Tag Archives: Politics

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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. |

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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.

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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.

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M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-5

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

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Matthew Weinstein: American Dreamers, 2016, on the Precipice

Americans are dreamers. For us, the line between fact and fiction is one drawn in the sand. I can’t condemn this, as it goes hand in hand with our ability to create contemporary culture.

What has happened to our dreams?

Our dreams have been eaten up by a distraction-heavy media. Our imaginations are no longer the stars of our fictive universes, because they have been occupied by nonsense.

Celebrities. What they think. Who the fuck cares what they think? Cute endangered animals. They aren’t our fucking friends.

Celebrities getting the Congressional Medal Of Freedom. How about a school teacher. A nurse. How about an unsung activist? How about a damned struggling artist? How about attainability? No wonder most of the country thinks it’s all rigged. We don’t honor the nameless. We should. Not that anybody with an ant-sized amount of brains, or conscience, would accept an Iron Cross from the Nazi Elect.

For all the good that has happened in the last eight years, there has been an above average level of stupid.

High/low distinctions are idiotic. But useful and useless distinctions aren’t.

We have become mired in horizontal thinking. The Huffington Post tracking an actor’s political views, Trump, and an amazing cat that will amaze you, have become equally vital news. And this is linked directly to people blind to the radical horror of a Trump presidency. It is not all the fucking same.

Why does the left always think that revolutions are for us? Because we think and forget to see. Art is about both of these things: thinking and seeing. It can sort of help.

Our art world is mired in auction results, gigantism, art fairs as the places to see art rather than galleries and museums, and online art gossip sites with cute names. There is nothing inherently bad in any of these things. Got to make the donuts. But the problem is that we read them, and about them, when we should be connecting to what actually matters; art, politics, sex, napping, eating the wrong foods, quality nonsense and each other.

If you want to say that artists are just another form of entertainer, say it. But you’re wrong. We aren’t superior. But we offer something else; an alternative to mass experience, when we are doing our job. Just more mass experience when we are sucking up.

A work of art that opens up your mind and or heart, pisses you off, makes you actually laugh, makes you deliciously sour, makes you want to rush to your own studio, or makes you want to grab a friend and talk about it; these things are not protected. Art is as fragile as Democracy. Fight for it. It won’t take care of itself. We are responsible to protect it. Not museums; us.

Art needs to present a safe haven for the personal, the specific, the unpopular and for people who care about unjustifiable things; a safe haven for us to talk about art as if it matters deeply. Because it does. And criticality matters now more than ever. We are forgetting how to do it. It’s too often scorned. Which leads to art feeling like propaganda for art.

Anyone who uses the word ‘hater’ needs to put a dollar in my mistake box. I’ll buy cool stuff with it. Be a critical asshole. Lot’s of things completely suck. I mean within reason.

I love art. Always have. I’ll never go negative on the art world because it’s my brain home, and because it is always and has always been raw potential. Which is why I get upset when I see it squandered.

In this time, as artists, all of our opportunities and impulses have to be treated as if they are our last ones. We need to do and say exactly what we mean, without apology or fear. We may not know how to fix things, but we can demonstrate what urgency looks like.

Keep the dreams flowing. But let’s make sure that they are our own. Respect the animals. They are us.

Matthew Weinstein is an artist who lives in Brooklyn NY. He also writes for ARTnews and Artforum.

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Jennifer Bartlett

Jennifer Bartlett, A few days after the election a pop-up artist/therapy piece began growing in the Union Square subway station. Passersby were encouraged to write a message to the world [in response to the election] on a "sticky note."

A few days after the election a pop-up artist/therapy piece began growing in the Union Square subway station. Passersby were encouraged to write a message to the world [in response to the election] on a “sticky note.”

My note says: "I am not retarded." I have cerebral palsy, and I was frustrated that I could not get to a flat surface to write on. Ultimately, this became part of the effect because the writing "looks retarded" i.e. what Donald Trump and most abled people would construe as "retarded" or distasteful or stupid. The message was directly based on the fact that the US elected a man who called a Deaf actress "retarded" and coined the term "libtard." In reaction to Trump mocking a disabled reporter, in the way I have been mocked continuously throughout my life, Ann Coulter attested that he was just making fun of "general retards." Virtually no one responded in protest, and as Trump moves toward the White House, there is still not protesting of able-bodied people in defense of disabled people. That is the one line people won't cross. So be it.

My note says: “I am not retarded.” I have cerebral palsy, and I was frustrated that I could not get to a flat surface to write on. Ultimately, this became part of the effect because the writing “looks retarded,” i.e. what Donald Trump and most abled people would construe as “retarded” or distasteful or stupid. The message was directly based on the fact that the US elected a man who called a Deaf actress “retarded” and coined the term “libtard.” In reaction to Trump mocking a disabled reporter, in the way I have been mocked continuously throughout my life, Ann Coulter attested that he was just making fun of “general retards.” Virtually no one responded in protest, and as Trump moves toward the White House, there is still no protesting of able-bodied people in defense of disabled people. That is the one line people won’t cross. So be it.

Jennifer Bartlett is a poet, occasional writer for the New York Times, and working on a biography of Larry Eigner.

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Ann McCoy

Our country is in turmoil, and tomorrow seems uncertain. In this Saturnian winter, as we wait for the solstice and return of the light, it is ever harder to gather one’s resources—keep one’s spirit intact. During these months our ancestors lived indoors, huddled around fires. We have no such kinship and are disoriented by electric illumination and central heating. Experiencing the darkness seems harder without nature as our guide. During a winter much like this one in Berlin, I remember walking through the snow to a small Cranach museum on a lake in the middle of a forest. An advent wreath in a window led the way to a nativity scene by the Elder. I was moved to tears by the Bethlehem scene tucked in this dark hunting lodge. Today I lit my advent wreath, hoping for a similar miracle, a light bringer, a candle in the darkness. In my neighborhood a group of Coptic brothers and sisters invited me to their morning prayers. Most of them are from upper Egypt and are from the same village as the twenty men who were decapitated by ISIS in Libya. I am honored they have invited me, the singing in Coptic is transporting. I am grateful to have a place around their fire, as I light a beeswax candle in front of the Theotokos. Their optimism, charity, and kindness touch me deeply.

