Guest Post by Jacob Wick.
Before we begin, perhaps it would help to get acquainted: in what follows, and in what follows what follows – over the next few months, or however long Bad at Sports allows me to report from my swiveling office chair in Little Bangladesh – I will be concentrating on what I would say is my main area of concern, or perhaps, to be redundant, a concentration of mine: the support.
Thinking about support originates, for me, with Shannon Jackson’s book Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics, which I read two or three years ago and which burned a hole in my mind as I drove, with Marc Riordan and Frank Rosaly, around the Midwest and Southeast on tour with Tres Hongos. Driving the potholed and congested interstates of America through climate-changed constant downpour, hating everyone on the road and being hated by everyone on the road, arriving in what might as well have been safehouses in Lexington, Columbia, Asheville, Charlotte, places where I used to be surprised but now am simply glad to arrive…
From what I can remember, and from what I can glean from skimming the book again, three or two years later, Jackson points out that much recent performance work, “relational” work, socially-engaged work, “social practice,” and so on depends on a paradoxical relation to the conditions that make such work possible. A free school might, for instance, fill a vacuum left by a closed or too-expensive school; it might also absorb energy that might otherwise be used to advocate or agitate for better public access to education. The free school then either functions as a boon or a leech or both, a condition that many such attempts happily ignore. In any case, what stuck with me about Jackson’s thesis – which of course is, as she writes, inherited from Marcel Duchamp and Bertolt Brecht, among others, which I write not so much for the currency of either of those names but to point out that this, like so many other “contemporary” issues, is not new at all, or is related to the period directly before the Great Depression, or, again, both – is this focus on the support rather than the effect. Instead of bitching about a free school as too aesthetic or too political or not aesthetic enough or not political enough or some combination – a, b, c, d, all of the above, none of the above – it behooves us to wonder why on earth such a school might be necessary or appealing in the first place.
Nato Thompson’s recent piece in e-fluxÂ appears to be the beginning of a process wherein he either compares the strategies of socially-engaged artists to those of the US military in “counterinsurgency” mode, or compares them with the sorts of insurgent groups that counterinsurgency aims to eliminate. Regardless, I would write that what is most interesting or alarming about this comparison is not that it is possible to make – the similarities between insurgent practice, counterinsurgent practice, and “social practice” are stunning, in fact – but that the conditions that allow insurgent groups like Hezbollah or the US Army to function exist not only in what used to be the Third World but also in what used to be the First World: in Oakland, in Chicago, in rural Ohio, pretty much anywhere, even in Los Angeles. These conditions amount more or less to a vacuum of support.
In his alarming book Brave New War, published in 2006, military theorist John Robb makes an example of Hamas. Writing that Hamas thrives “in the vacuum created by failed states,” Robb points out that Hamas’s validity emanates from the social services it provides: education, food distribution, youth recreation, elder care, public safety, religious services, health care, grants to students and small businesses, and so on. Robb goes on to present a more-or-less identical model as an ideal model for security services in a post-nation-state age: something decentralized, something specific to its locale, something transparent: something rhizomatic, something site-specific, something participatory. Robb calls this the resilient community. The resilient community, in its very organization, builds the notion of resilience “into the fabric of everyday life,” so that, when presented with a threat – a threat posed by more-or-less identical groups like Hamas or the US Army – it responds in “what seems like an effortless way.” The idea seems to be to subsume ideology into everyday life, to make it seem not only beneficial, but necessary; not only ideal, but inevitable. Whether that ideology is that of an Islamic republic or that of neoliberal/-libertarian “resilience” or whatever ideology a given socially-engaged artwork might wittingly or unwittingly transmit, the methodology is the same: provide support where it is missing.
