Tag Archives: Andrea Geyer

Free Speech

Free speech seems to be the latest thing, but in a strangely nostalgic way. This coming Saturday alone in New York City there are at least two events which will feature readings out loud from historical and contemporary political texts. Unfortunately I can’t be in two places at the same time so I won’t be able to attend “‘A riot is the language of the unheard’: an exercise in unrestrained speech” at The Rose Auditorium of Cooper Union at 4PM but wish I could. The event announcement includes this description:

Taking its cue from a quote from a 1968 speech about injustice and freedom by Dr. Martin Luther King, this public event engages in the use of the voice in imagining collective and political speech through short readings by artists, scholars, writers, poets, musicians, and speakers.

The event features a variety of contemporary and historic material such as re-performed texts, poetry, experimental theater, pedagogic exercises, as well as everyday collections of testimonials, essays, and private ruminations.

Envisioned as a “rough cut” anthology of live subversive speech acts, “A riot is the language of the unheard” is an experimental tribute to parrhesia, or defiant and confrontational speech. As surveillance and force is becoming increasingly utilized to control and manage resistance, this program seeks to address how the right to speak is also a politics of listening.

Later that day, from 6 to 8 I will be among a few artists invited to read at the closing event for an exhibition organized by some of my MFA students at Parsons, “Question for Revolution and Universal Brotherhood” where performances have included other public readings of political texts with an emphasis on utopian possibilities, some from the past but all for the current era. Invited participants at the closing events will also include Maureen Connor, Andrea Geyer, Heather Love, John T. McGrath, and Alex Segade.

Last week saw an iteration of the Free University in New York City, first initiated last May 1, with seminars taking place in the open air at Madison Square Park over a four day period, an Occupy-related event for once unmolested by the NYPD. Discussion included topics such as “What is Money – What is Debt” led by Sue Waters, “The Sirens and Subjection: Homer, Kakfa, and Adorno” led by Julie Napolin, “Letters to a Young Artist: What should young artists know?” led by Caroline Woolard (which was planning to begin with a reading and discussion on Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet), and “Discussion of The Alienated Librarian” led by Chris Alen Sula (a discussion inititated with students from Pratt Institute’s School of Information & Library Science of Marcia Nauratil’s 1989 book “The Alienated Librarian,” which examines the work of librarians from a labor perspective. (for the full schedule of events that took place September 18-22, click on the Five Day Schedule link on this Free University Page and for more photos from the event you can look at their Flickr page).

Inspired by the idea of the Free University, on Sunday October 14, I will lead a similar type of reading of Bill Readings’ predictive 1997 book The University in Ruins at Momenta Art as part of the current exhibition Occupy Your BFF, an exchange of ideas with Occupy Wall Street, with the involvement of Occupy related groups including the Arts&Labor group. Institutions including Parsons The New School of Design and the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts are hosting some of the events listed on this schedule.

This ferment, in the case of these examples mentioned above, has centered around education within and beyond the confines of the university and in many instances focused on political texts from earlier moments of political fervor, conflict, and engagement is part of a world wide growing movement of radical critique of post-War neo-liberalism and the ravages of global, unregulated super capitalism. In the US the increase in such activity seems to be framed by the crash of the 2008 economy and the upcoming election, although some within the Occupy Movement are so convinced of the evil of the two lesser of two evils argument of our electoral choices that they are rejecting participation in the vote.

While many media voices declare that Occupy is dead or has failed, discussion about the political and economic situation and how to affect it positively, continues, large or small, public events such as the ones at educational institutions or on web-based projects such as Nicholas Mirzoeff’s year long daily blog Occupy 2012 or in small ongoing private discussion groups, the large meetings inspirational and occasionally dramatic (as people on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook share news pictures of huge mass demonstrations around the world, usually not discussed at any length if at all on American mainstream media, including such liberal sites as MSNBC, which focus on domestic events, with a tendency to get seduced by the horse-race aspect of electoral and party politics in the US). The smaller groups are interesting and moving in another more intimate way. I should note that including the Free University, I have attended only a couple of events in recent weeks, so my view is pretty limited but my sense is of a tender struggle, with a desire for positive social inclusion at the level of the everyday, for modest cumulative efforts to interject criticality but also small tangible moments of community and warmth into a media entertainment, corporatized, corrupted and alienated culture. Some of these efforts have a tentative aspect which may lead to media commentary of the death of Occupy, but these small meetings, as much as the larger public events such as the occupation of Zuccotti Park, at least reveal to each individual that they are not alone in their hopes and desires for a different and better world.

The turn to historical texts is significant in this regard. My totally unscientifc and personal view is that from the French Revolution, if you really want to go far back, through the Russian Revolution, to the crucible of the Great Depression with its powerful political battles between totalitarianism, fascism, communism and progressive liberalism, great union movements, and great battles for civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights, up to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980, the voices for political engagement were sharp, confident, fearless, funny, inspiring, historically rooted, with deep roots in the assertion of rebellion. The 1980s marked the beginning of the institutionalization of some of these voices into the university but underscored with a growing disappointment with the “failure” of the 60s and a creeping complicity with the corporatization of the world.

The turn to the historical texts and voices indicates a current thirst for the courage, eloquence, and, after thirty years of the triumph of irony, for the authenticity of such voices. At the same time it is quite interesting to note the trend towards re-performance, recently a hot subject of debate with regards to performance art. Events, political actions and interventions, and artworks whose contingent nature was completely a part of their meaning are now being not just celebrated but also re-performed under quite luxurious and heavily promoted circumstances–things artists and political thinkers did in conditions often of near anonymity, not that many such figures did not seek attention for their causes and themselves and document their practices as best they could, but I still would describe as near anonymity relative to current conditions of instant self-documentation, promotion, and commodification on pretty much everyone’s part. One problem is that questions of political belief and authenticity are still hard to bring up, in fact I type these words with censorious critical voices loudly whispering in my ear!

The interest in something like a Free University is also an indication, a recognition that things are not quite so rosy in institutions of higher education, just as they are not rosy in the public school system, in fact in every system. The moral economy of the 1% occurs in every part of culture: we see some of the public protests against the marketization of education, in faculty and student protests against closing of liberal arts departments, libraries, and archives and in the firing of even University Presidents, or, rather, some of these situations are so egregious that they actually get some coverage, but also we see the kinds of small repressions and erosions of  knowledge bases that take place throughout the university system in favor of new global imperatives connected to the very same system critiqued by the Occupy movement. Some things will no longer be taught, and thus eventually some may then reappear in the small instances of extra-institutional education Free University proposes and is just one example of, or indicator of the need for–all the more significant as higher education becomes too expensive for even upper middle class people and begins to seem non-cost effective as jobs do not exist for the subjects being taught, particularly in the liberal arts and arts.

This is what has led me to be interested in extra-institutional teaching situations though perhaps it may be therefore inferred that even some such erosions and repressions take place right in the middle of the most progressive institutions in the name of the most advanced political positioning.

In this blog I have occasionally linked to some of the stirring political speeches and the closeness to historical turmoil that marked the generations before me. These  framed my initiation into politics in my early teens: the admiration (the word is not sufficient) my parents’ generation had for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the policies of the New Deal–which current Right Wing politics in the US are intent on finally at long last repealing, after 80 years of concerted efforts to do so. My parents’ experiences with fascism and the Holocaust and the formative experiences of their American friends in the Great Depression and during  the post-war McCarthy era were a strong influence on me as I grew up listening to their stories. In recent years as labor unions have come under attack, I have often thought about the general tendency towards progressive political thinking within immigrant groups in the US that had experienced political and religious repression in the lands of their birth and how these tendencies were part of what drove the labor union movement in the US in the early twentieth century. The political figures who I witnessed through the 60s and 70s had been formed in these crucibles and carried their traces still even as post-war economic conditions began to shift towards the situation we are currently struggling against. These are just some of the experiences that marked the atmosphere of the pre-1980s period as I experienced them, as were the examples of civil rights leaders and workers such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr.

My interest in the possibilities of the structure of Free University seminars is based on experiences I have related on this blog before, in a provocatively titled and, significantly, pre-Occupy post, including one comment that alas will ring in my mind for years, a student’s negative comment in a faculty evaluation of me to the effect that “she made us listen to a speech by Martin Luther King” in a seminar on contemporary art issues (King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech delivered April 4, 1967, a year exactly before his assassination). Apparently the market based expectations of students (how will this help me be a viable contemporary artist and promote my work?) clashed with my feeling that certain kinds of speech are more important than the orthodoxies of critical theory or some art discourse as well as art market gossip that still hold sway even as such types of speech are now being celebrated in the events that I mentioned at the beginning of this post happening this week in educational and alternative art institutions this week in New York City.

Politics is not for the faint of heart and can be mind-spinningly complex and soul-breakingly frustrating, as are most human beings, and because of that an engagement with politics can end up making people flee back to the interests of their daily lives. As in the past it is the realization that the safety and comfort of those personal lives are contingent and subject to larger historical forces that turns our attention again to political speech from other times when such threats were also great and yet a political perspective was more part of common thought.


Despair and possibility for political activism through speech are also concerns of my current visual work:

Mira Schor, The Bland Face of An Untransparent Authority, ink and gesso on tracing paper, 2012 — a pessimistic realist view

Mira Schor, Voice and Speech, 2010. Ink and rabbit skin glue on gesso on linen, 2010. The optimistic activist view






Ongoing Upcoming

I really felt that my mother understood me when, at the beginning of one of our many summers together in Provincetown, as I was getting the house and garden ready, I overheard her telling a friend on the phone, “You know, Mira is very busy, she hasn’t started working yet.”

When I say “my work” I always mean painting, next is writing which is part of the constant process of thinking, and the rest is just work work, job work. I always say that I can paint and write at the same time, the two occupations are complementary and mutually generative. I can teach + try to do all the things one must try to do in order to maintain a professional life, that is, all the things that make all of us say and feel that we are so busy that we have no time to think expansively, spend time with our dearest friends, or do much of anything that might be restful, pleasurable, or generative of new ideas–with a modicum of clean clothes and cooked dinners now and then–and also write, maybe, or maybe also paint, maybe. I can’t do all three, my work, writing, and the big busy of work work job work: this winter writing for A Year of Positive Thinking has proved impossible as I have prepared for a show which just opened and a conference to be held this week while teaching intensely absorbing new courses and the rest of the daily stuff that must get done from the never finished “to do” list.

I really miss writing for the blog and hope to return to it very soon. Meanwhile here is what I’ve been working on and some of the ongoing and upcoming events I’m involved with.

Exhibition: Mira Schor Voice and Speech

I hope you can see my exhibition at Marvelli Gallery in New York City, which just opened and is up until April 28th.

See “The Thing Itself: Mira Schor + Bradley Rubenstein,” a recent interview about the work in the show.

I will do a reading at the gallery April 21 at 6PM to celebrate the 2nd anniversary of A Year of Positive Thinking and will send out more information about that closer to the date.


Conference: This week on Thursday, April 5th:

Art Practice, Activism, and Pedagogy: Some Feminist Views

The conference will consider feminist art as a zone of multi-disciplinary art production associated with a radical critique of gendered power relations in society. The women artists participating will speak about their current work, their history within feminism, and the relevance of feminist identification and communities to their creative endeavors. They will discuss what it means to be a feminist artist today within an extended range of diverse political engagement.

Speakers include Susan Bee, A. K. Burns, Audrey Chan, Maureen Connor, Andrea Geyer, Caitlin Rueter & Suzanne Stroebe, Ulrike Müller, and Mira Schor. The conference concludes the first MFA Advanced Practice course in Feminist Art taught by Mira Schor in the Parsons Fine Arts MFA Program.

This event is FREE: no tickets or reservations required; seating is first-come first-served

Parsons The New School for Design Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, Arnhold Hall

55 West 13th Street, 2nd floor, New York, NY


*9AM Brief introductory remarks

*Group 1 (9:15)

A.K. Burns, Andrea Geyer, Maureen Connor

*Group 2 (11am)

Susan Bee, Ulrike Müller, Mira Schor

*Lunch break

*Group 3 (1:45pm)

Caitlin Martin-Rueter & Suzanne Stroebe (collaborative+individual presentation), Audrey Chan

*General discussion

The conference concludes the first MFA Advanced Practice course in Feminist Art taught by Mira Schor and at 4PM there will be a screening of MFA student work from the class at the Fine Arts MFA Program studios at 25 East 13th Street, 5th floor.


Also Ongoing & Upcoming:

*I have an essay in Draw it with your eyes closed: the art of the art assignment published by Paper Monument. The book has gotten rave reviews including one by Dwight Gardner on the New York Times artsbeat blog. Take a look, it’s a great resource, serious and entertaining at the same time.

*CB1 Gallery at the Dallas Art Fair–with Alexander Kroll, Chris Oatey & Mira Schor, April 12-April 15

*Take a look at Agape Enterprise‘s Kickstarter Project and support Momenta Art at their upcoming Spring Benefit 2012 on April 25th at 6PM-10PM

*And do take another look at M/E/A/N/I/N/G‘s 25th Anniversary Edition, published in late 2011. Susan Bee and I are immensely proud of it and hope that readers will continue to come to the important texts by the many artists and writers who contributed to this issue. It is also available on Amazon Kindle.







Notes on a Tribunal

Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp. 002954-003064: A Public Reading is a two-day presentation at MoMA, today Saturday November 12 and tomorrow Sunday November 13, of a four-hour reading of transcripts from Combatant Status Review Tribunals held at the United States military prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2004-2005, excerpted from a collection of transcripts released online by the US Department of Defense. This event, organized by the artists Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Ashley Hunt, Katya Sander, and David Thorne, with the participation of readers,  is a really interesting way of being exposed to and absorbing some of the complex meanings of political events that have taken place under conditions of secrecy, though “in our name,” at least for citizens of the United States.

The reading is very effectively situated in the museum in a transitional space, on one of the vestigial landings of the old (or what I would call the pentimento) of the original MoMA Bauhaus-style staircase and tantalizingly near the exit (no entrance) glass doors leading to what at least today was a member’s preview to the exhibition of Diego Rivera murals. I felt strongly that Rivera would understand, he would approve–and most likely he would depict, in a boldly yet delicately drawn and painted fresco, the scene in front of him: the restrained visuals of political theater staged with readers representing presiding military officers, a recorder, the detainee, the “Personal Representative” of the detainee, all sitting around four tables set into a square surrounded by the museum audience, on rows of chair set behind the tables, as well as seated on the staircase, intent on listening while trying to tune out the noise of the crowded museum. Rivera would paint this crowd scene, perhaps providing an identificatory cartouche of the double identity of each reader: Official questioner>art historian Yve-Alain Bois, detainee Personal Representative>actress and playwright Anna Deveare Smith, (two of the readers when I was there). I’m not sure if the artists would have preferred a more advantageous setting, quieter, and larger with more room for an audience, as in the situation evidently afforded it at documenta12 as pictured on MoMA’s website for this piece:

Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Ashley Hunt, Katya Sander, David Thorne. Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp.002954–003064: A Public Reading. 2007. Performed at Documenta12, 2007. © the artists

However I think the current site is perfect: so much better to “occupy” and reanimate the ghost of MoMA’s history within the confines of MoMA’s current physical and symbolic status as one of the Department of Defense-like corporate behemoths of the international art industry.

Image from today's reading photographed and uploaded to Facebook by Andrea Geyer

The moment that I experienced in a short time attending this performance today offered some perspectives I had not expected. Given what is known of the way these hearings were conducted, one assumes that the readings are meant to expose the lack of transparency of the entire situation of capture, imprisonment, treatment, and legal practices as well as the seeming randomness of who ended up at Gitmo, with the fact of the impropriety of these tribunals according to military and treaty law creating the implication that all such captives are innocent. However as the proceedings I happened to witness at the reading today progressed, the narrative went from the detainee’s assertion of innocence to a close questioning by the military officials as to how, as a self-stated simple humble “worker,” he had managed to support his family in Yemen while traveling for months and on a number of occasions between Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, where he was captured, while doing or not doing undefined jobs here and there. This lack of conclusiveness, this seed of doubt as to the veracity of the detainee, and the lack of conclusion, at least in the performance of the transcripts, as to the final determination of this detainee’s status, created a more ambiguous and complex political narrative than I had expected to experience.

9 Scripts from a Nation at War, a multichannel video installation by the same artists, Geyer, Hayes, Hunt, and Thorne will be shown at MoMA from January 24 to July 30, 2012. But participation through presence is a politically enriching act: the readings from Combatant Status Review Tribunals pp. 002954-003064 will take place again tomorrow at the museum from 12 to 4, on the second floor (free if you go to information desk and say you had done a RSVP).