Tag Archives: Activism

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-10

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

We began on December 5 and every other day since we have posted a grouping of contributions on A Year of Positive Thinking. We thank our contributors and readers for living through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

This is the last post of the final issue.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

***

Susan Bee

This final issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G brings back memories of our first issue, which came out in December 1986. At that time, I was a young artist and a new mother, working at freelance jobs as an editor and graphic designer. I had a baby at home and was full of optimism. Emma was born in May of 1985 and tragically she died 23 years later in 2008. I was 33 when she was born and Mira and I started to think of starting our own arts publication.

Susan Bee, "Non Finito," 2016. Oil on linen, 24" x 30".

Susan Bee, “Non Finito,” 2016. Oil on linen, 24″ x 30″.

In 1992, I had my first solo painting show, when I was 40-years-old. Now, I’m almost 65 and nearing the traditional retirement age with a 24-year-old son, Felix, and a 40-year marriage to the poet Charles Bernstein. I have been a member of the vibrant all-women artist’s collective, A.I.R. Gallery, for 20 years and will have a solo show of new paintings there in March 2017. I have been teaching, publishing artist’s books, and showing my art for many years.

This election has sent me into a tailspin. I hoped to be greeting a woman president in my lifetime, and now the possibility seems remote and I am heartbroken to be facing the next four years of this administration. As a secular Jewish feminist, artist, and professor, the future in this country that my immigrant artist parents, refugees from Berlin and Palestine, came to in 1947, looks bleaker than it did just a short time ago on Election Day. Since that day, I have been taking refuge in viewing art. Through the contemplation of art and poetry, I have been trying to escape the isolation and desolation of the present moment. I know that we need to fight on and that I need to work with my community to create a strong push back to the hatred and bigotry that surrounds us. My optimism is being sorely tested by the hatred that has been empowered in this country.

Susan Bee, "Afraid to Talk," 2016. Oil, enamel, and sand on linen, 24" x 30".

Susan Bee, “Afraid to Talk,” 2016. Oil, enamel, and sand on linen, 24″ x 30″.

Now, my 30-year editorial partnership with Mira is coming to an end. However, I have no plans to retire from art and life. I am grateful that we had the opportunity to publish over a hundred critics, poets, and artists. Hopefully, the artists, writers, and other creative spirits, who have nourished our project, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, for all these years, will continue to lead the way forward and point us to a future that will enrich us all.

November 2016

Susan Bee, "Pow," 2014. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 30" x 24"

Susan Bee, “Pow,” 2014. Oil, enamel, and sand on canvas, 30″ x 24″

*

Mira Schor

Written during the Preoccupation: Activism, Heroism, and Art.

A week after the election, a cold heavy rain struck New York in a kind of climatic embodiment of our political shock and misery. Wearing the depressing New York winter uniform of black down coat for the first time of the season, huddled in the small doorway of a fortune teller’s establishment on Lexington Avenue, I waited for a bus and I thought about what I would write about for this final issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

My first instinct was to consider the role of activism in relation to being an artist but immediately my mind made a leap from activism to heroism. In the seconds between these two words, I was in tears as two stories I had been told by my mother since my childhood sprang to mind, one of political bravery, the other of personal bravery.

Please bear with me as I retell these stories, because they frame my ideas about the role of activism and the role of art and the artist in a moment of political necessity for activism.

To begin with, the story of personal bravery: my mother was very proud of her friendship with one of the most important Jewish families in pre-war Poland, that of Rabbi Moses Schorr, a religious leader, a historian, and the first Jewish member of the Polish Senate. The Schorrs (no relation) were kind, wealthy, generous, noble in bearing and behavior. At the outbreak of WWII Rabbi Schorr fled Poland towards the East where he was captured, imprisoned, and tortured by the Russians, dying in a Russian labor camp in 1941 (for more on the relation of Russia with Germany at that time, with interesting echoes in recent weeks, see here). Rabbi Schorr’s daughters survived the war, and I knew one of them well, Fela, a beautiful, kind, imperious, and broken woman, all at once. The story I was told by my mother though I never spoke of it with Fela herself, was that Fela and her mother along with Fela’s two small sons and her small nephew, all children under the age of 10, were imprisoned by the Gestapo in France. It was announced that children who were orphans would not be deported to Auschwitz so Fela and her elderly mother determined to commit suicide. Her mother took poison and died, Fela jumped out a window but survived and was saved and sheltered by doctors until the end of the war a few months later. She and the three children in her care survived the war.

The circumstances of the story were hard to believe, because it made no sense that orphans would be spared deportation and because of the cruelty of the promise, but the randomness of genocide was embedded in my consciousness as well as the emblem of maternal courage. [This story is true, you can read more here.]

The story of political bravery was embodied for me in the name Bartoszek. Franciszek Bartoszek was a friend of my parents from the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. He was a painter. And he was Polish. That is to say, he was not Jewish. This was central to the story, because that was a primary distinction my mother always made, a paradox at the center of her own patriotism. If she described someone simply as Polish she also was indicating that they were not Jewish, and it meant that Bartoszek’s bravery was motivated by more than personal survival. When my mother showed me the picture of him she always told me that he was a hero. She would tell me that he would risk his life just to bring a poor woman some small amount of butter. Her admiration for him was such that I have never been able to say his name without being overcome with tears, the emotional outlet of my more fierce and stoic mother. When I was able to research him online, the story was verified: Bartoszek was a renowned Polish patriot and hero of the Polish resistance, who died in a military action in Warsaw in 1943.

From l. to r., Ilya Schor, unknown woman, Franciszek Bartoszek, Paris, 1937.

From l. to r., Ilya Schor, unknown woman, Franciszek Bartoszek, Paris, 1937.

I have photographs of him with my father. They are in a park in Paris sometime shortly before the war, most likely in 1937. The photos are very small, so I blew up a detail of one to try to decipher if one could see the courage to come in the face of the man in the time approaching the crisis. When I sent this picture to Luka Rayski, a Polish artist who translated for me a stele erected in Poland in Bartoszek’s honor, he wrote back that it was “so hard to imagine, those last pre-war years.” But I thought no, it is not hard to imagine that time. Not, I hasten to add, that I think another Holocaust is coming, yet we are in such a time, a time I call the Preoccupation.

Photo detail, Bartoszek, Paris, c. 1937; Stele installed in Czarnow in 1964: Franciszek Bartoszek, “Jacek” [code name “Jack”] Born October 27, 1910 in Pieranie, spent his youth in Czarnow, Painter, Ardent Patriot, Colonel of People’s Guard, Died fighting Hitlerist occupiers, May 15, 1943 in Warsaw.

Photo detail, Bartoszek, Paris, c. 1937; Stele installed in Czarnow in 1964: Franciszek Bartoszek, “Jacek” [code name “Jack”] Born October 27, 1910 in Pieranie, spent his youth in Czarnow, Painter, Ardent Patriot, Colonel of People’s Guard, Died fighting Hitlerist occupiers, May 15, 1943 in Warsaw.

Years ago a non-Jewish friend of mine told me that she often wondered whether people would have saved her if she was a Jew during WWII. I found this strange since she was not Jewish and did not have my family’s history of the Shoah. More importantly, I had never really asked myself that question, not only because I couldn’t bear to contemplate the answer, but mostly because I was so consumed by its corollary opposite, that is, would I have the courage to risk my life in order to save someone else or in defense of a cause? From a very early age I was totally aware that if that was the test, I would fail.

The sine qua non of resistance is that you have to be prepared to die for freedom, even though of course there is a big gap between marching on Trump Tower holding “Pussy Power” signs and prison or death.

If heroism is summoned as the ultimate necessity for freedom, nevertheless practically speaking most of us who care about what is going on are considering activism. It is quite striking how many people at all levels of society are mobilizing, from the political leaders of the state of California to artists in New York City mobilizing to provide imagery and objects for the Women’s March on D.C. and beyond.

Susan and I decided to start M/E/A/N/I/N/G in 1986, during the Reagan administration. I remember the precise moment—standing near the corner of West Broadway and Canal Street in December 1980, a month after Reagan had been elected and a few days after John Lennon had been killed—when I had realized that a switch had been flipped. Something was over. If I didn’t grasp the full import of the switch in terms of where we have arrived now, I experienced that every value I had been imbued with had just been turned upside down, including in art. The 1980s was a very contentious decade, highly polemic and divisive but perhaps because of that it was also a bracing and inspiring time during which there was a lot of activism, including responses by artists to the AIDS crisis, to urban gentrification, and to the backlash against second wave feminism. The Guerrilla Girls’ first poster appeared overnight in Soho and Tribeca in 1985, we published the first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G in December 1986. But despite the political polarization, looking back, no matter what happened in politics in the ’80s, I didn’t feel that the end of the world as I had known it was upon us and like Susan I had the optimism that comes from the energy of youthful mid-life and from doing something constructive. I was 36 when we started the magazine. I had been out of art school for 13 years, I had had a full-time teaching job in Canada and had given it up to move back to New York, I had had gallery representation and my first one-person shows in New York and had lost that. M/E/A/N/I/N/G opened up my community and gave me a sense of place in the art world. It has been the only sustained collaboration I have been involved with and the many things Susan and I have in common and the differences between us, as well as the small scale of our operation–two people, two issues a year during our hard copy days–all worked for me. And when we ended our print run in 1996, if anything I felt more optimistic and confident about my own life than I had when we started.