When I moved to Oakland two years ago, I read a book – American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland, by Robert O. Self – thinking I was going to take a class at CCA whose purpose was to create some sort of site-specific project in West Oakland’s historic rail terminal. I did not end up taking the class – which, by the way, failed in its internal negotiations and negotiations with the relators at the terminal, who were/are intent on it becoming yet another yuppie mall in yet another tedious yuppie development in West Oakland – but I did read most of the book. As one can imagine, the history of Oakland is not pretty, and books like this tend to weigh heavily. Self focuses on the lead-up to the overwhelming passage of Proposition 13 – arguably the beginning of the nationwide tax revolt that led to the election of Ronald Reagan and the subsequent gutting of social services – as a turning point in the city’s history. Beginning in the 50s, white residents in and around Oakland – with an emphasis on around, since many white residents simply left Oakland for whiter hills or whiter pastures in surrounding San Leandro, Hayward, Walnut Creek, etc – began a campaign of racist real estate practices against black and Latino populations, ghettoizing them to tiny neighborhoods, shuttering or draining business districts, reducing civic services to a bare minimum or below.
It is too tempting, at this point, to not bring up the striking similarity between the services Hamas provides and the services the Black Panther Provided in Oakland in the 70s, as described by Thompson and others, and to marvel at the implication that the Panthers, too, operated in a vacuum created by a failed state. West Oakland, at this point, had been ghettoized by racist real estate practices; physically separated from the rest of Oakland by a highway; and had lost its historic business and cultural center to the development of that highway. I suppose here the state did not so much fail as leave, or actively act against the people that constituted it (or decided, more accurately, that these people did not belong in the state and tried to make them disappear); the effect, though, was the same. The emergence and subsequent demonization of the Panthers made the “grassroots,” “populist” campaign of Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann, a wealthy white realtor and a wealthy white former realtor, appear logical to white people across California; Proposition 13 passed with overwhelming support.
Proposition 13 limits property tax to 1% of real property value. Cities use property taxes to fund civic institutions: public schools, libraries, transit systems, and so on – even the police. When Proposition 13 passed, California’s public schools were ranked among the nation’s best; since the passage of Proposition 13, California’s public schools have scuttled down to 48th. Which brings us, finally, to my swivel chair in Little Bangladesh.
Since moving to LA, I figured I should start reading City of Quartz, a sort of go-to history of the city by Mike Davis. So far, I’ve read the preface, which is a sobering catching up of the first edition of the book, published in the late 80s, with the second edition of the books, published in 2006; and the Prologue, the first chapter of the first edition, which relates the history of the early-20th-century (1914 actually, the same year as Bottle Rack) socialist Llano community, its demise, and Davis’s discovery of and conversation with two undocumented itinerant day workers in its ruins. For now, I’ll focus on the preface, which makes the case that the conditions that produced the riots of 1992 – which I think went all the way up to my neighborhood, here in the north of Koreatown (here in Little Bangladesh, in the north of Koreatown, between Historic Filipinotown and Thai Town/Little Armenia) – persist. Since the early 90s, manufacturing has continued to decline, corporations have continued to not headquarter themselves in LA, and
real household incomes fell throughout much of Southern California, but the worst drop in the median income was in the City of Los Angeles, where it fell by 9.1 per cent. At the same time, the percentage of households in poverty increased from 18 to 22 per cent, while the percentage with an annual income of more than $100,000 increased from 9.7 to 15.7 per cent. Almost 700,000 working adults in L.A. County have incomes below the poverty line, and seven of the ten fastest-growing occupations in the city, including cashier and security guard, pay less than $25,000 per year. (xvi)
If this sounds familiar, you’ve probably been listening to NPR or reading the news lately. Both Morning Edition and To the Point – produced here in LA! – have featured segments on growing income inequality recently, spurred by figures published last week by the Atlantic that show that the very richest Americans got even richer, richer than almost ever even, last year, richer than they’ve been since right before 2008 or right before the Great Depression. Davis places the blame largely on Proposition 13, writing that its effects ensure that
the greater part of the real-estate windfall annually passes through the economy, on its way to buy Hummers, Laker tickets, and vacation homes, without paying a tithe to schools and the creation of the human capital on which the future of California will rest. Luxury lifestyles are subsidized, as it were, on both ends: by a seemingly infinite supply of cheap service labor, and by the tax advantages that accrue to real-estate and sumptuary consumption. (xvi)
In the seven years since Davis wrote this, not much seems to have changed: Bentleys and helicopters shuttle the rich (or the police, or the news) across Los Angeles’s jumbled civic topography while precarious service workers cram limited and inefficient public transit and the rest of us in the ever-growing swath between stew in traffic. If anything, these conditions have simply spread across the US. The evaporation of traditional middle-class jobs – manufacturing, teaching – means that a huge range of people are clamoring for the same unpredictable and unreliable service sector jobs. As one of the commentators on the To the Point broadcast mentions (I think), the evaporation of the middle class means also the evaporation of class or income mobility. The poor will stay poor; the indebted will stay indebted; the rich will stay rich.