Ann MCoy, “Lunar Birth” with the artist, 2001. Pencil on paper on canvas, 9 by 14 ft.

Ann McCoy, “Lunar Birth” with the artist, 2001. Pencil on paper on canvas, 9 by 14 ft.

Ann McCoy, “Processional with Lightbringer,” 2005. Cast bronze with silver crown, 19 in. by 7 ft. 2 in.

Ann McCoy, “Processional with Lightbringer,” 2005. Cast bronze with silver crown, 19 in. by 7 ft. 2 in.

Ann McCoy is a New York-based sculptor and painter whose career began in 1972. She is a working artist as well as a curator and art critic who writes for the Brooklyn Rail. She lectures on art history, the history of projection, and mythology in the graduate design section of the Yale School of Drama. McCoy is a winner of the Prix de Rome, the D.A.A.D. Kunstler Award, and American Award in the Arts.

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Mimi Gross

On the election
Shadow of shadows
Caught, cut, & painted (black)

Present and future disasters
Goya could.

We are leaping into an abyss
Black air
Somehow, mid-air, breathless truth,
Calls out: the Arts will conquer!

Which
Blue sky
Is brighter
Than the sun itself
Or is it
A late moon?

We will challenge the falling columns.

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30 years, Forums on:

Meaning: combining amazing and absurd. So many dreams broken, glued together
overhauled. Now a new generation will share the wide spectrum of “Meaning.”

Motherhood and art: Bathed in love. My daughter is long married and has two
wonderful daughters, now 17 and 13. Difficult to have imagined 30 years ago. The juggling of time before, has
become a privilege, without sharing responsibilities.

Racism: Confusion within the sphere of art matters. The attention to African
American and of mixed ethnicity artists is totally exciting. (A much longer
response is needed to recognize and discuss the great from the trendy.)
Highly recommend: the Kerry James Marshall exhibition at the Met Breuer.

Feminism: Will we be in danger of disappearing? I don’t think so. The younger
women artists (in all fields) have no concept of the difficulties
encountered by the invisible generations before them.

Resistance: This is our strongest positive hope.

“On art making over a lifetime, from youth to older age:”

(76!) What is Real?

Find forms,
Listen to history,
See more.

Time:
Wood, plastic, paint,
Cardboard, band saw, blades,
Hot glue.
Still:
Scaled for future details,
Depth, present, murky,
Let go!

Unlimited perspectives,
Counterpoint concepts,
(disparate images)
careful creation:
artifice
make a detail,
blow it up,
Let the scale go,
Without forgetting it
For a second.

Drawing all along the way.
Study by means of doing.

(Diaphanous)

A line,
A shape,
To do
The idea
Brightness of space, of light:
Integrate the white line,
Marry the line with paint.

Imposing,                     Or, vertical lines
Serious,                         Layers of thoughts
Things past                   Catching quickly,
Remember.                   Time passing.

Find personal (line).

Mimi Gross, design collaboration with Douglas Dunn: Aerobia, Choreography Douglas Dunn, 2001

Mimi Gross, design collaboration with Douglas Dunn: “Aerobia,” Choreography Douglas Dunn, 2001

Dance/ Collaboration, sets and costumes:
To fly: is it Dance?
Disjointed together
Chaos in place
Literal becomes abstract
Abstract becomes literal
Speed of images
Capture. Drawn out
Put together
The silhouette is
The darkest weight
Hear the dance.

Travel

Travel experiences transform, broaden perspectives, escape from “provincialism,”
accumulate new ideas.
Portraits become landscapes, landscapes become metaphors,
Psychology of place, of scale, of texture, of color.
(direct fun)
(breaking all the rules)
A form of sanity.

Mimi Gross, 4.Village outside of Gaoua, Ivory Coast, West Africa, 2013, watercolor and ink.

Mimi Gross, “Village outside of Gaoua, Ivory Coast, West Africa,” 2013, watercolor and ink.

Mimi Gross, Mercado Sonora, Mexico City, 2012. Watercolor and ink in sketchbook.

Mimi Gross, “Mercado Sonora, Mexico City,” 2012. Watercolor and ink in sketchbook.

Mimi Gross is a painter, set and costume designer, teacher, who lives and works in NYC. Recent group shows include: Brooklyn Museum of Art: “Stephen Powers, Coney Island is Still Dreamland”, 2016; Brattleboro Museum of Art, VT, “After Old Masters”, 2016. AMP Gallery, Provincetown, MA, 2016. In 2017, her mural for the University of Kentucky, Medical School, Louisville, will be installed; her work will be in a three-person exhibit at Derek Eller Gallery, NYC, and in a large group exhibit at Grey Gallery, NYU, “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965”, Jan.-April, 2017; she will have an “Art Project” in Art Journal, spring 2017. Mimi has worked with Douglas Dunn and Dancers since 1979, designing sets and costumes for over 25 different dances, including Antipodes at St. Mark’s Church, NYC, ” Feb 2, 3, 4, 2017.

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Myrel Chernick

Some questions I ask myself:
What does it mean to live an ethical life?
Does a creative life imply an ethical life?
Can I make art that is substantive, relevant, and meaningful, that makes a worthwhile contribution to the lives of others? And what does that entail?
What is my responsibility to those who have so much less than I do?

The problems seem insurmountable: poverty, climate disaster, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, unmitigated greed. What is the best and most effective way to move forward?

I first encountered M/E/A/N/I/N/G with #12, Forum: on Motherhood, Art and Apple Pie (1992). There I learned that my difficulties with the art world that had increased after I decided to have children were by no means unique, and my subsequent exploration of maternal ambivalence became a group exhibition and then a book. Twenty-five years later, I know of no other American art periodical with an issue devoted to this topic. Thanks to Susan and Mira for their pioneering work on so many topics.

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Myrel Chernick is an artist and writer who lives in New York.

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Robin Mitchell

M/E/A/N/I/N/G has put forth questions of and about meaning in art for 30 years.