Mira Schor, "Patriotism on the Blood of Women," 1989. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

Mira Schor, “Patriotism on the Blood of Women,” 1989. Oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches.

The word of the day in the ’80s was intervention, actions specific to a moment and which did not necessarily seek to become an institution, though inevitably many cultural interventions did. I saw editing M/E/A/N/I/N/G as a kind of activism that I was able to engage in. In that spirit, our final issue is one of many artistic responses to the election and one which, as we have always tried to accomplish in M/E/A/N/I/N/G, is an open format, non-didactic environment for artists, writers, poets, art historians and critics to express their views in any cultural or personal register that means something to them, unrelated to market concerns. As we bring our project to an end after thirty years, we feel it provides one model for long-term activism within an art community. It is small potatoes in terms of major resistance to oppression but it is something that we could do then and now. It did enlarge our community and I think it meant something to the individuals we published, whether professionally or just because they were given the opportunity to think about something and express their views or tell about their work.

Mira Schor," The Self, The work, The World," 2012. Oil and ink on gesso on linen, 18"x30"

Mira Schor,” The Self, The Work, The World,” 2012. Oil and ink on gesso on linen, 18″x30″

My sense of necessity to understand the changes in culture in the ’80s led me to my critical writings and changed the course of my work as an artist, though my work has from the start had a political underpinning, primarily feminist.  Some of my recent works have been visceral responses to the news.  But I also think that other aspects of my artistic heritage and inclinations have political valence, though they might seem to be the opposite of political, that is, that the intimate, the modest, the private, though apparently recessive in a time of spectacle, can be construed as political acts. The artist is a filter between the world and the work, as I tried to indicate in a painting I did in early 2012 right after Occupy Wall Street as I was trying to diagram the place of the private artist during a political upheaval.

MIra Schor, "'Power' Figure: No Dead Enough, 2016. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 17"x 22 1/2"

Mira Schor, “‘Power’ Figure: Not Dead Enough,” 2016. Ink and gesso on tracing paper, 17″x 22 1/2″

Since the election I’ve noticed the pleasure, indeed the gratitude people have expressed if someone shares a beautiful work of art on social media, not necessarily an outwardly political one. We recognize and value the works that use representation, figuration, and language to openly announce their political intentions, but a painting of a flower, a small abstraction, or an ancient vase can evoke as much humanity as anything more overt and the importance of such works as heroic human activity can be intense.

Susan Bee, A Not So Still Life, 2016. Oil, sand, and enamel on linen, 30" x 24"

Susan Bee, “A Not So Still Life,” 2016. Oil, sand, and enamel on linen, 30″ x 24″

We conceived of this final issue a few days before I stood in that cold rain, during a visit right after the election to the Guggenheim museum to see the Agnes Martin exhibition. I was particularly interested in one small early painting of narrow vertical black and white lines of uneven length. In the face of the impulse, in response to the political atmosphere, for artists to start churning out Guernicas, the smallest of Martin’s abstract paintings packs as much of a punch about human endeavor and heroism as anything that would will itself to make a political statement. Though small, the painting has great tension and drama. To me it represents as much of the power of the universe as a model of the atom and it is heroic in the way that artworks can be, evidence of one individual artist’s search for perfection in a realm that seemingly has no specific utility to daily life.

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960.Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Gift of the Bayard and Harriet K. Ewing Collection

Agnes Martin, Untitled, 1960. Oil on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Gift of the Bayard and Harriet K. Ewing Collection

On our way up the ramp, we slipped through the keyhole-shaped door into the study library to watch two short films of interviews with Martin, filmed late in her life. It was very intimate to listen to her words in a small room. She spoke about her desire not to work from negativity, her efforts to empty her mind entirely when working, and about the role of inspiration.

mira-agnes-martin-img_3094

mira-agnes-martin-img_3095

In one film she is shown carefully applying a thin reddish pink wash to the canvas. The soothing concentration on this simple activity generated enough calm and clarity for me that suddenly the puzzle of how to celebrate the 30th anniversary of M/E/A/N/I/N/G which had eluded us earlier in the year was solved: I have a blog, we could use my blog as an initial platform for a spontaneous, short deadline, final issue. I looked at Susan and mouthed, I have an idea. So we end as we began, with a Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland “let’s put on a show” production. It is the small activism of giving a few people a place for their voice, and we are grateful to all the artists and writers who found the time to respond to our call.

***

meaning-two-covers

Susan Bee and Mira Schor, M/E/A/N/I/N/G, December 1986-December 2016

***

We would like to thank our many wonderful contributors to the final issue: Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aviva Rahmani, Aziz+Cucher, Bailey Doogan, Beverly Naidus, Bradley Rubenstein, Charles Bernstein, Christen Clifford, Deborah Kass, Elaine Angelopoulos, Erica Hunt, Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, Faith Wilding, Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Johanna Drucker, Joseph Nechvatal, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, Lenore Malen, LigoranoReese, Mary D. Garrard, Martha Wilson, Matthew Weinstein, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Nancy K. Miller, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer, Peter Rostovsky, Rachel Owens, Rit Premnath, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Sharon Louden, Sheila Pepe, Shirley Kaneda, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Tatiana Istomina, Toni Simon, William Villalongo.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

All of the installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking can be accessed by hitting the “older” button at the bottom of this post and they will be made available as a PDF on M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-6

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

*

Note to email subscribers: the videos in this post can only be viewed if you are online, they will not run in your email program.

*

Noah Dillon

2016 was a very difficult year. Each day’s news has been something horrifying, including intensifying effects from global warming, Syrian carnage, economic turmoil in Europe, refugee crises, authoritarianism in China and the Philippines, parts of Latin America suffering civil catastrophe. In the US, a white power presidency was voted into office. My cat and mom are dying, and a friend has terminal cancer. My sense of self continued to be a mess. I hurt people’s feelings, and had my feelings hurt.

The day after the election, my friend Brian Dunning, who runs a science blog and podcast called Skeptoid, sent out a solicitation for donations. He wrote:

“From the election results, we can infer that about half the American population is (at worst) openly hostile to, or (at best) ignorant or dismissive of, these science facts:

  • Anthropogenic global warming is real and a threat.
  • Vaccines are important and do not cause autism.
  • Gay conversion therapy does not work.
  • Evolution is the scientific theory explaining the diversity of species.”

I would, I think reasonably, add:

  • Partial-birth abortions are a myth
  • Trickle-down economics is magical thinking
  • Trade is good and is not the cause of working class decline
  • Crime and demographic data do not show white Americans under threat by black and brown youth, or a broad rise in crime generally
  • Immigration is an essential good
  • Elections are rigged by statehouses and wealthy super PAC donors, not poor voters
  • Authoritarian police states do not keep people safe from anything, least of all the state itself

One place I find meaning is in meaning itself. As far as I can tell, truth has been in a precarious civil position for a long time, with its value waxing and waning. Maybe cynicism and ideological closedness, rigidity, onanism are ascendant—they feel that way. Although it was most evident recently in the deluge of Trumpian trolling, this problem is pervasive on both the left and right: dissenting or even qualifying voices are suspected of being paid shills for George Soros or the Kochs, consensus is regarded as an oppressive imposition on personal freedom of disbelief, complex problems are constricted down into absurd dichotomies, the moral imperative to focus first on materially and spiritually enriching oneself reigns, and so on. These are huge problems!

(The president-elect seems to embody them perfectly: he is paranoiac, believes in a completely alternate reality, speaks out of both sides of his mouth while wielding a club, and seems most interested in himself, while promising that each supporter’s personal individual desires will be fulfilled. Although he played the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” his message on the campaign trail was that he will make it possible for people, certain people, to have everything they want. He is the vile man of our era.)

Reliable and true information is essential to a functioning democracy, and likewise the ability to openly, skeptically, systematically hear new information, test it, and accept it, reject it, qualify it, contextualize it, remain uncertain of it. That’s really hard to do, and we’ve been encouraged to eschew it, or use it selectively. The insistence on meaning and truth, even in spite of its incompatibility with our beliefs, is really essential.