In the months between when I decided I was going to move to Los Angeles and the day my boyfriend and I actually did move to Los Angeles, I think the most common question – after, perhaps, a disgusted “have you been there?” – was a disgusted “why?” To which I would reply something vague and unhelpful about Los Angeles being ludicrous, fun, etc. Something about the discombobulated setup of the city being exciting, full of holes in which to do something. Perhaps also I would say something about LA being a place where dreams go to die and that I was interested in being in a place where dreams died and seeing what happened next. Actually, I probably never said that; I think I wrote it in a grant application though. Â Since moving here, I’m beginning to wonder if Los Angeles is just a microcosm – I hate that word, but there you go – of the US generally. In Los Angeles, there is a horrific gap between the rich and the poor; general public disregard for public institutions; shitty public transit; overwhelming belief in outmoded or disappeared dreams. Proposition 13 heralded a nationwide tax revolt and subsequent gutting of social services, leading in part to the evacuated and disjunct nation we have today. And if art can do anything in LA, perhaps it is a signal of what art – or anything, or anyone – might be able to do in the US generally, across all of its destroyed or depressed cities and towns.
Writing seven years ago, Mike Davis argued for a “more, not less, ideological politics.” Perhaps this is analogous to means more, not less, awareness of the ideology or ideologies buttressing a given socially-engaged project, relational event, or what-have-you; a focus on the support. What’s interesting about Los Angeles and the projects being undertaken here is not that they exist or that their structures might be analogous to those of Hamas or the Black Panthers (or InCUBATE), but rather the ideology being communicated by their action, the thing that they aim to build into everyday life, the thing that will appear effortlessly; what’s interesting about Los Angeles and undertaking a project here is not how hard or easy an environment Los Angeles is to undertake such a project, but rather if one can be organized in such a way that transmits an alternate ideology, something that focuses not on the same old neoliberal catchphrases -Â innovation, progress, a new vision -Â but on support, on fostering the conditions where mobility might have a chance to begin to occur again. We’ll see…
Jacob Wick is a conceptual artist based in Los Angeles. For more information, visit jacobwick.info.
September 19, 2013 · Print This Article
Work by Edie Fake and Kevin Killian.
Night Club is located at 2017 W. Moffat, Suite 1. Reception Friday from 7-9pm, with poetry reading at 8pm.
Work by Roxy Paine.
Kavi Gupta Gallery (new location) is located at 219 N. Elizabeth St. Reception Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Wendy White.
Andrew Rafacz Gallery is located at 835 W. Washington. ReceptionÂ Friday from 5-8pm.
Work by Donna Huanca.
Queer Thoughts is located at 1640 W. 18th St. #3. Reception Saturday from 7-10pm.
Work by Felipe Mujica and Johanna Unzueta.
New Capital is located at 3114 W. Carroll. Reception Friday from 7-11pm.
Itâ€™s that time again. Each fall, Portland wakes up from its bucolic, sun-soaked summer reprieve just in time for Portland Institute for Contemporary Artâ€™s (PICA) annual Time Based Art festival, or T:BA. The only thing that can compel Oregonians to put away their tents, hiking boots, and kayaks each September is the promise of a healthy dose of culture served by PICAâ€™s Artistic Director, Angela Mattox, along with visual and performing arts curators, Kristan Kennedy and Erin Boberg Doughton.
