over 30 years dream of?"
I discovered their project, The House That Herman Built, during a presentation the artist gave a few weeks ago at the International Design Biennial in Saint-Etienne, France. Through exchanges of hundreds of letters, phone calls, and numerous visits to the prison, Wallace and Sumell have been sketching and designing the dream house together.
The construction of the house is currently being funded by a network of activists, artists, architects and other concerned individuals.
Hopefully, the House will one day be a place for Herman Wallace and Albert Woodfox to comfortably retire. But until Herman is able to win his legal battle, the house will be maintained by a network of volunteers.
Practically Herman has asked that the house be used as a community space that is committed to youth education and drug prevention. The house is design to be a open space that encourages the exchange of ideas, art and activism- a space to live and dream, and for anyone to visit.
Jackie Sumell's objective with this project is not only to bring Herman Wallace's story to the public attention but also to raise awareness about oppression, institutionalized racism and injustice in the United States.
A documentary of the same name was directed by independent film maker Angad Bhalla.
The Angola 3 are the subject of 2010 documentary In the Land of the Free, directed by Vadim Jean and narrated by Samuel L Jackson. They were also the subject of a 2006 documentary film 3 Black Panthers and the Last Slave Plantation and of a music video produced by Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.
Download PDF from the International Coalition to Free the Angola 3.
Related stories: YOUprison, Some thoughts on the limitation of space and freedom, America's Family Prison, Lyon Biennale - Pedro Reyes, Artur Żmijewski: The Social Studio, Trapped: Mental Illness in America's Prisons, etc.
Every day from 29 August to 27 September, Mexican artist Damián Ortega has worked on a new artwork that responded directly to a news item, a photography, a cartoon or graphics he had found that day in the press. The sculptures and installations are now on show in The Curve, an exhibition space which as its name indicates, is shaped like a long, narrow arc. I can't think of any space more challenging to curate and fill in.
The pieces of news that aroused Ortega's curiosity ranged from the dramatic and international (the BP oil spill, the ordeal of Chilean miners, border crossing in Mexico, floods in Pakistan), to mundane stories (Ryanair boss professing that global warming is a myth, a football match, even an advert for men's leather shoes) and science columns (an essay on gravitational wave.) Ortega had to work like a journalist, responding fast to the dramas, scandals, and local oddities that hit the news day after day. A method clearly at odds with the lengthier gestational and production time an artist is used to.
A picture illustrating the plight of Pakistan flood survivors in The Independent...
inspired this sculpture:
Although the items of news are only two months old, you can feel that the anxiety and urgency they used to carry have started to fade away. Such is the speed and volatility of the news.
Some of the works are the exploding structures we've come to expect from Ortega. After having see the image of a house in New Zealand damaged by an earthquake, he built this installation in which furniture hang above our head.
The dismantled drums and tyres responds to a scientific article on gravitational waves.
Although most of the news Ortega picked up come from British newspaper The Independent, the artist kept on following what made the headlines in his own country. One of the first works you meet in The Curve is Immigrant Song (10 August 2010), a 2 metre high by 7 metre long zigzagging wall whose sculptural form gives a heavy and powerful 3rd dimension to a graph recording the number of unauthorized migrants living in the US.
I'll end up with a quote from an interview Ortega had with Alona Pardo (available in the small newspaper distributed in the gallery) because i couldn't agree more with his opinion:
Ironic as it is, I think it's important to stress that i'm not a huge fan of political art. I think it is too demagogic. Of course there are some very strong overtly political work, which is key to certain moments in history. I particularly like prints and graphic propagandist work. Work which is strongly rooted in political activism and seeking out real social change, such as the leaflets and flyers produced by the Black Panthers during the late 1960s.
But i think political work seen in the context of a gallery is completely neutralised and overprotected.
I was not allowed to take pictures, alas! Otherwise i'd have more to show you.
To many of their fellow Israelis, they are traitors. They are attacked, arrested and demonised. Yet Israelis like Yehuda Shaul, leader of Breaking the Silence and Jonathan Pollack from Anarchists Against the Wall continue to struggle for a more peaceful Middle East. They believe that they can save their state by putting an end to the military occupation. But the Israeli peace movement has lost momentum in recent years. There is widespread apathy in Israel against ending the Occupation, especially after the withdrawal from Gaza. 'Israel vs Israel' takes a fresh look at one of the leading tensions in Israeli society.
Trailer of the documentary:
Israel vs Israel follows 4 Israeli peace activists: a grand mother, a veteran soldier, a rabbi and a young anarchist. The one hour long documentary was directed by Terje Carlsson. I had liked his previous documentary, Welcome to Hebron, so much that Carlsson was kind enough to send me a copy of the dvd.
Palestinians living in in the West Bank and wishing to go to work, attend classes at school, deliver milk or simply get to the hospital on time have to go through checkpoints, roadblocks and other obstacles. There are hundreds of them in the West Bank. Even going from one Palestinian area to another involves barriers and documents. Queuing for two hours is nothing exceptional. My heart bled when the documentary showed old ladies standing under the sun holding a permit that would allow them to visit a relative or pray. Could i imagine my grand-mother going through that?
Ronny Perlman, the Jerusalem coordinator of Checkpoint Watch, goes regularly to a checkpoint and documents violations of human rights of the Palestinians. She tries and intervenes in favour of a father trying to get his young child to the doctor, she discusses with the soldiers, chitchats with the women waiting for their turn to cross the checkpoint. She is one of the many Israeli women based in Israel who take a peaceful stand against the occupation of the territories and the repression of the Palestinian nation.
A moving scene in the documentary shows Perlman talking to her son who is serving as a soldier. They have a conversation about the occupation and the army. The theme is taboo in many families. She hopes her grandson will never have to carry a gun, her son differs and says that, once he is 18, his will probably have to kill 'Arabs' to defend his country.
The consensus view of the international community is that the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is illegal under international law, although Israel disagrees. B'Tselem reckons that more than fifty percent of the land of the West Bank has been expropriated from Palestinian owners "mainly to establish settlements and create reserves of land for the future expansion of the settlements". Palestinian farmers are prevented from tending to their crops, their olive trees are cut, their houses demolished.
Rabi Arik Ascherman stands between the soldiers and the farmers, sometimes he even stands between the bulldozer and a Palestinian house that has to be destroyed.
Ascherman insists that RHR works for the human rights of Jews, Palestinians and foreign workers alike. It has indeed condemned both Israelis and Palestinians, while recognizing that it is Israel who holds most of the power.
The third activist portrayed by the documentary is Yehuda Shaul, founder of Breaking the Silence, an organization of veteran Israeli soldiers that collects testimonies of soldiers who served in the Occupied Territories during the Second Intifadah. Soldiers who serve in the Territories are witness to, and participate in military actions which change them immensely. Cases of abuse towards Palestinians, looting, and destruction of property have been the norm for years, but are still excused as military necessities, or explained as extreme and unique cases.
Shaul served in Hebron and as he half-joked "In Israel, people shouldn't be allowed to vote before they visit Hebron." Israel vs Israel includes images from Terje Carlsson's previous documentary Welcome to Hebron (i can only recommend you to watch it on youtube: part 1, 2 and 3.) Although it is the second time i saw those images, they shocked me deeply: children of settlers throwing stones and spitting at Palestinian school girls, kids shouting "Slaughter the Arabs!" and other scenes i wish i had never seen:
Shaul appears as incredibly honest and brave. Not only has he to live with what he has done to Palestinian civilians while he was part of the army, but now he also has to face abuse from settlers who call him a traitor and a terrorist. Like all the activists portrayed in the documentary, Shaul cares deeply for Israel. He explains that one has to chose between the land of Israel or the State of Israel with the democracy and equality that it entails.
Videos reports and testimonies uploaded by Breaking the Silence.
Pollack and AAW have embarked on a grassroot, nonviolent crusade against the seizure of Palestinian land for Israel's construction of its -illegal- wall and settlements in the territories. He has been injured, arrested and imprisoned several times for his solidarity actions with Palestinian villagers.
Israel vs Israel is as painful and uncomfortable as it is necessary and gripping. It made me sad and angry. As a European who cares for human rights, i'm often exposed to the works of US or European ONG and activists. I've heard the voice of Palestinians, of foreign observers, of concerned reporters. For the first time, i get to see a video that portrays Israelis (some of them Zionists) who care for their country as much as they care for the respect of basic human rights.
I hope Israel vs Israel comes to your town soon. Doc Lounge Göteborg will kick off their autumn programme with "Israel vs Israel" on September 21, 2010. Screenings are scheduled in Stockholm, Göteborg, Karlstad and Malmö in late September. Screenings outside Sweden are planned for later this year. Join the facebook group for updates.
Filmmaker Terje Carlsson is a freelance journalist based for many years in Jerusalem, working mostly for Swedish National Radio and Television. During the last decade, he has produced shorter documentaries and features from ex-Yugoslavia, South Africa and different parts of the Middle East. His first feature documentary, Welcome to Hebron, was released in 2008. The film won several awards at festivals all over the world. TV broadcasters from more than 10 countries around the world bought the rights for broadcast.
Another Israeli organization worth mentioning: B'TSELEM - The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Please add a comment if you know of others.
See also Friday Film Pick: Unrecognized, Architects out of Ariel, Facing jail, the unarmed activist who dared to take on Israel, Walking Through Walls, an essay by Eyal Weizman.