Agreement about facts ought to lead to moral policies and objectives. Moralizing in the absence of fact, conversely, I think, is tilting at windmills. There are some extremely difficult problems facing the world right at this moment. Really horrifying terrible problems. Only by knowing what they actually are—honestly—and openly approaching possible solutions, or at least mechanisms for harm reduction, can they be solved.

Knowing what the world is, and what its problems and solutions are, means a lot.

Photo by Davina Semo, 2016

Photo by Davina Semo, 2016

Noah Dillon is an artist and writer living and working in New York.

*

Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin

Transitions are always hauntingly incomplete. The badly transitioned, like Frankenstein’s monster, is the site of ridicule and fetish. The transition that does not work, or does not work out, is ridiculed since according to Derrida, “it is always non-work that is stigmatized.” To manage this, the awkward transition must be streamlined into disciplinary criteria of excellence, the good hybrid—the body without organs who can parody gender, whilst emphasizing precarity, matter, ethics; while remaining virtual, ironic, mutable; and self-critically recognizing that this is all “neoliberal,” and meant to be surpassed. When Gabe’s voice started changing, we were unable to find the joy in the “radical de-skilling” at play, which vis-à-vis the queer art of failure seems to be an ineradicable avant-garde norm. But the horrific core of Gothic hauntings and romantic nostalgia powered us through.

In our recent videos “Landslide” and “There Are Worse Things”—Gabe hangs onto the cracked, destroyed, pseudo soprano boy voice; Felix repeats, layers, and amplifies his voice to the point of erosion. The point between visible and invisible; layered and bare; maximal and minimal lies between us—through which, we critique, imitate, and clone each other’s failed ‘realness.’

Like Dorian Gray, we all carry the portrait of the un-sexy rotting corpse inside ourselves, a picture that is continually ghosted by others. Loss in an age of “photogenic” tolerance comes when you can’t transform your vulnerability into an Instagram ready look. Ghosts of course show up on camera. But today’s specter is the unphotogenic ghost, or the suffering that cannot be rallied around vis-à-vis an Instagram campaign with a catchy Hashtag. These are our ghosts: of the poorly transitioned, the creaturely, the unnoticed, and the barely visible.

Felix Bernstein is the author of Notes on Post-Conceptual Poetry (Insert Blanc Press) and Burn Book (Nightboat). His writing has been featured in Poetry MagazineHyperallergic, and Texte Zur Kunst. With Gabe Rubin, he presented the shows Bieber Bathos Elegy at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Transition Incomplete at MOCA Los Angeles.  
 
Gabe Rubin is a musician, performer, and artist. His work has been shown at MIX NYC, the Brooklyn Film Festival, and MOCA Los Angeles. He recently performed in Jill Kroesen’s Collecting Injustices, Unnecessary Suffering at the Whitney Museum of American Art and Cecilia Corrigan’s Motherland at Issue Project Room. 

*

Elaine Angelopoulos:

What is Meaning? How do I make art and perform activism now?

Meaning as a noun has often felt obstructive but significant in making a statement.

Since the election, I have found myself starting to come to several conclusions, and have felt the need to participate in political activism differently than I have in the past. My art methodology seems more in tune with chaotic times like these: I have a work structure that allows diverse modes of creativity, conceptualism, object, content, and interaction with the greater world.

Meaning as an adjective allows more flexibility to the way I express myself, because it doesn’t require art as a concrete series of works that appear consistent. The paternalistic cultural taboos I experienced during my childhood and challenged during my adolescence in the 1970s, were not self-identified as feminist or queer until my early adulthood in the 1990s, largely because of the socially phobic strife between movements under the cold war theater and the narrow strains of the singular narratives in the canons of art, humanities, and the sciences.

My own work as a studio artist was comprised of drawings, objects, and installations that were more formally abstract and devoid of narrative or political content. My collective projects and performance works were more welcoming of accumulative objects and conformed toward a more subjective approach toward content. The work I started to do in the late 2000’s started to delve into the messiness of aesthetics, memory, personal narrative, and greater narratives, and the lessons that intersect through time and space. We embody these lessons like layers of skin within an onion and we forget they are there until we peel it back to see how different they are from one another (all within moments before they are enfolded back into a neat package within ourselves).

The power of meaningful activism is often short lived in a collective group form unless there is a long-term definitive set of strategies in place that maintains multiple modes of progress. But both forms of activism work in tandem to one another, just as art that requires daily exploration in the studio complements the more utilized forms and symbols that sustain directed feelings and reactions to particular differences in the political theater. I have been finding meaning in the everyday, even now in the post-election period. This is where the answers for change dwell. We can create incremental moments of intervention against racist and sexist slurs in public places by overcoming our silent stand and by stepping in and offering ourselves as direct allies to those being attacked. Confront rhetoric and misinformation by speaking up in conversation to those who attempt to incite fear or normalcy in the current political climate.

If we are any smarter, perhaps we ought to go beyond the metaphorical references of “taking a stab at it,” which one may associate with Melville’s Moby Dick. Though this slang term originates from the 1800s, we can make the correlation to today, where we are stabbing at a giant whale that may eventually overwhelm and consume us. Somewhere between the phenomena we call art and dialogue, one hopes that not too many layers of time require a peel back to find answers to the “politics in our rooms.”[1]

[1] Referencing Gregg Bordowitz’s public moving image project, “The Politics in the Room,” created by the LUX Associate Artists Programme, in 2009.

This video piece was composed in 2008 from documentation shot at the 9th Annual Dyke March in New York City from late June 2001. This media was used for a performance work in 2010 under the pseudonym of “Activista,” a persona that is part of the ensemble of “The Nested Selves.”

Elaine Angelopoulos lives and works in New York City. She is an artist with an interdisciplinary approach that bridges her studio practice with audience participation. Angelopoulos received a Franklin Furnace Fund/Jerome Fellowship in 2014/15.  Recently, her work was included in the Labin Art Express Biennial, “Utopia=Reality,” in Croatia; and in “Project for Revolution in New York,” at the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca, NY. Angelopoulos wrote a chapter about her work in Poetic Biopolitics, (I.B. Tauris, 2016). She has been a participant in numerous art collectives. She is a staff member at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.

*

Alexandria Smith

“what had happened wuz” is a painting that evokes how I've been feeling at this tense and scary time. It was created during my time as Virginia A. Myers Visiting Artist in Printmaking at the University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA during the 2016 Democratic caucuses and is still very relevant. I recently participated in the New Museum’s seminal event Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. BWA for BLM is an underground collective that focuses on the interdependence of care and action, invisibility and visibility, self-defense and self-determination, and desire and possibility in order to highlight and renounce pervasive conditions of racism through the arts. Alexandria Smith, what had happened wuz, 2016, oil on panel, 24” x 24”

Alexandria Smith, “what had happened wuz,” 2016. Oil on panel, 24” x 24.”

“what had happened wuz” is a painting that evokes how I’ve been feeling at this tense and scary time. It was created during my time as Virginia A. Myers Visiting Artist in Printmaking at the University of Iowa, during the 2016 Democratic caucuses and is still very relevant. I recently participated in the New Museum’s seminal event Black Women Artists for Black Lives Matter. BWA for BLM is an underground collective that focuses on the interdependence of care and action, invisibility and visibility, self-defense and self-determination, and desire and possibility in order to highlight and renounce pervasive conditions of racism through the arts.

Alexandria Smith has a BFA from Syracuse University, MA from NYU, and MFA from Parsons The New School for Design. Smith is the recipient of a Pollock-Krasner Grant, Skowhegan Fellowship, Virginia A. Myers Fellowship at the University of Iowa, an A.I.R. Gallery Fellowship, and the Fine Arts Work Center Fellowship. Recent exhibitions include a solo show at Scaramouche Gallery, a commission for the Schomburg Center, a group show, “Black Pulp,” at Yale University and International Print Center NY, and in 2017, a solo exhibit at The Union for Contemporary Art, Omaha, NE. Smith has been featured in the Huffington Post: “Alexandria Smith’s Adorably Grotesque Cartoons Explore What Little Girls Are Made Of.” She lives in Brooklyn, NY, and Wellesley, MA, where she is Assistant Professor of Studio Art at Wellesley College.

*

Joyce Kozloff

In light of the devastating election returns, I could not write a statement that said more than the eloquent words expressed by many others. Nor could I make an image to express those feelings, so this is some silly stuff I found on eBay. Globalism?

joyce-kozloff-year-final-issue-unnamed

Joyce Kozloff is an artist and political activist who lives in New York.

*

Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin

Tamara Gonzalez, “Untitled” and “Love 2010” from “Christmas in July”

Tamara Gonzalez, “Untitled” and “Love 2010” from “Christmas in July”

I found this photo of two old paintings of Tamara’s. It made me think that in dark times – keep your eyes and heart open. —Chris Martin

Tamara Gonzales and Chris Martin are living and making art in Brooklyn and the Catskills in New York.