Now in its 11th year, T:BA:13 has become a mainstay of the regional arts calendar, bringing a litany of international artists to Portland to present performances and exhibitions, as well as a robust program of workshops, talks, and late-night happenings. The festival is purported to seek out interdisciplinary art practices, supporting artists who challenge the notion of performance by transcending dan ce, music, theater, visual art, and new media to interrogate how the genre can engage contemporary audiences. For Portlanders however, T:BA brings a much needed glimpse of the outside world in. Marooned in the Pacific Northwest, the city tends to be a world unto itself, where imagination abounds but criticality is often in short supply. Presenting projects from Morocco, Algeria, Sweden, Argentina, Chile and beyond, T:BA transforms Portland into a thriving mecca for international cultureâ€¦ At least one week per year.
Presented in this post and in a follow-up next week is my T:BA rundown of select performances and installations in this yearâ€™s compelling, (pleasantly overwhelming), lineup. One of the annual highlights of the festival is late-night programming at The Works. Organized in the spirit of the contemporary experience-driven cultural economy, The Works presents spectacular events of mass-appeal including an opening night performance by Julie Ruin and a Drag Ball moderated by Portlandâ€™s own Kaj-Anne Pepper and Chanticleer Tru. Oh yes, and thereâ€™s definitely a barâ€”a few in fact, along with a nightly selection of snacks prepared by some of Portlandâ€™s most celebrated culinary superstars.
The Julie Ruin, (Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Kenny Mellman, Carmine Covelli, and Sara Landeau) at The Works, 9/12/13
The Julie Ruin opened T:BA:13 with a much-anticipated performance that left me nostalgic for my late-90s collegiate self in the best way possible. High-energy dancing, getting fired-up on feminism, and poising oneâ€™s self with some weeknight boozing were mandatory. Former Bikini Kill and Le Tigre frontwoman Kathleen Hanna is ever spectacularâ€”even the hipper-than-though art crowd couldnâ€™t help but shake-it. And Cathy Whimâ€™s Hawaiian hot dog was the delictable cherry on top of the already kickass sundae. Wins all around.
Trajal Harrell, Judson Church is Ringing in Harlem (Made-to-Measure)/Twenty Looks or Paris is Burning at The Judson Church (M2M), 9/13/13
The question Trajal Harrell posed when creating this piece was: What would have happened in 1963 if one of the postmoderns went uptown to Harlem? The answer: a drawn-out, hypnotic chant of, “don’t stop the dance,” that progressed from a static aural performance to utter ecstatic dance chaos.
I’ll admit: the first half of the performance was uncomfortable to say the least. At one point, I was scanning the room for fire exits and contemplating the point that discomfort transitions to become legitimate torture. The second half however, was joyfully absurd. Sampling sound and gesture across decades — from 1960s glamour to 1990s hip hop, the piece became about the evolution of culture and its re-contextualization with every emerging age.
Meow Meow & Thomas M. Lauderdale (of Pink Martini), co-presented with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, 9/14/13
Meow Meow is simply fantastic, “exquisite sack of a body,” and all. During the performance, she swilled wine, went through numerous on-stage costume changes, ordered around young men with the utmost commanding shrillness. As part of the grand finale, theÂ incomparable diva crowd surfed across a sea of aging Oregon Symphony Orchestra season ticket holders.
Critical Mascara: A Post-Realness Drag Ball hosted by Kaj-Anne Pepper & Chanticleer Tru at The Works, 9/14/13
The only spectacle that could adequitely follow Meow Meow and Pink Martini is, of course, a drag ball.