Meaning in art and culture has not changed in those years, but what has changed is how art has meaning. Critical thinking is propelling art rather than art generating critical thought.

When I was in school I was often confronted by the question “What does your art mean?” I have continually asked myself, “What does my art mean?” “What does it mean to me?” “What can it mean to others, other artists in an insular world, or to others in the wider culture and beyond?”

My experience as an artist has deep personal meaning. After a lifetime of artmaking, I feel that I making the best work that I have done and for me art making is a rich and rewarding process. I understand my artwork better and more completely as I continue making art. Artmaking for me has become personal reflective process, more of a world inward, and I find the richness of this experience deeply rewarding and gratifying. By exhibiting my artwork I am part of a dialogue with other artists and the larger art community. I would never expect for everyone or even many to make a connection to my work. What others find meaningful may be different than the meaning I intend. Yet when I exhibit the work, I am humbled by the connection that some people communicate to me that they can make to the artwork. This connection so often mirrors my own intentions.

I want to be counted for my stand and my beliefs. In light of the recent election I feel this even more vehemently. The act of being an artist is in some ways an act of defiance. I want my concerns and beliefs to be counted in the world, whether through my art or my actions. Marshall McLuhan said that he looked to artists to see where the rest of the culture was moving towards. “Art at its most significant is a distant early warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen.”

Robin Mitchell, Numinous, 2016. Gouache on paper, 24” x 18”

Robin Mitchell, “Numinous,” 2016. Gouache on paper, 24” x 18”

Robin Mitchell is an artist living and working in Santa Monica, California. Her paintings are represented by the Craig Krull Gallery also in Santa Monica. Her artwork has been recognized by a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Anonymous Was a Woman award, a City of Los Angeles grant, and a California Community Foundation mid-career fellowship. She holds a BFA and MFA from Cal Arts. While a participant of the Feminist Art Program at Cal Arts she was part of the historic Womanhouse project.

Judith Linhares

I am writing my account of what it is to be an artist and a feminist in very transitory times, not even two weeks after the election of Donald Trump. I do not know what the future holds what I do know is I have had a lifetime of political involvement. I would characterize that involvement as recognizing that other woman are struggling with finding their own agency struggling with the various rolls and fantasies placed on them by the dominant culture and like all of you I am looking for a way forward at a time when racism and misogyny are returning to the White House.

I believe my fate is connected to the circumstances of all other women. I have more energy and confidence when supported by others. I have been involved in feminist politics for a long time I owe a lot to the recognition and support of other woman I believe we share common cause. I have great respect for Mira Schor and Susan Bee for their decades long project M/E/A/N/I/N/G. This project has given legitimacy to woman’s ideas and opinions over the decades I am proud to be included in this valuable document.

I do not see clearly as yet what future challenges will look like. My plan is to keep working and try to see the truth as I experience it day by day. My hope is that I have the courage to speak out in opposition to injustice when I see it.

Judith Linhares, “Back Talk,” 2012. Gouache on paper, 29.5 x 44.25 inches

Judith Linhares, “Back Talk,” 2012. Gouache on paper, 29.5 x 44.25 inches

Judith Linhares’ paintings have been the subject of 40 one-person exhibitions. Her solo shows at the Edward Thorp Gallery, as well as a survey, “Dangerous Pleasures: 1973-1993,” received numerous reviews. Marcia Tucker’s inclusion of her paintings in “Bad Painting” and the Venice Biennale encouraged this fourth-generation Californian to ride the New Figuration wave to New York City. She has received many prestigious awards and was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

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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, Aziz+Cucher, Aviva Rahmani, Erica Hunt, Felix Bernstein and Gabe Rubin, Hermine Ford, Jenny Perlin, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Julie Harrison, Kat Griefen, Legacy Russell, LigoranoReeese, Mary Garrard, Michelle Jaffé, Nancy K. Miller, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer,  LigoranoReese, Robert C. Morgan, Roger Denson, 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.

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M/E/A/N/I/N/G: The Final Issue on A Year of Positive Thinking-1

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.

We published 20 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.

Our 25th anniversary issue came out in November 2011, sparked by the transformative moment of Occupy Wall Street. During the past year, we considered marking the 30th anniversary of our collaborative project by publishing a final issue in hard copy, a format we still cherish. Entropy and life intervened. Now, in the wake of the recent election, when the optimism of Occupy is dramatically reversed, we have decided to produce our final issue as a series of posts on A Year of Positive Thinking. Subsequently all the material will be permanently posted and archived on the M/E/A/N/I/N/G Online site.

We have asked some long-time contributors and some new friends to create images and write about where they place meaning today, as we stand weeks before the official inauguration of the right-wing government takeover that has so many of us depressed, terrified, grieving, angry, and trying to figure out what activism we can engage in and how we can balance our dedication to our art with our existence as citizens, local and global. In keeping with the contingency of the time, they have chosen to submit a text, a poem, an image or video clip, a painting, drawing, photograph, or collage, that expresses their views, desires, fears, and thoughts at this time. Hopefully, something that will burrow into people’s consciousness, appeal to their humor, educate, enrage, or inspire.

Because we have always focused our publication on a broad range of issues deeply relevant to the arts community, and because this is our final issue, we also have welcomed reflections on the impact of our entire project over thirty years, including our forums on meaning, on motherhood and art, on racism, on feminism, on resistance, on collaboration, on privacy, on trauma, and on art making over a lifetime from youth to older age. 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

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Charles Bernstein: For M/E/A/N/I/N/G

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Charles Bernstein’s Pitch of Poetry, new essays, was published in 2016 by the University of Chicago Press. His most recent book of poems is Recalculating (Chicago, 2013). In 2010, Farrar, Straus & Giroux published All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems. Bernstein is Donald T. Regan Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is the director of PennSound. More info here. Bernstein’s “For M/E/A/N/I/N/G,” about the crisis in art criticism in the mid-80s, was the first essay in the first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.

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Johanna Drucker: Past Optimism and Illusions of Agency

The optimism of M/E/A/N/I/N/G was almost assumed, beginning as it did with the initial force of the Women’s Movement behind us, chronologically speaking. The stage had been set by the (truly) courageous work of Gloria Steinem, Germaine Greer, and the other women who had confronted the patriarchal culture directly, demanding fundamental rights. I was not one of those women marching in the 1970s, and the systematic consciousness-raising that had to proceed through the culture had its effect on me only slowly. One of the myths of artistic identity was exceptionalism. Somehow one would find one’s way on account of it, be exempt as well as distinct, and thus transcend the social processes of oppression or exclusion. Naiveté takes many forms. That was mine. But the shared illusion was optimism about agency—as if social forces could be detourned, contravened, or transcended through self-willed action, individual or collective. Our belief was founded on the notion that barriers and obstacles could be identified and addressed through activism. Our concept of agency was instrumental. We believed that focused and directed activity could have an effect. We even saw those effects in legislation and Supreme Court rulings.

Why did we imagine, then, that progress would always be forward in its drives? That battles once won would not have to be fought again? That was where we missed a deeper historical and cultural understanding. The asymmetries of gender are real. If we look globally, and across diverse areas of cultural life—medicine, education, health, civil rights, and financial opportunity—the right to self-determination is still far from guaranteed. Even in our own highly privileged environments, the asymmetries operate every day to position women differently from male colleagues at the same level of accomplishment, stature, and age. The means by which these symptomatic realities are enacted are not themselves fully apparent.

In the recent election, which will mark a major turning point in the history of the West, not just America as a failed experiment in maintaining the elements of society required for a viable social contract, we see how far we have not come. Not only because we did not elect a woman president, but because the rhetoric of misogyny, the backlash against women’s rights, and most fundamentally, rights over our bodies, is so stridently angry. Optimism is gone, at least for now, and the elegy to optimism must give rise to activism and support for the generations ahead. We know that, and yet, these moments have the feel of real tragedy, the broken figures of characters caught in the inevitability of forces against which we had thought we had some power.

Now we need to recognize that social forces have their own agency, own capacity for repressive and backlash actions. We who have so long critiqued Reason should not be surprised when it does not prevail. Our charge is to model our understanding of the workings of the social world differently than in the Newtonian mechanics of the past. The concept of agency has to be re-conceptualized within the forces of occulted and intractable conditions, as a systemic complexity to which we are subject, not merely—or even—self-directed participants. Illusions about agency make its actualization elusive. Much work lies ahead. M/E/A/N/I/N/G provided a start point, but now, with checks and impasses, the work to be done is less clear perhaps than it was when the struggles seemed identifiable and lines of conflict were able to be drawn with some certainty.

Johanna Drucker is an artist and writer known for her typographic work, innovative writing, and interest in the visual dimensions of language and knowledge. She has written and published widely on topics related to contemporary art, digital media, and aesthetics and is currently the Breslauer Professor in the Department of Information Studies at UCLA. Drucker’s text, “LES IMMATERIAUX: Long-term Effects of the Exhibition” appeared in the first issue of M/E/A/N/I/N/G.  

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Sharon Louden—Artists: Calling for a Mandate

Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016.

Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2016.

As I write this essay on a plane from Minneapolis to Miami, I am looking forward to seeing all kinds of art this week. I carry with me the memories of my time with the incredible people I met at Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota last week. Hyperallergic editor Hrag Vartanian had the idea to visit Standing Rock over the Thanksgiving holiday. We (with Veken Gueyikian and Vinson Valega) were there to support the water protectors, talk with artists, and stand in solidarity at the front lines of demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline. My perspective is one from an artist embraced in the strong and always welcoming artists’ community which I found at Standing Rock.

Artist Yatika Starr Fields (second from the left near his painting) poses with admirers of his work at Oceti Sakowin Camp, North Dakota.

Artist Yatika Starr Fields (second from the left near his painting) poses with admirers of his work at Oceti Sakowin Camp, North Dakota.

Entering the camp, I thought there may be some resistance to our visit. I couldn’t be more wrong about that initial trepidation. The actions and conversations that took place at the camp were coming from a peaceful, loving place. What the police and military were doing was not. They were systematically and aggressively taking human rights away from Native Americans.

As artists, some (if not most) of us have been misunderstood and not accepted most of our lives. And often times, we are censored. What I learned at Standing Rock was a reaffirmation of the strength of our community. Given our current political climate, there is a clear urgency to preserve creativity as a human right. Thus, I’m calling for a mandate that all artists share their wealth.

What does it mean to share “wealth” while so many of us are struggling? As artists, we are privileged and have a tremendous amount of assets that we often do not recognize. These assets include managing and bouncing back from failure, naturally creating things from nothing and sharing our most intimate truth in the way we know how. And we do it well by sharing it with others, in exhibitions, performances, or just in simple conversation. By showing up and being present in any situation, we become sources of validation for those seeking creativity. Because we carry so many assets within us, we can create opportunities for our fellow artists and the general public.

Our visit to Standing Rock reinforced that there will inevitably be human rights violations under a Trump presidency. We have a responsibility to our fellow artists to share every opportunity that is received. If you have an exhibition, why not suggest others to show with you? If you receive a grant, perhaps use the profits to create a project with others. If you can write about another artist’s work, do it and circulate it widely. If you can hire artists, pay them a living wage. Refer artists to others who can open doors for them or simply inquire about their work, which can go a long way. I know this fluid practice will be an example for others to be able to speak freely in a compromised society.

Surrounded by capitalism at the fairs and away from the kindness and strength of the Native artists in North Dakota, I’m reminded that anywhere there is creativity, it must be recognized. If all of us shared each other’s work, inevitably doors will open. At the end of the day, it’s the natural assets that all artists embody that will further our growth no matter what obstacles are put in front of us. This is an opportunity to use our power, which should never be underestimated.

Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, the day after Thanksgiving, November 25, 2016.

Oceti Sakowin Camp, Standing Rock Reservation, North Dakota, the day after Thanksgiving, November 25, 2016.

Sharon Louden, “Windows” (detail) aluminum and steel screws, dimensions variable, at the Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, MN.

Sharon Louden, “Windows” (detail) 2015. Aluminum and steel screws, dimensions variable, at the Tweed Museum of Art, Duluth, MN.

Sharon Louden is an artist, advocate for artists and editor of Living and Sustaining a Creative Life books.

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Tatiana Istomina: Some thoughts on fear and permanence

It is hard for me personally to come to terms with the new American reality. Having lived in this country for thirteen years, I developed a sincere trust in the American democratic system and a belief that, despite many drawbacks, it continues to sustain basic ethical values. Such belief does not come easy to someone who, like I, was born in the Soviet Union and came of age at the start of Putin’s rule in the post-Soviet Russia. Lately I have found myself reverting to my Russian habits of coping with a horrible political climate – staying away from politically-oriented social media, avoiding reading or watching news, mentally blocking all thought about future, etc. It is easy to dismiss such an attitude as defeatist. However, for millions of people around the world it ensures their ability to go on with their lives despite the daily feelings of dread, depression or imminent danger. They learn to direct their energy away from active social or political engagement – which in many countries is pointless and mortally dangerous – to cultivating personal relationships, building families, cooperating on local projects, writing poetry or making art – in short, creating alternative worlds to their abhorrent reality. Such work needs to go on even in the darkest of times, to sustain the seeds of possible futures for when the society is ready to change. It is a quiet work, and the results may be difficult to detect, but this makes it all the more necessary. Perhaps it is not accidental that in Russian language, “to be silent” is an active verb.

Over the past three years I have worked on a project that used drawing and storytelling to explore various concepts of danger and fearfulness in American society. I invited different people to tell me a “scary” story about anything that concerned them in their lives or the life of the society, and to draw in response to another person’s narrative. I then reworked the stories and drawings into short films and released them online. The stories of many participants expressed not only their personal anxieties, but also the collective fears caused by major social and political problems in the country. As a result, the collection of “Scary Story” films has become a reflection of the psychological landscape of contemporary America, with its racial and economic tensions and polarized opinions on issues such as climate change, women’s rights, gun control, etc.

The video excerpt below may well be symptomatic of the mood of deep anxiety and uncertainty that has pervaded the country in recent years. “A happy guy’s story” narrated by James Biderman, with drawings by Barbara Westermann, was recorded in 2014, and released in 2015. More videos and information about Scary Stories may be found on the project’s website.

Tatiana Istomina is a Russian-born artist based in New York; she works with painting, drawing and video. She is also an art critic writing for several online and paper publications and for her blog, Metaleptic.

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Toni Simon

Exhale the finite glow of our forgotten planet. If only we had a parachute of elastic carbon to forestall its demise.

To be without a backdrop when there’s no curtain, that’s the imitation. Too elusive to be apprehended by pursuing parables and forestalled by that very wicket that we tripped over to begin with.

We are back at the start with only a cart and a wheel.

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Toni Simon is a multimedia artist living in Brooklyn. Her illustrated book of prose poetry Earth After Earth was published by Lunar Chandelier Press in 2012. She is collaborating on a literary/visual project entitled Dear Air with poet Joanna Fuhrman.

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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, Aviva Rahmani, Aziz+Cucher, Bailey Doogan, Beverly Naidus, Bradley Rubenstein, Christen Clifford, Deborah Kass, Erica Hunt, Faith Wilding, Hermine Ford, Jennifer Bartlett, Jenny Perlin, Joseph Nechvatal, Joy Garnett and Bill Jones, Joyce Kozloff, Judith Linhares, Kat Griefen, Kate Gilmore, Legacy Russell, Lenore Malen, Mary Garrard, Martha Wilson, Maureen Connor, Michelle Jaffé, Mimi Gross, Myrel Chernick, Noah Dillon, Noah Fischer, Peter Rostovsky, LigoranoReese, Rachel Owens, Rit Premnath, Robert C. Morgan, Robin Mitchell, Roger Denson, Sheila Pepe, Shirley Kaneda, Susanna Heller, Suzy Spence, Tamara Gonzalez and Chris Martin, Faith Wilding, William Villalongo, 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.

 

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Waiting for Gort

About halfway through the 1951 sci-fi film The Day the Earth Stood Still, all electricity, indeed all machine-run power on earth stops except for that which sustains the motion of planes in flight and life-saving institutions such as hospitals. It is a demonstration to humanity, and more specifically to all world leaders, of the power of an alliance of planets which has sent a representative to Earth in the form of a very distinguished-looking humanoid by the name of Klaatu, and an invincible 8 foot tall robot, Gort. Klaatu’s mission is to warn of the impending destruction of Earth, if humankind, newly endowed with nuclear weapons, threatens to extend its destructive proclivities beyond its own planet.

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For an anxious half-hour, though the Earth does not actually stand still in its orbit, as suggested by the film’s title, everything that is considered “progress” and symbolizes the power of humankind–is disabled. Needless to say, all but the few earthlings who have had personal contact with Klaatu, react with fear and aggression rather than curiosity and awe. This cessation of power is Klaatu’s ingenious response to an Albert Einstein-like character’s challenge for a demonstration that will convince world leaders of the alien powers without inflicting any destruction.

When I was a teenager the gears of my mind jammed every time I heard the title of the Broadway musical, Stop the World–I Want to Get Off. It’s hard to reconstruct why this title confounded me. I could understand the stop the world part, not the get off part. Later, I would think, Stop the world, I want to get on, because I felt I was in a race where the other racers were halfway down the track before I’d tied my shoelaces (the art rat race).  And now I think, Stop the world, I want to stay on.

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The news this summer has been bad, bad, bad. There is no direction you can turn to for relief or optimism. I look to the Science Times and think, I guess it’s a good thing that MIT has developed “origami robots,” I bet the scientist and engineers working on that feel the world is going forward in a good way, and, granted, with the greatest of human optimism, Facebook friends post pictures of their ineffably confident newborn babies and grandchildren, but otherwise chaos, cruelty, and stupidity reign and the future often looks like a slow moving tsunami that turns out not to be that slow. If the earth with its inhabitants were someone’s child, it would be getting a time out right about now. There is a deep deep need for a moratorium, a bank holiday of global scope, a detox. It’s time for an intervention. We need a year of humanitarian ceasefire, or decades, and by ceasefire I mean not only of intractable sectarian battles and ancient hatreds, but also of global assaults on the land and on the fishes in the sea, of stupidity in leadership such as couldn’t even be imagined at the depths of the McCarthy era, when The Day the Earth Stood Still was made. As any individual who has suffered a personal loss or incurred an injury can attest, recovery takes much more time than is ever allowed and there are so many wounds that need to be healed around the world. Healing needs time, rebuilding needs time, learning needs time, time for constructive work, and time for rest.

There is no activity on earth today that could not benefit from time to lie fallow. The Earth may have to stand still to go forward.

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The Day the Earth Stood Still is a model of cinematic economy and an engagingly tight little amalgam of genres–film noir / sci-fi / political thriller. It’s not a monster movie like many other sci-fi horror films from the period, like The Thing, Them, Godzilla, although what sets the narrative in motion, like the others, is the development of the atom bomb.  The word “monster” is uttered only once: as Klaatu, an extremely elegant and hypercivilized figure with a British accent (as played by British actor Michael Rennie) who for good measure has taken as his cover name the Jesus of Nazareth referent, “Mr. Carpenter,” from the dry cleaning slip he found in the beautifully fitting suit he stole to escape the authorities, walks down a street in Georgetown at night looking for a place to stay, he overhears a radio broadcast, “there’s no denying that there s a monster at large.” The irony is patent. The only monster at large is human fear and stupidity. Even the robot Gort is a sleek modernist creation, unlike a Golem made of base matter, he is imperviously metallic and, most of the time, absolutely immobile, though we are told his power knows no bounds.

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As for being a sci-fi movie, there is very little effort made to go beyond a business-like exposition of sci-fi tropes of the era: some Theramin-like sound effects, a glowing white flying saucer that appears above the Capitol dome in Washington D.C. before it lands in a park, near a triad of baseball fields and the Lincoln Memorial, a couple of vaporizations of  armaments and later of a couple of men here and there. The exterior and interior of the space ship is basically Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion House converted into a flying saucer.

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And it’s not exactly a film noir, because the noir topos of woman as the source of corruption is reversed into a proto-feminist story: the heroine, “Helen Benson,” a war widow, played by Patricia Neal, a woman of modest means with a young son to support, immediately feels empathy with the creature spoken about on the radio, and later she resists the social imperative to marry her boyfriend when he reveals his craven ambition and self-regard in betraying Klaatu. Instead she risks her life to save humanity. Yet a lot of the action takes place at night, with a rich blackness punctuated only by street lights and neon signs of the city, recalling some of the tightly plotted, low-budget, location shooting, police films of the era, like The Naked City. The noir is not atmospheric and foggy, it is crisp, and for that all the more menacing.

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The radio as a primary source of news is a recurrent theme of the film, a kind of communications hearth around which groups of people around the world gather. One of the charms of the film is the way that director Robert Wise makes especially effective use of what were even at the time long clichéd cinematic tropes and conventions of montage so that one can both step back and admire known methods of cutting used in a workmanlike fashion and still be thrilled and informed by them at the same time.

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In particular, several times in the film, in order to advance the story and denote the global impact of the event, he creates quick montages where the same event is shown as experienced and reported simultaneously in different countries around the world, each country represented in a ten to twenty second vignette, with low budget sets, using stock footage: a village in France signaled by what is clearly a film stage set seemingly left over from the beginning of Casablanca and countless other Warner Brothers World War II movies, Moscow with a group of women in babushkas huddling together with the Kremlin in the background, American gathered around a radio at a gas station or in front of a radio store, people playing cards with the radio on in the background in the boarding house where Klaatu finds a room. Announcers from Calcutta to London, military personnel from bases in Florida to Britain–each nationality is telegraphed with a few easily recognizable signifiers. Television appears only peripherally, it is not yet the main medium, though there is one eerily predictive moment early in the movie where American TV news announcer Drew Pearson, as himself, looks into the camera and says, “the ship landed in Washington at 3:45 PM…Eastern Standard Time”–Walter Cronkite must have seen this movie.

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Klaatu is an interesting figure: despite the Christ-like reference of his cover name, or perhaps in accordance with it, he is an unsentimental–and an unsentimentalized–figure, arrogant in the face of human stupidity. “I’m impatient with stupidity, my people have learned to live without it,” he tells an aide to the President of the United States–a curious wording which suggests that stupidity is something one feels the need of but can learn to do without. “I’m afraid my people haven’t,” replies the aide ruefully, since all he can come up are lame excuses about all the diplomatic impasses and impossibilities when Klaatu insists on speaking to all world leaders because he “will not speak to any one nation or group of nations.” He has come to “warn you that by threatening danger, your planet faces danger.” His “patience is wearing thin.”

When challenged to provide a demonstration of the alien power, he wonders, should he “take violent action, leveling New York City perhaps or sinking the Rock of Gibraltar?” He agrees to a demonstration that will be “dramatic but not destructive:” for a half-hour, the earth stands still, “electricity has been neutralized all over the world.” Again the montage, London’s Piccadilly Circus, New York’s Times Square, Moscow’s Red Square, factory turbines, trains, cars, dishwashers, milkshake mixers, electric cow milkers, and the elevator in which Klaatu reveals the plot to Helen, every thing stops. A half an hour later, everything starts again.

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The earth is not receptive to Klaatu’s warning and his contempt for earthlings’ stupidity is not improved by his brief time on earth, during which he is shot twice and killed once.  Only the kindness, curiosity, and faith of a boy, a woman, and one brilliant scientist may redeem the planet from immediate destruction.

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Klaatu is resurrected by Gort. Before the ship leaves, he speaks to dignitaries assembled around the spaceship:

I am leaving soon and you will forgive me if I speak bluntly. The universe grows smaller everyday and the  threat of aggression by any group anywhere can no longer be tolerated. Security for all or no one is secure. Now this does not mean giving up any freedom except freedom to act irresponsibly….We live in peace without arms or armies…free to pursue more profitable enterprises…I came here to give you these facts but if you threaten to extend your violence, this earth of yours will be reduced to a burned out cinder. Your choice is simple: join us and live in peace, or pursue your present course and face obliteration. The decision rests with you. We shall be waiting for your answer.

Judging from the news this summer, we are a lot closer to getting burnt to a cinder.

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Another episode from popular culture that brackets the Cold War period offers what at first glance seems like a more idealistic voice from those years. It is another “day,” Day of the Dove, an episode from the original Star Trek series. The crew of the Enterprise receives a distress call from a human settlement on a distant planet. When they arrive, no sign of the settlement that contacted them remains. A group of Klingons appears, brought there by a similar call, from a Klingon settlement. They accuse each other of conspiracy and genocide and set upon each other, as a ball of multi-colored flashing lights flickers. It looks like the international radioactive hazard symbol set ablaze and in motion like spinning fire crackers. They accuse each other of dishonoring a peace agreement and of testing new weapons. As their anger grows, the ball of light becomes bigger and redder.

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They all beam up to the Enterprise, unaware of the entity of flashing lights which follows them on board. Out of contact with Star Fleet, and propelled at warp 9 towards the edge of the galaxy, rage grows.

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The premise of the plot is that this situation has been engineered by the flashing light, an entity which feeds on anger. It keeps the waring parties’ numbers balanced to ensure endless conflict, reviving injured crewmen if necessary, and it replaces their state of the art weaponry with swords and sabers to force the combatants backwards in the history of armament, from the disembodied impersonality of phasers to the savagery of hand to hand combat. It feeds them false memories of trauma and injustice to stoke the fires of hatred and vengeance: Chekov raves about how the Klingons murdered his brother, Piotr, and goes rogue to rape and kill any Klingon he can get his hands on. Upon hearing this, Sulu doesn’t understand, “he never had a brother, he’s an only child.” Kirk observes, “Now he wants revenge for a non-existent loss.”

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The crew of the Enterprise has the benefit of Mr. Spock’s scientific rationalism: a cool and unsentimentalizes figure much like Klaatu, down to the high cheek bones and to the arrogance of superior mental abilities, Spock is the first to see that there is something strange about the situation and, of course, find it “fascinating.” He realizes that the alien’s energy level increases with each battle, “it subsists on emotion,”and  “it has created a catalyst to satisfy the need to promote the most violent mode of conflict.”

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Once the Enterprise crew figures out what to do in order to prevent an eternity of senseless combat, they have to persuade the Klingons to participate in a course of action: stop feeding the beast, first by means of a temporary truce and ultimately by throwing down their weapons and laughing at the entity. As in The Day the Earth Stood Still, it is up to a woman, in the case Mara, the Klingon chief’s wife, to create the bridge between the groups and prevent destruction.

Star Trek was a left leaning show produced during the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement, with Women’s Liberation lurking on the horizon–the last show, Turnabout Intruder, is about a woman’s assaultive experiment in gender/body transfer because her love for Kirk is warped by her rage against gender inequity. In Day of the Dove racism is a major subject: the Enterprise crew understands that something is seriously amiss, that they are behaving irrationally and unlike themselves, when they begin to lob racist remarks at one another, notably when McCoy calls Spock a “half-breed:” later Spock confesses that for a moment he too had felt “the sting of racial bigotry…most distasteful,” he sniffs. Nevertheless it is telling that the script is unconsciously racist itself: the Klingons are portrayed as the more war-like and stupider race, more violent, less curious, compared to humans and Vulcans, and being a Klingon in those early shows is denoted very simply by greasy dark brown facial make up.

The first Star Trek series’ episodes were notoriously low-budget–more uses were found for bubble wrap than imagined in any philosophy!! It was television’s brand of modesty, similar to The Day The Earth Stood Still, but with the additional economy of time:the narrative had to fit into the 50 minute hour of network time, so each scene is instrumental and gets right to the point. There was a spareness to the message that had made so many of the episodes memorable.

Which film is closer to present day concerns? Though The Day the Earth Stood Still is a Cold War artifact, its paranoid uneasy spirit is closer to our time than Day of the Dove. In 1951, 6 years after WWII and Hiroshima and Nagasaki the message is, Stupid humans, stop before you are destroyed by your own stupidity. And humans don’t look too promising. But in Star Trek in 1968 at the end of a decade of cataclysm but also of liberation movements, relative prosperity, and of social and technological optimism, the humans and their enemies understand that their violence is being instigated by a force that feeds on rage and they are able to stop and laugh the entity out of power. But the truce is temporary. The entity is not destroyed, it just spins off into space, in search of the anger it needs to survive, which it has surely found here on earth.

In The Day the Earth Stood Still, alien forces have the power to destroy the Earth. They are ultimate judges with a police force of robots like Gort. In Day of the Dove, human (and other species’) inherent proclivity for stupidity and violence are incited by an alien force who enjoys the spectacle of war. As Spock says, “Those who sit back are the Gods.” In both cases, humans have the ability to step back and chose another path. The Star Trek episode leaves us with at least a temporarily instrumental decision to do so.

*

This summer, I reread a slim book, War and The Iliad, by Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff, two Jewish women living in France at the start of the Second World War who unbeknownst to each other each wrote an essay about the Iliad. Having reread the essays, I feel I must read them again and again, because they are mirror images that are nevertheless very different, like the two examples of popular culture I’ve mentioned here. As I read I thought about the obscene discrepancy between being able to read on a chaise lounge in a garden near the sea on a moist and breezy summer day and the circumstances suffered by so many victims of wars and cruel aggressions happening at the very same moment around the world as well as of relentless economic and social inequalities and injustices being perpetrated at home. This summer the world seems to spin the safe and the endangered closer together in a centrifugal motion towards disaster, although some of the safe may not see how they are as implicated and endangered as the rest of humanity. In her essay, “The Iliad, or the poem of force,” Weil quotes from the Iliad,

“She ordered her bright-haired maidens in the palace / To place on the fire a large tripod, preparing / A hot bath for Hector, returning from battle./ Foolish woman! Already he lay, far from hot baths,/ Slain by grey-eyed Athena, who guided Achilles’ arm.”

Far from hot baths he was indeed, poor man. And not he alone. Nearly all the Iliad takes place far from hot baths. Nearly all human life, then and now, takes place far from hot baths.

What power do the Gods have? In The Day The Earth Stood Still, the aliens from afar have the power to incinerate the earth, and both Klaatu and Gort have god-like qualities, Klaatu has both an Olympian impartiality, he doesn’t care what people on earth do to each other so long as they don’t do it to any other planet, and he has a Christian ability to spread the Word and to be resurrected, while Gort has the implacability of a graven idol. Bespaloff writes, in “The Comedy of the Gods,” a chapter of her essay “On The Iliad,” “Everything that happens has been caused by them, but they take no responsibility, whereas the epic heroes take total responsibility even for what they haven not caused.” The Trojan war is a form of spectacle and entertainment for them, “Condemned to a permanent security, they would die of boredom without intrigues and war.” Of Zeus, she writes, “There is nothing of the judge in this watcher-god. A demanding spectator, he accepts the law of tragedy that allows the best and the most noble to perish in order to renew the creativeness of life through sacrifice.” But Weil writes, “Force is as pitiless to the man who possesses it, or thinks he does, as it is to its victims, the second it crushes, the first it intoxicates. The truth is, nobody really possesses it,” even the Gods.

Weil writes, “The progress of the war in the Iliad is simply a continual game of seesaw. The victor of the moment feels himself invincible, even though, only a few hour before, he may have experienced defeat; he forgets to treat victory as a transitory thing.” As illustrated in The Day of the Dove, the alien force that feeds on rage must keep the waring parties evenly balanced: Weil points to the “extraordinary sense of equity” in the Iliad…”One is barely aware that the poet is a Greek and not a Trojan.” Bespaloff writes, “Sprung out of bitterness, the philosophy of the Iliad excludes resentment. It antedates the divorce between nature and existence.”

Weil describes why it is so hard to end combat:

Once the experience of war makes visible the possibility of death that lies locked up in each moment, our thoughts cannot travel from one day to the next without meeting death’s face….On each of those days the soul suffers violence. Regularly, every morning, the soul castrates itself of aspiration, for thought cannot journey through time without meeting death on the way. Thus war effaces all conceptions of purpose or goal, including even its own “war aims.” It effaces the very notion of war’s being brought to an end. To be outside a situation so violent as this is to find it inconceivable; to be inside it is to be unable to conceive its end. Consequently nobody does anything to bring this end about. In the presence of an armed enemy, what hand can relinquish its weapon!

Weil and Bespaloff both offers hints of what might be necessary for such a laying down of arms: compassion and an understanding of the balance of power. Weil writes, “The strong are, as a matter of fact, never absolutely strong nor are the weak absolutely weak, but neither is aware of this. They have in common a refusal to believe that they both belong to the same species.” Bespaloff makes an interesting comparison between Homer and Tolstoy’s understanding of “the fatality inherent in force,” but in one point she finds Tolstoy wanting:

In the spirit of equity, however, Homer infinitely surpasses Tolstoy. The Russian cannot restrain himself from belittling and disparaging the enemy of his people, from undressing, at it were before our eyes. The Greek does not humiliate either the victor or the vanquished. …Opponents can do each other justice in the fiercest moments of combat; for them, magnanimity has not been outlawed. All this changes if the criterion of a conflict of force is no longer force but spirit. When war is seen as the materialization of a duel between truth and error, reciprocal esteem becomes impossible. There can be no intermission in a contest that pits–as in the Bible–God against false gods, the Eternal against the idol.

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The most famous line from The Day The Earth Stood Still is the sentence that Klaatu tells Helen she must say to Gort if something happens to him: “Klaatu barada nikto.” The meaning is never translated for us, but in context it seems to mean one or both of two things: “Klaatu needs to be resurrected,” or “Klaatu says, Don’t destroy the earth out of vengeance because I have been killed.” So at a time of calamity and conflict, destructiveness and in one of the worst periods I have lived through because of human stupidity and inability to accept any Others as equal or mirror images, or to act on scientific facts (Mr. Spock’s “fascinating”), I can just say, Klaatu barada nikto, Klaatu barada nikto.

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CAA ARTspace Interview with Stuart Horodner February 2013 now online & more

Dear A Year of Positive Thinkers: I’m happy to be able to share some recent and upcoming exhibitions, links, and publications:

Recent:

My interview by Stuart Horodner, Artistic Director, Atlanta Contemporary Art Center, held at ARTspace’s Annual Distinguished Artists’ Interviews at the 2013 Annual College Art Association Conference in New York, can now be viewed online. I hope you will take the time to watch! (you may need to scroll back to 0:00:00 to start at the beginning).

Abstract Marriage: Sculpture by Ilya Schor and Resia Schor, an exhibition of my parents’ work which I curated, was held at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum, August 16-September 29, 2013.For information about the catalogue, which includes essays by Mira Schor, Glenn Adamson, and Margaret Olin, please contact me by email or PAAM.

&

Between July 13, 2013 and August 24, I hijacked A Year of  Positive Thinking to write fourteen posts in a series I called “Day by Day in the Studio.” If you begin with the post of July 13, I hope you will click “newer” to go through the series in the chronological order of a studio diary which I tried to expand to address issues of general interest. The last post led to the title of my show>

Upcoming:

in October

Mira Schor: Chthonic Garden, an exhibition of new paintings, opens at CB1 Gallery in Los Angeles, October 19 through December 8, 2013. There will be an artist’s talk October 19 at 4 P.M. followed by an opening reception 5-7 PM.

in December

CB1 Gallery’s booth at The Miami Project Art Fair, December 3-8, will feature new paintings by Lisa Adams, photos by LA-based Kiki Seror, a selection of past work and new work by Mira Schor (NY) and paintings and sculpture by Craig Taylor (NY).

Also, “Making M/E/A/N/I/N/G in the 21st Century,” by Mira Schor and Susan Bee, will appear in the November/December issue of Art Papers devoted to art magazines and guest edited by artist and Paper Monument editor Dushko Petrovich.

Later this fall, A Year of Positive Thinking returns to its original goal of writing about art that I love, or whatever in the culture suggests critical reflections.

Best regards,

Mira

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