*

Legacy Russell: AN ANATOMY OF MOURNING

Grief is positive!
GRIEF IS NEGATIVE
Grief is proactive!
GRIEF IS PARALYSING
Grief is productive!
GRIEF IS CAPITALIST
Grief is reproductive!
GRIEF IS STERILE
Grief is useful, it galvanises me!
GRIEF IS LABOUR, UNPAID
Grief is movement!
GRIEF IS STANDING STILL
Grief is progressive!
GRIEF IS FASCIST
Grief is helpful!”
GRIEF IS COERCIVE
Grief is public!
GRIEF IS PRIVATE
Grief is active!
GRIEF IS LAZY
Grief is strong!
GRIEF IS WEAK
Grief is proud!
GRIEF IS SHAMEFUL
Grief is empowering!
GRIEF IS FEARFUL
Grief is realistic!
GRIEF IS DELUSIONAL
Grief is radical!
GRIEF IS COUNTERREVOLUTIONARY
Grief is relief, I am relieved to grieve!
GRIEF IS EXHAUSTING, I AM FUCKING EXHAUSTED
Grief is collective!
GRIEF IS LONELY
Grief is truthful, it is honest!
GRIEF IS A LIAR, IT IS FRAUDULENT
Grief is calling your MP!
GRIEF IS HANGING UP
Grief is voting down ballot!
GRIEF IS NOT VOTING
Grief is self-care!
GRIEF IS HARMFUL
Grief is pragmatic!
GRIEF IS INEFFICIENT
Grief is volunteering!
GRIEF IS SELFISH
Grief is hopeful!
GRIEF IS CYNICAL
Grief is writing letters!
GRIEF IS WITHOUT LANGUAGE
Grief is speech!
GRIEF IS SPEECHLESS
Grief is showing up!
GRIEF IS STAYING HOME
Grief is relevant!
GRIEF IS IRRELEVANT
Grief is visible!
GRIEF IS INVISIBLE
Grief is a riot!
GRIEF IS A PARADE

Legacy Russell is a writer, artist, and cultural producer. Born and raised in NYC’s East Village she is the UK Gallery Relations Lead for the online platform Artsy. Her work can be found in a variety of publications: BOMB, The White Review, Rhizome, DIS, The Society Pages, Guernica, Berfrois and beyond. Holding an MRes of Visual Culture with Distinction at Goldsmiths College of University of London, her academic and creative work focuses on gender, performance, digital selfdom, idolatry, and new media ritual. Her first book Glitch Feminism will be published by Verso in 2017. Twitter: @legacyrussell | Instagram @ellerustle. |

*

Nancy K. Miller: Trump and his cabinet meet their fate

nancy-original2-dante2345new

 

Nancy K. Miller teaches in the English and Comparative Literature Programs at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her most recent book is the memoir Breathless: An American Girl in Paris.

***

Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Altoon Sultan, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Erica Hunt, Erik Moskowitz + Amanda Trager, Hermine Ford, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, LigoranoReeese, Michelle Jaffé, Noah Fischer, Robert C. Morgan, Roger Denson, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-3

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

*

Note to email subscribers: the video in this post can only be viewed if you are online, it will not run in your email program.

*

Sheila Pepe: The United States of Calvin

In 1856, one-time pastor and faculty of the Harvard Divinity School Ralph Waldo Emerson published English Traits. As an introduction to a text that exhaustively conveys all favorable traits of the Englishman, Emerson a champion anglophile, asserts the precision of race as not only historic, but also plainly scientific. “It is race, is it not?,” Emerson asks, “that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe.” His answer is yes. No wonder he was late to the idea of abolition.

Less than seventy-five years later, in 1928, the Harvard Theological Review (Vol. 21, No.3, Jul., pp.163-195) publishes Kemper Fullerton’s “Calvinism and Capitalism.” Within these thirty-two pages many ends are achieved. Most important is, as the title conveys, building a finer point upon Max Weber’s ideas connecting “Protestantism and money making.” For Fullerton the Protestantism key to leadership in modern American Capitalism is specifically Calvinism. Lutheranism doesn’t quite make the grade. Catholicism would catapult us back into the Middle Ages, as Catholics cling to professions in the handicrafts, rather than that of financier, industrialist, or technical expert. Consider the year it was published. In 1928 New York Governor, Catholic and reformer Al Smith was running for president. Wall Street was riding high and Prohibition, which Smith ran against, was in full swing. The Republicans had failed to reapportion Congress and the Electoral College after the 1920 census (which had registered a 15 percent increase in the urban population). Smith lost to Herbert Hoover in a landslide. Many ascribed the loss to the three “P’s” – Prosperity, Prejudice, and Prohibition.

Both the Puritans of Boston Bay Colony and the Dutch Reformed traders of New Amsterdam were Calvinist-based communities. Both built secular societies that were completely religious by design. That is, they believed that man lay bare in the unmediated presence of God. That each individual had an obligation to that God to live a highly disciplined life persistently in pursuit of good works in a secular world. Good work was not social work, rather productive, profitable work. “The Calvinist practised (sic) self-discipline not even to secure assurance (that he was elected for salvation); he practised it for the glory of God, and in the practise of it assurance came.” As Fullerton argues, this is the perfect platform for modern capitalism. Tireless money making at the expense of others is not bad, but there were limits – flagrant avarice was not seen as appropriately ascetic.

As founding father and Boston-born Ben Franklin would say, “A penny saved is a penny earned.” This seems a benign enough aphorism for his young America, even while fueled by a mandate from heaven. What the good humor and simplicity belies is that this country wasn’t simply founded by oligarchs, but by a religious oligarchy that squarely placed duty to God in the secular commons. This is not new; it simply persists.

As we look to find ways to change the damage done in this last presidential election, let’s consider U.S. values as a set of religiously formulated dictates, not the least of which is, for example, the construction of race in the service of making money for the glory of God. No one is out of the loop on this one – whether or not there was or is a “God” in your life. We might wonder where exactly the separation of church and state is in this country, and if the toleration of difference in the service of commerce is adequate expression of civil rights.

It’s time to ask again, and hopefully for the last time: What is this secular church that calls itself America?

sheila-pepe_glassceilingfantasy

Sheila Pepe, “Glass Ceiling Fantasy,” 2006. Charcoal + chalk on grey paper

Sheila Pepe lives and works in Brooklyn. She is a resident of the Sharpe-Walentas Program. Pepe is working on an exhibition and book with Gilbert Vicario, Chief Curator of the Phoenix Museum, AZ.

*

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

Joseph Nechvatal, Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, 11/2016 (dimensions variable)

For this digital painting entitled Portrait of the 45th President of the United States, I have taken an official Wikipedia photo portrait of Donald Trump and buried it in visual noise, denying his presence to a large degree. The idea is to visually refuse to acknowledge him clearly as president. To stop reproducing him and his brand as presidential. To resist and oppose him with noise.

Joseph Nechvatal’s computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums. Towards an Immersive Intelligence: Essays on the Work of Art in the Age of Computer Technology and Virtual Reality (1993-2006) was published by Edgewise Press in 2009. In 2011, Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library. His collected critical art reviews at Hyperallergic can be accessed here.

Martha Wilson as Donald Trump: Politics and Performance Art are One and the Same.

Grace Exhibition Space May 29; Smack Mellon, July 31, 2016; Creative Time Summit/Transformer party, October 13, 2016; P.P.O.W “Inauguration” exhibition, October 28; Tara benefit November 6, 2016.

Enter to Queen, “We are the Champions”

Hello America! People keep asking me how I’m going to make America great again. How I’m going to make America safe again. It’s you and me baby—we’re going to do this together.

It’s the coming of the solid state
When we’ll all be together again
Just like—I can’t remember when
We’ll have paradise on Earth at last

It’s the coming of the solid state
Instantaneous control’s what it takes
No more dropouts to spoil the view
Our society will be so cute!

It’s the coming of the solid state
When morality follows interest rates
Making money’s a right God-given
Here’s to Calvin—is it Coolidge or –ism?

(Put on glasses)

I don’t care if you record me talking about grabbing women’s pussies; however, I never let photos be taken of me wearing glasses. I don’t want to look like a 4-eyed egghead LOSER. But this performance is in the artworld, which does not count.

Hi! I am Martha Wilson, an artist and an arts administrator dressed up like Donald J. Trump. In all my previous performances, I have endeavored to go completely into Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Tipper Gore’s brains, so see what it’s like in there. But I had to turn off Donald’s speech to the Republican National Convention. I am here today wearing both personae to say a few words about how I have seen the relationship of art and politics evolve during the last 50 years.