Lola Arias, El Ano en que naci (The Year I was Born), 9/15/13
The Year I was Born was a poignant reflection on Pinochet-era in Chile that had me weeping in my theater seat like a complete wuss. The narrative was unpacked through memories and ephemera shared by 11 Chileans born between the mid-1970s to late-1980s during the Pinochet regime. Each cast member reflected on his/her parents, individuals representing every aspect of the social and political spectrum, many of whom fought each other during that contentious and bloody time. With youthful zeal, the Chileans mapped epic journeys across continents, read letters, told stories of love and regret, and put on the garments worn by loved ones. The performance was a heartbreaking reminder — punctuated by folksy musical interludes and poppy American Bandstand-esqe dance moves — of the many micro-narratives and everyday happenings that, cumulatively, add up to revolution.
Linda Austin & David Eckard with music composed by Doug Theriault, Three Trick Pony, 9/16/13
Linda Austin‘s choreography combined with David Eckard‘s sculptures make for disconcerting and vaguely perverse antics to ensue. After viewing Lola Arias’s performance the night before, Austin’s dance transported me right back to Portland: where stunningly-crafted objects set the stage for imagination, absurdity… And something curiously close to twerking.
Getting to Know You(Tube) presented by Crystal Baxley & Stefan Ransom at The Works, 9/16/13
Much to my disappointment, I missed this event, so I asked my friend and colleague Emily Henderson to reflect:
Crystal Baxley and Stefan Ransom’s projectÂ Getting to Know YouTube (GTKYT) invites people to make 15-minute presentations utilizing YouTube in any way with a Q&A after each presentation. The result ends up offering a unique perspective and commentary on YouTube videos if not the culture it generates. The program kicked off with Andrew Ritchey presenting a selection of various people doing covers of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite. It offered a funny and interesting glimpse into wanna be star culture and also people who just wanna share their obscure musical abilities. Dalas Verdugo introduced some rare gems in what I would call some of YouTube’s greatest hits in the lower views range. Jen Delos Reyes’ selection was the heartbeat of the evening sharing videos dealing with Buddhism, education and compassion, Sister Corita making an appearance in the lineup. Jamie Edwards closed out the program with a hilarious monologue of YouTuber comments read alongside alien videos. The comments alone were priceless in the battle between different commentators regarding the validity of alien videos. The evening ended with a small dance party mixed by GTKYT’s Baxley and Ransom alongside audience selected videos.
Laura Arrington & Jesse Hewit, ADULT, 9/17/13
After 45-minutes of wild dancing and beautifully sultry tabletop humping, Laura Arrington and Jesse Hewit served the audience cereal and Jack Daniels and proceeded to get freaky with duct tape, face paint, and glow sticks. This performance, billed as â€œacting out collective fantasies on death and dying,â€ did not exude the anxiety that the subject of morbidity and mortality generally inspires; rather, the choreographed frolicking expressed a rampant release of id, complete with allusions to masturbation and other physical discharges. Invoking gestures and sentiment of children through the bodies and desires of their fully-grown selves, the performers articulated a truth that has become increasingly clear as years pass: thereâ€™s no such thing as an adult.
As promised, more to come on T:BA:13 next week! To view the full line-up of T:BA:13 events, go to the T:BA calendar.
Thanks to Emily Henderson, Gia Goodrich and the PICA Press Corps, and Patrick Leonard.
In the wake of the recently announced Detroit bankruptcy, and amid the uncertain fate of the Detroit Institute of the Artsâ€™ collection, the Knight Foundation revealed the winners of Knight Arts Challenge: Detroit last week. 56 winners — from individuals, collectives and established organizations and institutions — were awarded grant money ranging from $5,000 to $120,000, given the chance for art to lift a community in the way an emergency manager and bankruptcy cannot: spiritually, mentally, passionately; with love and tenderness. While the Detroit bankruptcy proceedings will be fat cats and brass tacks, pushing elected officials and community members further out of the decision making, the Knight Challenge grant recipients will aim to return power to the people, on micro levels, yet with respect and agency given to the very people in the communities these artists and groups will work with. Thus, the award winners, in total given $2.1 million, represent a ray of hope in the cityâ€™s immediate future and may quickly change the landscape of the city if they are successful.
The Knight Arts Challenge: Detroit is an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, and is a $9 million dollar campaign to draw from the talent of the city, to keep creative people in the city, as an investment in the arts of Detroit. It follows from the adage â€œWhere culture can breed, people will breedâ€ (I just made that up), but its a lot like â€œIf you build it, they will comeâ€ in that it is the arts that build a city or community, that the vitality of the culture sustains the soul and makes people want to live somewhere, that they need to live there, even if thereâ€™s no public transportation, lack of basic services like trash removal or functioning street lamps; even if the rest of the country has given up on the place, it still has potential that can be seen and felt. Because art and music has a deep history in Detroit, as does innovation and invention.
The winning entries are diverse, and as all were required to take place in or affect Detroit directly, most of them are geared towards working with the communities of the city to instill positive change, empowerment and growth. They ranged from creating a lending library of contemporary Detroit artwork for residents to live with and potentially buy, creative writing workshops, hyperlocal radio broadcasts to create a sound collage while driving through the city, a residency program for musicians outside of Detroit to collaborate with the local musicians, a competition to foster more talent in contemporary Jazz, production of guitars made from reclaimed wood from demolished homes in the city, an artist residency program in city elementary school, seed money to expand an established film fest into a larger event with national status, a nationwide tour of an interactive project geared at engaging viewers with ground roots change, and many many more. One that I find compelling just from its blurb on the website is a video project conceived by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History:
â€œTo illuminate some of Detroitâ€™s dark neighborhood streets physically and spiritually, the museum will commission a series of video art installations showcasing the faces and wisdom of the cityâ€™s elders.Â In conjunction with a team of Detroit media artists, distinguished filmmaker Julie Dash will create the works. Each will seek to bring light to the legacy, vitality and fabric of Detroit, while providing safe passage for residents in a city in which a recent survey said some 40 percent of streetlights were in disrepair.â€
The phrase â€œ40% of streetlights were in disrepairâ€ is not an exaggeration, but should say â€œare not working at allâ€. So many streets in the city are completely dark at night, inviting all sorts of violent crime, not to mention further lowering the quality of life experienced by residents in those areas. The temporary lighting of these streets, with proud images and text of the cityâ€™s past will no doubt be a jolt to the senses. What is needed, of course, is for working streetlights to once again be installed. Ultimately, this will be more powerful than an artwork in terms of transformation. One hopes that this project acts as a catalyst for that to happen, by literally shining a light on a huge problem in the city.
I sincerely hope Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr is devising some way to get the street lamps, as well as other crucial needs of the city taken care of. Obviously, he isnâ€™t interested in the arts, as he wants to strip the city of its culture for quick cash. Which art institution will be next on the chopping block? It seems important that now someone is trying to invest in the arts of Detroit. Along with Kresge, a more established arts grant in the Detroit region, a big push is being made to not only keep talent in the city and to nurture the arts, but together they breed an outlook on the art of Detroit as a whole: within five years time (or hell, right now) if someone wanted to quickly distinguish the art of Detroit, they would probably throw out words like â€œcommunity engagedâ€, â€œguerrillaâ€, â€œactivistâ€, or the foul phrase â€œsocial practiceâ€. Not to poop in the punchbowl, but as a narcissistic artist bent on only furthering my own artistic hopes and dreams, I find this potentially disturbing, that a cityâ€™s identity could be considered along terms of social practice, as aesthetics are so often ignored with work that is community engaged. For now, though, I am more than happy to content to leave this issue for the future, a future where we can afford to consider beauty alone, and not pragmatism and politics. Knight Arts Challenge is opening doors that seemed demolished long ago. Hell, its national news that we just got a grocery store in downtown for christsakes.
It is important to note that ALL of the recipients of Knight Arts Challenge will only get funding if the recipients find matching funds within one year. For more information on the Knight Arts Challenge, visit their website: