Thursday, October 13, 2011

Occupy Links, plus Zines & Education

The People's Plaza (previously or otherwise known as Dilworth Plaza, outside City Hall) is peppered with handmade signs and chalk writing. I've heard a lot of discussion in the past week of Occupy Philly about how to clarify our message, and the protest signs reflect this sense. I disagree. I think the first thing we need to do is share our stories. Empathy is how those not moved to spend their time at City Hall will begin to understand what people are doing down there, and there is no way to spark that empathy unless we start communicating who we are as individuals and why we are moved to protest.

To this end, I'd like to share a couple of projects:

  • Today I will be facilitating a zine making workshop at the Education tent, which is at the southern end of the People's Plaza. Printer friends Leah & Alex will be making screens based on participant zines, & bringing them back to the plaza Sunday afternoon for on-site printing of distributable copies.
  • Occupy Philly Voices is a blog started by Julia to record, visually, textually, and audibly, the stories of those involved in the occupation. More content should be coming in the following days, including some photos I've contributed. But there is some good stuff from the first couple of days to get you started.
The Education tent

Please consider sharing your own story when making signs. Keep an eye on the Occupy Philly Facebook page to keep up on the daily events, marches, and other direct action. More good links coming soon!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Do Art Workers Have Time to Blog?

Book Arts Jet Set is getting a revival here as I experience Occupy Philly, the City of Brotherly Love counterpart to Occupy Wall Street. I haven't blogged on arts, politics, and the economy since leaving a desk job for a juggling act of teaching, editing, and other independent contracting. I refer you to this post's title: do art workers have time to blog?

Right now I struggle to find a balance of time and attention to put to the activity going on at the west side of City Hall and to put towards my own livelihood. What is going on at City Hall anyway? A fluctuating community of several hundred individuals are: (1) speaking out against economic inequality, (2) working to educate themselves through discussion, reading, and expression so that they might better understand what has happened to our economy and what alternatives might be possible, and (3) practicing community based on respect, care-taking, and alternative economies.

I want to participate. I also find my email full of queries that need tending to, apropos prior commitments and future work. I work to define myself.

I work hard.
I make less than the median income.

I paid $2400 more in federal taxes than:
Bank of America

Look for images and commentary in the coming days.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Print, the Media, and Equilibrium

Roberta Smith says of MoMA PS1's Greater New York: "It pays lip service to all of the touchstones of the moment: collective art making, the ephemeral, audience participation, political subject matter, art as life, art as documentary, art as social interaction" (NYTimes, May 27). I find myself wondering if lip service is key here; rarely do I see art in such sanctioned spaces that is a real social and political response to the contemporary American landscape. I have been joking about my Five-Year Art Crisis as I re-assess my art practice, the momentum of academic systems that have rewarded me in certain regards (though I remain in the fiscally untenable position of practicing as an independent scholar as well as artist) and the contexts within I would ideally work. And I find that the politics I hold dear thrive best in less sanctioned spaces.

Still I turn the idea of equilibrium around in my mind, as the theme of next year's Southern Graphics Council conference. Like so many things in my life, running the art conference circuit doesn't make sense. I pay out of my own pocket to go, and it's not clear what kind of professional rewards I reap. But what continues to compel me is the notion of bridging this gap between the Print Community (I use caps facetiously; how do we determine which communities of people creating prints receive this title?) and the activist print community. And equilibrium seems the perfect umbrella under which to consider how artists approach a world that seems increasingly out of balance.

Being an activist is to take an approach of hope and optimism, however dark the world appears. Creating activist art is an act of faith in the power of imagery to sustain social movements. Rebecca Solnit refers to the narrative we tell as activists, reminding us that our arguments and efforts to spread information are aided by telling the story in as many and as compelling ways as possible. To be an activist is to take the position that we the people have control over the spread of information, that we can change public discourse. This is why narrative and graphics become crucial to any campaign. We can no longer trust the media to tell our stories for us. We cannot show up to protest and expect the media to meet us there. We have to change the information landscape, reshape it, redraw the maps we use to guide our lives. This is where the multiple comes into play. This is why I believe in it with ardent fervor. How else do you battle corporate media than by making your image countless times in an attempt to counter-balance their narrative?

So with that in mind, I invite any references to print artists addressing these concerns--that of the media, and of trying to restore balance in the narrative of our society.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Art, Business, and the Revolution

Admission #1: When I propose a presentation, I have no idea what my conclusion will be.
Admission #2: When I put together a panel discussion, I have a point in mind that I secretly want my panelists to make. Often the panelists have their own ideas--which is fantastic. I’m not attached to how we reach an outcome, as long as that outcome rocks. I wouldn’t trade in the discussion that happened at the Southern Graphics Council Conference panel I moderated, Resisting the Remarque, for anything. But I admit that I secretly wanted to talk more explicitly about art economies that are resisting capitalism than about the social content and context of the artwork at hand.

The party line seems to be that most artists are terrible at marketing their work—except when they’re not, in which case we deride them for clearly being more interested in marketing than in art—and then, that we need to overcome our sense that it is somehow wrong to, or that we are undeserving of, making money from our work.

Case in point: Manya Scheps’s May 18 article on the Philadelphia Weekly Arts and Culture site, “Good or Bad? Picasso Painting Sells for $106M.” Scheps’s take is that instead of deriding the sale as a waste of money, artists should take heart that people are still buying art, and should become participants in the market, stating that: “while small-market artists can’t eliminate the disparity between ultra-rich collectors and themselves, they can steer it in a way that is mutually beneficial.” Frankly, I’m unsure how precisely Scheps thinks one can ever view disparity as mutually beneficial. But more to the point, I’m tired of the idea that artists must embrace the market and let go of their idealism and/or market phobias, as if a resistance to the market could never be a decided form of resistance to the capitalist economy that would appear to rule all decision-making within American society, both socially and politically. Recently selected Republican nominee for Senate for Kentucky, the Tea Party affiliated Rand Paul, stated on primary night, “capitalism is freedom, it means the freedom to voluntarily exchange goods, and retain the fruits of your labor” (as quoted by Kate Zernike in the May 19 NYTimes), seeming to conflate our economic system with our system of government. Admittedly this is an understandable mistake, according to the way things play out, but not one you want your government officials to be stating outright. The other problems with this statement I won’t bother to break down here.

Chief Cultural Officer of the City of Philadelphia Gary Steuer blogged yesterday about the book What Poetry Brings to Business. Again, I tire of these efforts to bring together the worlds of art and business. One would think that in the wake of the recent economic meltdown and the ongoing uncovering of the absolute venality of those running our financial system, it would be okay to be a bit suspicious of our economic system—not just of “the big banks” but of the structure of capitalism itself, and the social mores we’ve brought up alongside it.

I don’t object to artists selling their work, particularly as, no matter what our ideals, we find ourselves here trying to survive within a capitalist system. However, I would encourage us, artists and non-artists alike, to think about making a livelihood from our work, rather than about making money from our work. This gives us space to carve out alternative values in thinking about the quality of our lives, to explore economies such as gifting and bartering, and to see our position as artists-outside-the-blockbuster-echelon as a potential site of power and reclamation to redefine the ways we create a livelihood through our work practice.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

On nostalgia, the new year, and zine technologies

As we come to the end of another year and round out a decade, Daniel Gilbert writes of nostalgia in the New York Times, playing right into everything I find depressing about both ushering in a New Year and the General Direction of Things. He states: “But maybe we’ve reached nostalgia’s end. ‘Nostalgia’ — made up of the Greek roots for ‘suffering’ and ‘return’ — is literally a longing for the places of one’s past. And lately, it has become harder and harder to find things to miss about America’s places.” Gilbert then goes on to discuss the chain culture of America and blurring of the lines that distinguish one place from the next.

I went to the movies on Christmas Day. Being subjected to 45 minutes of commercials and previews, including a cinematic advertisement for the National Guard, makes me want to drop out of society.

I always prided myself on embracing change. As a teenager in the nineties I decried listening to one’s parents’ music, which many of my peers did, instead embracing the new, grunge/alt/indie/triphiphop. I delved into the cyberpunk culture of Mondo2000 and fantasized about hacking despite my lack of programming-level computing skills.

As an adult at the turn of 2010, I have embraced social media and taken my calendar and my music digital. Then again, I find myself attached to older technologies as a printmaker, letterpress printer, and maker of artist books, paper, and zines. Someone remarked to me the other day: “I thought ‘zines were over.” Now certainly media focus on, well, media, concentrates on computer and networking technologies, but this does not necessarily mean the death of other older technologies. Try telling the dozens who tabled the Philadelphia Zine Fest with me this fall that zines are dead. Zines – their creators and audience – can fill West Philadelphia’s Rotunda, as well as other zine and small press events around the country. It hardly looks like a cemetery. Indeed one might surmise that the direction technology has taken has helped rather than hindered zine culture.

As virtual aspects to our lives have increased, a simultaneous interest in the handmade has arisen. Witness the uptick in knitting, the resurgence of letterpress printing, the success of the handcraft website Etsy, the interest in homebrewing beer. While the photocopier itself may be a speedy technology, these are still self-published and self-bound items. Meanwhile, the flourishing of blogs and social media sites has acclimatized a large population to creating content, which was once upon a time the gaping empty hole of the web. Imagine. Additionally, the internet has aided the distribution of zines and supports the networking of zine makers. Witness the ability to track down zine distros online, the weblinking amongst metazine publications such as Broken Pencil and Zine World. The social networking site Ning has a Zinemakers community, and email groups also support connections amongst zinesters.

One benchmark of the health of the zine community might be the size and might of the Zine Yearbook over the past 13 years. I quote from Zine Wiki on the 2008 Zine Yearbook #9: “at 240 pages #9 is the largest Yearbook yet and proof that zines are not dead."

Is nostalgia tied exclusively to place, or is it applied to the tangible? Can we be nostalgic for the handheld? If so, maybe there is hope yet for nostalgia and a world that remembers its past, documented in the pages of something that can be picked up, held in the hand, and passed around.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

War Memorial

Today marks the anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial’s completion – the memorial that was so controversial for its stark remembrance of the fallen. I have been struggling over past weeks to articulate what it is that has made vets issues one high on my list of concerns – as evidenced by links posted to Facebook and top organizations I donate to. By even raising the question, I reveal myself to be non-military. Still, the more I think about it, I wonder how I could be preoccupied with anything else. How could I not be preoccupied with the too-often overlooked human evidence of two unending wars gone awry? A history of focus on the homeless is tied so clearly to Veterans affairs as we bring home more troops without providing for them. Bush is out of office, and yet we still, as a nation, have our head stuck firmly in the sand.

I come home at night to messages about family drama. My sister tries to make a family with an Iraq War vet, now home two years. I come home the next night to the news that Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan opened fire at the Fort Hood Soldier Readiness Processing Center, killing 13 and wounding 30. We ask: is it a terrorist attack, this killing spree by a man of Muslim beliefs? We ask: is this the state to which military service is bringing our soldiers? Do we ask how these questions are linked, whether they are two edges of the exact same sword? The Vets must try to help themselves; there are not psychiatrists, healthcare, or sensitive diagnoses to go around. Do they suffer for serving our country? Why did we send them over there? Are the rest of us going to suffer for it? We are all culpable.

This post is not a guilt trip. This is about the interconnectedness of all things. Lucy Lippard states that if the artist would rather spend his/her time at parties and bars, that is their choice, but given the fate of artists in totalitarian societies, one might think they would spend some of their time elsewhere. Does this mean each artist must soak their art in political content? No, but it means that artists, as all other citizens, better start seeing themselves as actors/enactors/and/enablers when it comes to their participation in day to day life, the global society, the body politic. Each creation of art is a political act. Art, like life, is about attention – increasingly hard to come by in an ADD culture. This is our future. There are no casualties. We coexist with the dead as with the living. I refuse to believe that violence is necessary, or even inevitable, and I will resist it in every way that I can, in acts both large and small.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Arts Funding Increases

At last there is a small bit of good news at a time when non-profits are making cuts across the board -- to programming, staffing, open hours, etc. The House and Senate have just passed increases of $12.5 million each to the NEA and NEH, raising their budgets to the highest levels in 16 years.

April 12-13, 2010 will be Arts Advocacy days in Washington, DC. Visit Arts Action Fund for more information, and add it to your calendar.