In the 1960s, the Vietnam War was like a black curtain hanging behind everything. The cultural scene was one of protest, with marches, sit-ins, teach-ins, tax protests, non-violent and violent confrontations of ideas. Kent State was perhaps the nadir of this time, when the National Guard shot and killed students. People left America for Canada; I was one of those. It was a time when neither side would listen to the complaints of the other; our society was truly divided.

The 1970s saw Watergate go down. This is when Richard Nixon’s dirty tricks were exposed; he had to take responsibility and was impeached. The way this happened was that Robert Redford, a successful actor, paid Washington Post journalists Woodward and Bernstein to research and publish what the administration was up to.

In the artworld, artists of the 1970s were inventing postmodernism, becoming socially conscious, and invading the commercial gallery scene with temporary installations and video. Performance art, too, was entering the mainstream through the bar scene. There was recognition that the artworld was a white place: artists who were white were engendering dialogue through friendship with artists of color; Jenny Holzer’s friendship and collaboration with Lady Pink comes to mind.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected. Although as President of the Screen Actors Guild, he started out as a liberal, after he married Nancy, she persuaded him it was politically smarter to be conservative. He in turn chartered Frank Hodsoll with shutting down the National Endowment for the Arts, the agency put in place by Richard Nixon to fund the arts. In the beginning the NEA and the U.S. Information Agency were seen as a way to project America’s cultural hegemony (Abstract Expressionists had fled Europe as a result of World War II). We were better at art than anyone else, plus Abstract Expressionist art kept its mouth shut. However, when Franklin Furnace tried to send politically explicit artist book works to South America through the U.S. Information Agency, they were rejected. Later, the agency itself was killed off.

Back to Frank Hodsoll: the first thing he did was kill off the NEA’s Critics Fellowships. We, the arts organizations, did not see that the goal would be to kill off artists’ fellowships as well, and later to “professionalize” the art spaces.

The Culture Wars began in the late 1980s with the furor caused by Robert Mapplethorpe’s show, “The Perfect Moment,” as it traveled. Dennis Barrie, Director of the Cincinnati Center for Contemporary Art, lost his job as a result of his decision to take this show containing explicit images of S & M practice. The Culture Wars were fought over sexuality as a legitimate subject of contemporary art. After a lawsuit brought by “the NEA Four” Karen Finley, John Fleck, Holly Hughes and Tim Miller made it all the way to the Supreme Court, the arts community lost—the Court installed “community standards of decency” over artists’ First Amendment right to free expression.

This brings us to the 1990s, and the notion that no tax dollars should be paid for “obscene art.” This decade is when the Internet became widely accessible and artists started looking at surveillance instead of sexuality as the locus of threat. Meanwhile, the locus of the Culture Wars changed too, from art to a more granular and local series of battles over women’s reproductive choice; “balance” of equal numbers of radical and conservative views on university faculties; free speech granted to corporations; and Super Pac money allowed to influence public thought.

As Donald, I represent a beacon of hope for the white working class because I am so rich nobody can buy me. I represent their desire to shake up the binary political system–or just fuck things up. I let the barking dogs of racism, sexism and xenophobia run free. Meanwhile, Republican donors and party leaders are getting behind me because I WON… the nomination. They figure, as in the case of Bush vs. Gore, they can still control the political outcome of my presidency.

(Take off glasses)

Tit for tat and tat for tit
Politics is made of this
You give me this
I’ll give you that
And we’ll both smile

Publicity’s our strategy
And due to public memory
Which lapses so conveniently
In a few years

We can raise a family
No scandal’s bad enough to flee
The United States is still all milk and honey
Toooo meeeeee!

I will make America great again. I will make America hate again. I will make America white again. I have already made politics and performance art one and the same.

Good luck!

year_final-issue-martha-wilson-thump_wilson-final

Martha Wilson is a pioneering feminist artist and art space director, who over the past four decades created innovative photographic and video works that explore her female subjectivity. She has been described by New York Times critic Holland Cotter as one of “the half-dozen most important people for art in downtown Manhattan in the 1970s.” In 1976 she founded Franklin Furnace, an artist-run space that champions the exploration, promotion and preservation of artist books, temporary installation, performance art, as well as online works. She is represented by P.P.O.W Gallery in New York.

*

Deborah Kass

year-final-issue-deb-kass-vote-hillary_42x42_2-copy

Destroyed by the election and have nothing to say about anything yet. Too hard to process the current reality. Other than experiencing sheer terror, incredible sadness, and grief.

Deborah Kass is an artist whose paintings examine the intersection of art history, popular culture and the self. Kass’s work has been shown nationally and internationally. The Andy Warhol Museum presented “Deborah Kass, Before and Happily Ever After, Mid- Career Retrospective” in 2012, accompanied by a catalogue published by Rizzoli. Her monumental sculpture OY/YO located in Brooklyn Bridge Park became an instant icon, appearing on the front page of the New York Times and was a beloved destination in NYC. In 2014, Kass was inducted into the New York Foundation for the Arts Hall of Fame. Kass’s work is represented by the Paul Kasmin Gallery.

*

Bradley Rubenstein: It’s Not Blood, It’s Red

11/22/2016

Dear Susan and Mira,

Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute a thought or two for this, your final issue, of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

As artists, we come into our practice largely by finding, and in some ways imitating, figures from whom we imagine we might model ourselves. Barnett Newman’s concept of the “citizen artist” has always loomed large for me, and, I believe, his example might have been in your minds when you started M/E/A/N/I/N/G. His writings, letters to editors, and sometimes even his work (Lace Curtain for Mayor Daley, 1968) reflected a mind attuned to both aesthetics and the delicate fabric of society. Of course there are other examples, both historical and contemporary, who saw their work as part of a larger practice. Jacques-Louis David, Eugène Delacroix, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova, and Ana Mendieta come to mind.

Does the artist occupy a large role in the body politic? It is somewhat paradoxical that, in the age of Twitter and Instagram, media that privilege the image over the printed word, fewer works of art transcend the ocean of random images. Deborah Kass’s Vote Trump (2016) print edition, despite its complex appropriational historical context, remains one of the few iconic visual works from this election cycle to capture the attention of the public; iconic because it combined a complex historically informed sensibility with graphic effect. To be honest there are no other images that come to mind because, I fear, our current academic culture is not developing a student body willing to engage in public discourse, perhaps due to our trigger-warning, microaggression-fearing culture of safe spaces that has begun to privilege isolation and the cult of victimization over political action and social participation. It might be cautionary to remind younger artists that there is a difference between censorship and persecution (like having your press destroyed, or being imprisoned) and merely being actively ignored. There are artists in other countries who could remind us of this difference if only they weren’t busy being tortured at the moment; Iran, for example, doesn’t have many judgement-free zones.

This is not to say that we should just throw up our hands and admit creative failure. Rather, we might take stock of our time and be attentive, and when necessary, active in our role. When you asked me to contribute to your final issue I was unsure of what I might write, draw, or print that would encapsulate the many disparate thoughts that I have regarding art and culture at the moment. A truckload of ideas were sketched out, discarded. I went back to Newman’s letters hoping for some inspiration, direction. In the end I came to realize that sometimes just being present, and supporting one’s fellow artist-citizens when called upon, might be the most important form of resistance there is. If there is one message that we might take away from 30 years of M/E/A/N/I/N/G, it is that “if you can still read this there is hope.”

With best regards,

Bradley Rubenstein

Bradley Rubenstein is a painter and writer who lives and works in Brooklyn, NY.

*

Lenore Malen: What Now?

It was a summer of total anxiety and compulsive poll watching and now shock, despair, fear, along with remorse for what I’ve failed to see and failed to do.

A couple of years ago when politics were as usual I wrote a short essay for the Brooklyn Rail on the subject: “What is Art?” Quoting Leon Golub, I said: “If you are extremely worried about the state of the world and believe that art with its myriad of contradictions can’t stand up to it, think of Golub’s book Do Paintings Bite? in which he writes: “Art retains a residual optimism in the very freedom to tell.”  “Last week one of my students said to me: “Now we have a real reason for making art.”  Yes, but in truth, it is only art.

A hope and a plea: Take action immediately in whatever ways we can, each of us, so that the very worst doesn’t happen here, can’t be normalized, doesn’t last.  At the same time be worried about climate, race relations and other grave divisions here, the tinderbox of the Middle East, North Korea, Britain, France, Turkey, and everywhere — everything at once.  Stay in touch.

I’m very sad to think of this as the last issue of M/E/A/N/I/NG, which, when it began, was the only journal especially devoted to contemporary artists in their studios, and has continued to function as such for so many years. It’s a totally unique publication, not academic, not literary, but rather a voice for practicing visual artists — unedited, uncensored in any way.

Reversal from Lenore Malen on Vimeo. Reversal: The central scene of a 3-channel installation. A United Nations address to the human species by a horse character declaring a list of atrocities exacted on non-human animals by humans.

Lenore Malen uses the lens of history and humor to explore utopian longings, dystopic aftermaths, and the sciences and technologies that inform them. Recently her explorations have focused on ecology, on cultural myths, and on the unstable boundaries between humans and animals. She teaches in the MFA Fine Arts Program at Parsons The New School. Her show Scenes From Paradise will be on view at Studio 10, 56 Bogart St., Bushwick, NY, January 6, 2017–February 5, 2017.

*

Peter Rostovsky 

peter-rostovsky-green-curtain-painting-small

Peter Rostovsky, Green Curtain, 2013, 78 x 50 in., oil on linen.

The curtain is a barrier. It demarcates time: the closing of a chapter, the beginning of another. For ancient painters and modern philosophers, it has served as a metaphor for representation—a surface that always promises a depth that is not there. For others, like me, it is perhaps an adequate symbol of this dark moment, that feels like the end, but could be—if we make it so—a new beginning, too. Like many, I lurk on the boundary, stretched over its threshold and balanced on this uncertainty, constantly reviewing the program notes, and guessing the next act.

Peter Rostovsky is a Russian-born artist who works in painting, sculpture, installation, and digital art. His work has been shown in the United States and abroad and has been exhibited at The Walker Art Center, MCA Santa Barbara, PS1/MOMA, Artpace, The Santa Monica Museum of Art, The ICA Philadelphia, the Blanton Museum of Art, S.M.A.K., and private galleries. Rostovsky also writes art criticism under the pen name David Geers. Focusing on the convergence of art, politics and technology, his writing has appeared in October, Fillip, Bomb, The Third Rail Quarterly, The Brooklyn Rail and Frieze.

***

Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Bailey Doogan, Erica Hunt, Faith Wilding, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Rachel Owens, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-2

The first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A Journal of Contemporary Art Issues, was published in December 1986. M/E/A/N/I/N/G is a collaboration between two artists, Susan Bee and Mira Schor, both painters with expanded interests in writing and politics, and an extended community of artists, art critics, historians, theorists, and poets, whom we sought to engage in discourse and to give a voice to.

For our 30th anniversary and final issue, we have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today. As ever, we have encouraged artists and writers to feel free to speak to the concerns that have the most meaning to them right now.

Every other day from December 5 until we are done, a grouping of contributions will appear on A Year of Positive Thinking. We invite you to live through this time with all of us in a spirit of impromptu improvisation and passionate care for our futures.

Susan Bee and Mira Schor

*

Rit Premnath: The Day After

Dear 72% of non-college educated white men
Thank you for your overwhelming enthusiasm
I was following the polls
trace a mirrored line
dipping and rising
in anticipation
But when you filled your circle
the statistician’s needle shivered

You were the butt of our jokes
and we’d all but forgotten you
Now the clown has returned
shouting his white rage
With the tongue of a troll

Dear 62% of non-college educated white women
Thank you for tossing a grenade in our basement
My ears are still ringing from the aftershock
and I’m empty and sad
Like there’s been a death in the family

Dear 37% of white people
and 74% of non-whites
This morning the city was silent
and in the subway
we couldn’t bear to look at each other

I met a friend for breakfast
and we talked about this agnosia
How everything is exactly the same
but unrecognizable
cheaply built on closer inspection
like Mar-a-Lago

Dear overeducated friends
Thank you for your persistent paranoia
As you know well, the present is always Kali Yuga
The last phase of the crumbling cosmic order
The bull of dharma has lost three legs
and teeters precariously
hopping one-legged from calamity to calamity
Our angel of history zigzags

For you nothing is good enough
Until something is much worse
And even then you blame the foreclosed possibility
of that which will have been

Dear friends of various demographic categories
Thank you for being here tonight
I can’t speak for you,
but my emptiness is like a vacuum
that sucks all things into its gloom
I think we were silent because we recognized it
It has always been there
A hole at the center

We were talking yesterday
About how the art world is not for us
That we have always sensed an emptiness at its core
But we play along and service its white walls
fighting one another for its fleeting attention
Afraid that we have already invested too much
Afraid that we will disappear if we withdraw
Afraid that withdrawal is shameful
Ashamed that our politics rarely extends to action
Confused about who the objects of our politics should be
But as the ground cracks beneath our feet
we suddenly feel an orientation
A sense of possibility in this quickly widening trench

Dear teachers
Yesterday we realized that we knew nothing
Or at least that we must actively unlearn the knowledge
that has stopped us from knowing

We were silent because we were ashamed
that we didn’t even know each other
We said we must work together
But knew right away that the “we” we were talking about
is an idea that cannot be learnt
But must be made
And that none of us has the time to make it

I feel a sense of urgency
that this is a call to action
That we must try to capture and hold that feeling
of the moment before we fall when our knees have begun to buckle
Or the moment right after
When the force of gravity orients us
but we have not yet fallen
That feeling we felt the first night and the morning after
The soundlessness of that night
and the hum in our ears searching
A silence enveloped in a distant ringing
Every sound in its inverse, a listening
An ear for the mouthless

A being-with that is a listening and looking
Unlearning as directed possibility
A sensory orientation that stops the shuddering needle
We must make a new time of being-with
A time of learning through unlearning
And reorient this era post truth
Towards its looking-for
Towards its becoming by being-with

*

A Lapche near Dharapuri, Humla District, Nepal. Photo courtesy Sreshta Rit Premnath, 2016

A Lapche near Dharapuri, Humla District, Nepal. Photo courtesy Sreshta Rit Premnath, 2016

“Chorten, Mani and Lapche are three kinds of sacred structures built with rocks that are found throughout the region of Humla in Northwestern Nepal and Southern Tibet. …Lapche, the third and simplest category are cairns–simple rock mounds that any passerby may add to. … Lapche are an accretion of nows that are each embodied in the intentional selection and placement of a rock….Unlike villages or monasteries that serve as destinations for a traveler, Lapche are always in between or at the threshold of such places. They are polychronic nodes that mark non-sites en-route to somewhere.”

“Rocks map scales of geological time that vastly exceed human time and indeed precede the very existence of humans and our conception of time. We are fascinated with things that exceed our ability to grasp, and so we literally grasp them, hold and touch them, to fill them with meaning and make them ours.”

(Photo and text excerpts from Premnath, “The Chronotopography of Mountains” courtesy Sreshta Rit Premnath, 2016)

Sreshta Rit Premnath is an Indian-born artist who works across multiple media, investigating systems of representation and reflecting on the process by which images become icons and events become history. Premnath is the editor of Shifter and teaches at Parsons.

*
Beverly Naidus: Holding On

I’m out of breath, running down the sidewalk in a foul-smelling, factory town in Maine. My dad works at the plastics factory, as a research chemist, putting dead leaves, textiles and flowers in between sheets of acrylic to create new decorative plastics for home design – very 1950s. He’s grateful to have a job. He’s been blacklisted.

At that moment, I don’t know any of this. I only know that the air stinks, neighborhood kids are chasing me and I don’t know why. I am four years old, with dark, curly hair and olive skin. I look quite different from the locals. I am being pelted with grapes. They shout and then chant an unfamiliar expression at me, “DIRTY LITTLE KIKE.” It fills my ears like intractable glue that no anti-adhesive can remove.

Is that when I awoke? Perhaps. It was certainly one of the first seeds of awakening. I was being raised to assimilate, and the lesson that day was this: It’s not the difference that marks you. It’s the response of others to that difference.

I have learned that lesson repeatedly over the years. As the McCarthy Era drew to a close, my New Yorker parents, both children of immigrants, moved us closer to NYC, thinking we would all be more at home there; it did not help. Our new town had been the center of the New Jersey Nazi party during the 1930s. I don’t think my parents knew this. They were assimilating, and chose to live in a non-Jewish part of town deliberately. Trouble was, a few of the neighbors were unhappy with this choice and made their displeasure known.

I felt the pressure to fit in. I sang solos in the Christmas choir at school, read the Bible secretly in bed, joined the Brownies and attempted to straighten my hair. Somehow all these attempts to be accepted fell short, and this failure came with a sticky residue of shame. That I couldn’t pass was my fault. I grew wary. I began to identify with outsiders and oddballs. I began to write poetry and draw weird surreal images searching for a way out.

Thankfully there was an exit door with a neon sign that said “LIBERATION THIS WAY.” I came of age in the late 60s. Although the complex counterculture was not necessarily a place to find easy comfort, it offered an alternative to suffocating and destructive conformity. I found safety and acceptance among feminists, queer friends, activists, artists, mystics and communities of color. All residues of dissonance between the dominant culture and my new havens of solidarity went into my creative work. Years later, as I expanded into teaching what I had learned as an artist, I began to offer similar refuge for my students to tell their stories of shame, otherness, trauma and alienation. That, combined with some media literacy and anti-oppression training, became a standard recipe for shifting or strengthening values. I saw and still see the trajectory of my work as something expansive; eventually subverting the dominant culture and replacing it with a world where difference will be celebrated and where equity and fairness will be the norm.

But I am not a Pollyanna who thought the bullies had gone away. The daily brutality of ongoing white supremacy, homophobia, patriarchy, and corporate capitalism has been ever present and the manipulations of fear & economics have created an ongoing apocalypse for many.

Two nights ago, in response to the latest assault (our recent election), we attended a community meeting in a local church in our new hometown of Tacoma, WA. that was advertised with the appropriate name, “What Now?” Organized by the facilitators of the local Anarchist Discount Center (an online “buy nothing” group), they packed the room with eager, depressed, passionate, enraged, mostly younger, seemingly white folks. We made extensive lists of what concerns us the most; the panic almost bubbled over as each new item was added to the list. Small groups discussed strategies for resistance, solidarity, educating those who are feeling lost and vulnerable. It was a beginning.

Some people describe this bizarre post-election moment like a waking nightmare, like we are in suspended animation waiting for fascism to start. But those of us who have identified as activists for decades, once we have shaken off the disgust and frustration, have noticed an expanding cohort of awakening folks. It’s essential that we share our tools for processing the daily trauma and insanity, and get grounded for the long haul. Our work will likely be much harder now, but with more imaginations and muscles joining the cause, who knows what will happen. We’ll have to hold on to each other lovingly during this bumpy ride.

Beverly Naidus, Cognitive Dissonance #8, from the series “Wrestling with the Uneasy Present.” Digital photo-collage, dimensions variable, 2016.

Beverly Naidus, Cognitive Dissonance #8, from the series “Wrestling with the Uneasy Present.” Digital photo-collage, dimensions variable, 2016.

Beverly Naidus has been subverting within academia, museums and public space for most of her adult life. She likes to stir things up via art, writing, face-to-face improvisations, online interventions and within contexts where difficult questions can be raised, vulnerable stories can be shared and connections can be made. For more about her work and pedagogy go to her website.

*

Christen Clifford: Instagram posts from @cd_clifford November 11 & 14

christen-clifford-image1-saved-for-web

Nov11
So grateful that our Jackson Heights and Flushing city councilman #DannyDromm voiced his resistance and his commitment to holding our legislature and government accountable. This was #queensrally for unity and diversity in #diversityplaza . Those “Let’s wait and see what he does” opinions—um, NO. He told us who he is. I have been thinking about the argument that “Some took him literally but not seriously, others took him seriously but not literally”  in relation to the capitulation of places like HuffPo and People magazine—taking off the warning about DT and the lavish photo spread of Ivanka’s family, respectively. This is not normal. I refuse to normalize this. I have been thinking about the connections between rape and war, about the very real #ptsd and #retraumatization happening for many people. I have been rereading Trauma and Recovery by Judith Herman. I numbed out with Ativan for a few days. I understood why after picking up T&R and reading about “CONSTRICTION—a state of surrender where….the system of self-defense shuts down entirely.” Thinking about how Tuesday night was such a shock it was like an ambush. I didn’t see it coming. The surprise attack makes me remember “Oh, it’s Veteran’s Day” and my dad fought in WWII and he was at The Battle of the Bulge which was a famous surprise attack. Sortie. Invasion. Thinking how grabbing a woman by the pussy or groping someone on the subway is the new lying in the long grasses with a rifle all night long. Thinking about invasions of personal space, even the forced laugh and endurance of a hand that lingers a little too long, though no one else might notice it. And rape, forced intimacy, as a weapon of war. I felt crazy on Tuesday night <x-apple-data-detectors://11> . I thought the #silverlining of DT was exposing #rapeculture and I was completely ready to have our American society finally take #sexualassault survivors seriously- to listen and believe women. I was ready for a woman to be in charge so I wouldn’t feel like it was all in my head. We need more women in office. And then the rapist is elected. As if he’s my rapist. “Trauma isolates, the group recreates.” #strongertogether Some of my students fear for their safety. This is not normal. #TheResistance

Nov 14
#supermoon tonight. #lenorachampagne and I walked to see the super of our building who is in the hospital. He had a stroke. The nurse said his left side needed massage to get the blood flowing so I massaged his legs. I never thought I’d be that intimate with him but I know the healing power of touch and I grew up massaging my mom’s legs and feet so it felt normal to me. It was the first time I’ve been in a hospital for someone other than myself and I walked out thinking that I am doing really well right now and #fuckcancer like just fuck it and I just have to be in the present and enjoy my anger and take care of my anxiety. I have repeated to myself “Two steps forward, one step back.” But I know that doesn’t help the brown boys I know. Later we went on the roof and I tried to bathe in the magical power of the moon being so close #tommurrin s #lunamacaroona In my mind I am naked swimming in a lake bathing in the moon’s reflection drinking in some form of pureness that would protect those brown boys and girls. I talked to the kids about being an #upstander then obsessed over the NY Times weird letter to readers- are they capitulating or doubling down? Feel deep in my heart I can’t normalize this fascist elect but small good deeds helped. Walking, cooking, neighboring. Still thinking about feelings—how good it felt to think that HRC saw my issues and how good it feels to “other” someone else. Like middle school. Most of us grow out of it, right? We are all together under this big fucking moon, whether we like it or not.

chrsiten-clifford-image2

*These texts were originally published to Instagram @cd_clifford and then automatically posted to Facebook and Twitter.

Christen Clifford is a feminist performance artist, writer, curator at Dixon Place, mother and teaches at The New School. She is a core member of The No Wave Performance Task Force and the creator of The Pussy Bow, a feminist action disguised as a fashion accessory. She lives in Queens and online @cd_clifford

*

Shirley Kaneda

Sadly, not only did we not see the first woman to be the President of the most powerful country in the free world, but we are also now faced with grave concerns of civil liberty brought on by the ultra conservative agenda of Trump and his coterie of advisors who blatantly support white male supremacy. Their reactionary views on everything from free trade which greatly aids the world’s poorest people, advancement of minorities, women’s reproductive rights, gun control, and least of all economic disparity can now be set back decades.

53% of white women voted for Trump. Even if traditional feminism may not be attractive to some women, it would seem to be a no-brainer to elect an eminently qualified woman candidate to a hate inspiring incompetent racist and sexist buffoon in 2016. Evidently, these white women put race over advancing the status of women at the expense of domination over liberation. At least, being white gives them the perception that they have power over everyone who is not.

I recently saw a video of a debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley that was held at Cambridge Union Society, Cambridge University in 1965. The topic was “The American Dream at the Expense of the American Negro.” Almost the entire audience except for a few blacks here and there was white. Baldwin was already a well-established writer and civil rights activist and Buckley was a young editor and founder of the conservative National Review. Baldwin was riveting. The exchange could not have been better made as a movie. Baldwin’s passionate, articulate oppression of American blacks was so intelligent, deft and moving that he received a standing ovation by the young audience when he finished. Buckley on the other hand resorted to attempting to strip Baldwin of respect by commenting that it was curious that Baldwin all of sudden spoke with a British accent. He did no such thing of course, but it is the white’s position to paint blacks as the barbaric “other” and incapable of becoming civilized. In the end the Society took a vote on the proposition and Baldwin won by 540-160 on the issue of “The American Dream at the Expense of the American Negro.”

Evidently the mostly white audience of this debate in 1965 was far more progressive than the 51% of Americans who elected Trump in 2016. The issue of the economy and the diminishing middle class were certainly factors in this election, but they are inextricably tied to the not so latent issue of race easily promoted by Trump’s embrace of xenophobia.

How do we break this cycle of bigotry and oppression? First we must divest ourselves from the notion of “other.” From my perspective, the mutual respect for difference must extend to oneself. The other must not be an extension of the notion of tolerance and non-judgment. It may be confusing to think of the dominant – subordinate relationship and the notion of other which were possibly and probably progressive at one time, but now must be disposed for no other reason than the fact that it is archaic and counter-productive. The concept of the other has to be abandoned and absorbed so it can produce independence. The other is now revealed as a myth that signifies anything that is not “I” and which does nothing to alter the dynamic of power.

Shirley Kaneda, Untitled, 2016, 30” x 34”, acrylic on linen.

Shirley Kaneda, Untitled, 2016, 30” x 34”, acrylic on linen.

Shirley Kaneda is an abstract painter, contributing editor to Bomb Magazine and a Professor at Pratt Institute.

The video that Kaneda refers to of the 1965 debate between James Baldwin v. William F. Buckley Jr. at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?” can be viewed here.

*

William Villalongo

My figures toil between various histories and an endless natural world conscious of painting as their condition of being. These new works meditate on the Black male presence in society as a figure shifting in out of visibility. It is a post-human existence in which the form disperses and recollects in various form like fallen autumn leaves, more subject to the conditions of nature than individual will. Yet, like nature it has the power of regeneration held within the substance of its decay. “Hands up” and “hoodies” become symbols of resistance as well as the figurative elements associated with body language.

William Villalongo, Seed, 2016. Acrylic, cut velour paper and collage 79" X 40"

William Villalongo, Seed, 2016. Acrylic, cut velour paper and collage, 79″ X 40″

William Villalongo, Speak No Evil, 2016. Acrylic, cut velour paper and collage, 40" X 39"

William Villalongo, Speak No Evil, 2016. Acrylic, cut velour paper and collage, 40″ X 39″

William Villalongo lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. Villalongo is the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Award and the Joan Mitchell Foundation Painters & Sculptor’s Grant. Villalongo is currently represented by Susan Inglett Gallery.

***

Further installments of M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking will appear here every other day. Contributors will include Alexandria Smith, Altoon Sultan, Ann McCoy, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Bailey Doogan, Bradley Rubenstein, Deborah Kass, Erica Hunt, Faith Wilding, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Johanna Drucker, Joseph Nechvatal, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Kat Griefen, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, Lenore Malen, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Martha Wilson, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer, Peter Rostovsky, LigoranoReese, Rachel Owens, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson,  Sheila Pepe, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Susan Bee, Mira Schor, and more. If you are interested in this series and don’t want to miss any of it, please subscribe to A Year of Positive Thinking during this period, by clicking on subscribe at the upper right of the blog online, making sure to verify your email when prompted.

M/E/A/N/I/N/G: A History
We published 20 print issues biannually over ten years from 1986-1996. In 2000, M/E/A/N/I/N/G: An Anthology of Artists’ Writings, Theory, and Criticism was published by Duke University Press. In 2002 we began to publish M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online and have published six online issues. Issue #6 is a link to the digital reissue of all of the original twenty hard copy issues of the journal. The M/E/A/N/I/N/G archive from 1986 to 2002 is in the collection of the Beinecke Library at Yale University.

 

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail

This Past Week in Activism: Three Modest Gestures

Three modest political gestures have deeply touched me this past week:

Thursday, December 9th, in London, there was a teach-in at The National Gallery in conjunction with the street demonstrations of students protesting the tripling of educational fees by David Cameron’s government.

Teach-in about the raise in tuition fees, National Gallery, London, December 9, 2010

There is a general impression, which I often encounter among my students, that activism of the 1960s variety, including demonstrations in front of public institutions, occupations of educational and other institutions, are not effective. I am not sure that is true, but of one thing I am sure: any small engagement with the kind of political activism that brings people into a room or a public space, including the street, changes the life of the individual who participates, even if that individual does not further pursue a life of activism. You are in a room with other people, people who may think like you, people who may know more than you, people who feel passionately about things you dared not admit that you did. For a moment you are not alone. It can be stressful and confusing: you can experience some of this in play in the video clip I’ve included below, lots of people talking at the same time, a contingent atmosphere, but generally polite, good-natured, and modest, even including the behavior of the museum staff (they let it happen instead of banning everyone for life). No one on this particular clip is a great speaker, that actually makes doing something like that easier to imagine. For anyone who participated, something memorable has happened. And when I look at the picture of these people joined together in the same room with one of Manet’s four versions of The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, 1868, I am so so envious.

Edouard Manet, The Execution of Maximilian, 1867-68. Oil on canvas, 6'4"x9' 3 13/16", Collection of The National Gallery, London

The painting in the National Gallery that served as the backdrop for this week’s teach-in is the second in Manet’s series (see information about the history of the postmodern fragmentation of this work here). All the paintings of this series are big and they appear monumental, I’ve rarely been so struck and impressed by the size of art works. The modest scale of the exhibition space only enhanced this effect because the works were both monumental and intensely intimate in relation to the scale of each viewer.

This painting was included in Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, one of the best exhibitions held at MoMA. This small but intense, visually powerful, historically informative, wonderfully researched 2006 exhibition brought together Manet’s four paintings of this subject along with subsidiary paintings he painted during of the same year including his small but memorable painting of Charles Baudelaire’s funeral, along with a series of contemporaneous photographs of the execution and its aftermath, which were sources for Manet’s rendering and which included recreations, alterations, and falsifications of the actual, undocumented event, many of these by the ingenuity and dexterity of their photographic tricks and politically driven imagination anticipating Photoshop by over a hundred years. The exhibition also included a timeline of the events of the year Manet devoted to this work. Strangely relevant to ongoing discussions about political art (what is it? can art with overt political content be good art? does any so-called political art have any effect politically?) is also the fact that these works were not exhibited in Manet’s lifetime. So when I look at this picture of teh teach-in in London, with the painting providing a backdrop and visual anchor, I feel that the painting is fulfilling the role of a political art work in a way that Manet perhaps could not have anticipated when he painted it or when he put it away out of public view (in a gesture of pre-emptive self-censorship).

Meanwhile back in the States, this week saw a revival of the “culture wars” of the late 1980s, with the removal from the National Portrait Gallery of the video clip of David Wojnarowicz’s 1987 video “A Fire in My Belly.” There has been excellent coverage and commentary on this, including by Holland Cotter and Frank Rich of The New York Times, Blake Gopnik of The Washington Post, and Christopher Knight of the Los Angeles Times, as well as on art blogs such as Hyperallergic, and by Stephen Colbert on a must-see full show on art and censorship including a piece de resistance art critical analysis of Republican right wing Rep. Eric Cantor, totally brilliant because it could only be done with full knowledge and understanding of and ability to correctly use “The Language” or “Theory” but also devastatingly on target about the cliches that go with that knowledge and its vocabulary! & on Comedy Central!!!

But the gesture that most touched me was the quietest, a two-person protest that took place November 30 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington:

This protest by Mike Blasenstein and the friend who filmed him Mike Iacovone was so simple: Blasenstein just stood there, with an ipad tied around his neck running the censored clip (best comment to this story on Hyperallergic, by Coco Lopes: “best use of an ipad ever.”) Blasenstein had explanatory flyers in his hand for anyone who might want one, which the museum security guards forced people to give back to him. Ben Davis published an interview with Blasenstein which foregrounds the spontaneity and modesty of his impulse to do this: “I just felt this is an important issue. I’m not really an artist or an activist, but when I heard that they took it down, it just seemed to send such a clear negative message. So I thought to myself, I would send my own message and bring this art back into the museum.” Could an instance of activism be any simpler?

The week ended with Senator Bernie Sander’s nearly 8 hour filibuster-like speech Friday December 10th, explaining and lambating the tax cut deal arrived at by President Obama and the Republican Party.

The speech can be seen on Senator Sander’s website as well as on C-Span. Here is a clip:

I only found out the speech was happening late in the day through comments on Facebook, I would have loved to watch it live but I watched about an hour and a half later that evening. I kept on trying to change the channel, thinking well , this is very interesting but let’s see if there’s something else on, but then going back to it: it was in its own plain spoken way, riveting. Sanders reminded me of the kind of politician I grew up witnessing: contrary to today’s cookie cutter hairdos with pre-fab talking points, you could count on a greater number of stalwart liberal figures, often speaking with emphatic local accents — Sanders is the Senator from Vermont but he’s from New York and sounds a lot like Bella Abzug to me — and they weren’t “Socialists” in those days, they weren’t “Independents,” they were in the Democratic Party, one of the reasons I’ve stated for being a “yellow dog Democrat.” It was fun and inspiring then, it was inspiring and a welcome respite now. I couldn’t help but think of what might happen if just one other Senator did this, and then one other one and then one other one, maybe pretty soon the cautious, craven and cowardly would begin to see a group to blend into and next thing you know you’d begin to have yourself a movement.

One can dream: each of these events is a drop of water in the worldwide tsunami of reactionary activism (tsunami, uh oh, cliche alert, but I’m thinking not only of the big crashing wave type of tsunami, but also the slowly inexorably rising water type that seems to have us suddenly clinging to lamp posts as our feet unexpectedly get wetter and wetter), seemingly, maybe even surely, futile for the moment, but still, are we not better off that a group of students and teachers occupied the National Gallery in front of Manet’s wonderful painting, and that two guys just decided to show up at the National Gallery in Washington D.C. and use an ipad for peacful protest, and that a United States Senator had the guts and stamina to give a speech that if people could hear it, they would be persuaded by it? Let’s say they are all dreamers and what they did won’t change any immediate policy. OK. But what a greater nightmare we’d be in if such people did not do such small gestures of activism.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmailFacebooktwittergoogle_plusredditmail