In the early pages of PUSSY RIOT!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom is a letter written from prison, by Masha, one of Pussy Riot’s founding members. In this letter, she describes the women in the prison with her, hungry, cold, one woman who miscarried because a police officer raped her while she was in custody. Masha writes, “She’s one of Pussy Riot too.” What strikes me about this is not the violence, because this kind of violence happens to women in the United States as well, but that Masha feels a kinship with her and calls this woman one of her own, Pussy Riot. I think in this letter, she is saying that all women are Pussy Riot.
Pussy Riot is a five-woman feminist performance punk band from Russia, who on February 21, 2012, stole into a section of Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior reserved for priests, where they performed their work “Virgin Mary, Put Putin Away.” The account in Pussy Riot!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom, has the performance lasting forty seconds. For this, they were chased off, later arrested, brought to trial, and three of the members subsequently were convicted of “felony hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.” For this forty-second performance, they received a two-year prison sentence. This event should frighten artists everywhere.
From the closing statement by defense attorney Violetta Volkova: “These women are recognized as political prisoners by international organizations such as Amnesty International, Memorial, and others. These women are not here now because they danced in church in the wrong clothes, in the wrong place, and prayed incorrectly, and made the sign of the cross the wrong way. They are here for their political beliefs. The words of the song, the words of the prayer that they performed—it is a political song, a political prayer addressed to the Blessed Virgin.”
PUSSY RIOT!: A Punk Prayer for Freedom collects letters from prison, court transcripts, and lyrics. With all the media attention that Pussy Riot received, this book is the first time I have heard the story from the members of Pussy Riot themselves. This event was much more political, focused, and transgressive, than even the alternative media made it seem. The slim book ends with artists’ “Tributes to Pussy Riot.” There is a poem from Karen Finaly and another from Eileen Myles, a response from Le Tigre’s JD Samson, and a surprisingly compelling essay by Bianca Jagger. But my favorite is a letter by Yoko Ono:
Dear Yetaterina Samutsevich [Katya],
Thank you. You are right. You have won!
You have won for all of us, the women of the world.
The power of your every word is now growing in us.
From here on, please take good care of yourself, as much as
you are allowed to.
Each one of us is very much needed now.
Let’s cleanse ourselves for the next battle, and heal the
world with the power of truth.
War Is Over! (If You Want It.)
Pussy Riot is just what we need right now. This little book from The Feminist Press is a compelling time capsule told exclusively from the perspective of the women themselves, and their artist supporters. I’m sure the future will provide us with an academic anthology retrospectively detailing the cultural, political, and activist implications of Pussy Riot. Thankfully, this is not that book.
a very reasonable 2.99 digital
The Feminist Press, 2013, 144 pages
In 1969, John and I were so naïve to think that doing the Bed-In would help change the world.
Well, it might have. But at the time, we didn’t know.
It was good that we filmed it, though.
The film is powerful now.
What we said then could have been said now.
In fact, there are things that we said then in the film, which may give some encouragement and inspiration to the activists of today. Good luck to us all.
Let’s remember WAR IS OVER if we want it.
It’s up to us, and nobody else.
John would have wanted to say that.
Yoko Ono Lennon
Of course nostalgia isn’t a progressive place. When looking back to the past, it’s possible to know the outcome of every action. Progressive actions happen when consequences are yet to be determined. They are insecure, idealistic and defiant. Their success is compounded by, and most likely contingent on, other idealists.
I often take the 60s for granted as a kind of failed parent to our present — I remember for instance, my disdain when America declared The War on Terror. There were protests on Market Street in San Francisco where I lived; since I worked at a gallery downtown, a number of the dissidents came through our doors. Most of them old timers, they seemed enthused and exhilarated, wearing old ponchos with old buttons — costumes from a former life. It brought back the old days, they said, enjoying a renewal of purpose to which I was highly critical. The protests that year felt more like block parties, sequestered as they were to specific streets with police lining the borders between outcry and everyday life; there was no real disruption.
Neither was an alternative supplied: while half of the country (at least) cried out for war, the other dug its heels in, adamantly opposed. The protest parties celebrated opposition without solutions. I wanted someone to come up with another way, a non-violent action — that would mark a good leader, I thought. Even in my financially challenged state, I still had a roof and a car and two jobs. I had a sister who fed me when I couldn’t buy groceries. I had access to a world our supposed enemies did not. My parents’ hippy friends gave me a bumper sticker that said, “Bomb them with butter.” At least that seemed like one new idea. I know I had none.
When soldiers brought the statue of Saddam Hussein down with a crane, we’d been in Iraq for 20 days. There was a sudden euphoria of success and achievement. It became its own short-lived propaganda. “A few minutes after the toppling, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld told reporters,’The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain’ (The New Yorker). We watched it on the news. I remember feeling both impotent and relieved.
“War became the evil pimp and illegitimate master, while society became a terrorized subaltern. War was not just about political domination through physical violence leading to death, but about the exploitation of bodies and minds for financial gain, sexual power, and the censure of our unique capacity as human beings to engage in abstract thought. As a performer, I understand you to be saying that what makes war terrible is not just that it can kill us, but that it forces us to perform against ourselves — against our will, against our interests, against our values” ( A Field Guide for Female Interrogators, Coco Fusco, Seven Stories Press, 2008). Years later, I pulled into a Pier One parking lot to listen to Cheney’s trial being broadcast on the radio. There had been headlines all week about what a creep he was. The rapid cries of infamy as we the people denounced his behavior. He admitted his sanction of torture. All the photos came out with dark men, naked, faces in black hoods, sometimes in piles. The bright burn of a camera flash in a corner as soldiers–men and women both–smiled. We know those pictures. They come from a time when popular ideas about Muslim taboos were bandied around public space like beach balls; every room I was in discussed the terror of war, the stress of soldiers. “How could this thing have happened?” The day was bright and sunny outside. The highway banal and complacent. But I’d thought everyone knew, like it was in the collective unconscious–I’d known and I didn’t even read that much back then. Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib were dark places, beyond citizenship, as though human rights were contingent on state. Of course that torture still exists now — because we are not innocent — and Cheney’s presently on a book tour as an advocate of his practice. ”If we give up all efforts to identify and set limits to uses of force and violence, unwarranted, and unmerited,” Fusco writes, “we essentially relinquish any agency with regard to politics, and aquiesce to authoritarian control of our lives or those of others” (p. 25).
Yes. It’s good Bin Laden is no longer a threat, but I don’t think anyone — especially a leader — should ever be proud of murder. It’s a terrible thing to have to take someone’s life, regardless of the circumstances. Circumstances that lead to such a necessity are all the more heartbreaking, stemming from a desperate responsibility. And here again, I think leaders give us examples of behavior, demonstrating through their address the weight of such a choice, thereby acknowledging the unequivocal meaning of life. Ten years later we are still at war, still shadow boxing. September 11th is still impossible to comprehend. Its tragedies will always remain irrevocable regardless of all subsequent acts, many of which have perpetuated violence: the shadows cast by our way of life. Embedded in my disappointment in the 60s is a tremendous disappointment in the present. The notion of peace seems all the more impossible, just as the emotive potency of war becomes more remote. There is so much to think about and learn from in those old performative gestures of peace–the way in which the media, still naive itself, could not get enough of those crazy kids.
..my favorite images of the aforementioned film take place at breakfast.
This week, Jana Leo’s Rape New York, subtitled An Open Archive, went on view at Invisible Exports in New York City. The exhibition consists of boxes of photographs, documents, transcripts and other material relating to the artists’ rape seven years ago.
The gallery’s press release describes the project as follows:
The documents assembled here, seven years in the making, accompany the release of (Leo’s) book RAPE NEW YORK. The archive consists of photographs from her emergency visit to the hospital, police reports, crime scene photographs, notes from her therapist, as well as records from the civil suit and other assorted items and documents related to the rape and the legal case that followed, none of which can be reproduced, or even reviewed without the victims’ consent. The documents are kept in organized boxes to be retrieved by the archivist, not displayed on the gallery walls. The archive is not presented to the visitor; instead, each guest must fully identify oneself (photo ID is required), and request materials from the archivist. This way, the visitor takes responsibility for what’s requested, making private again what was made public by Leo—the latest revolution in a cycle of public and private that began with the rape itself.
The outlines of Leo’s project recalls that of a number of 1970′s era feminist works dealing with traumatic exposure–Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece (link is to a video of the performance) and 1968 film Rape come foremost to mind–but the heart of Leo’s piece seems to lie within the viewer’s decision to take responsibility, in a public way, for looking at material that is private in the deepest sense of the word. Does the artist’s complicity in the exposure negate its voyeuristic qualities? Does the decision to study Leo’s rape archives signal compassion, curiosity, or cruelty on the part of individual viewers? Perhaps, a bit of all three.
Lately I’ve been mulling over a bunch of questions that essentially revolve around blogging and personal responsibility. Yesterday I came across mention of Leo’s show in a brief blurb on one of the art news blogs. I initially decided not to reblog the item, because there was only minimal information about the show itself. It felt sensationalistic, somehow, to just shoot the item out there once again without providing any further context. As coincidence would have it, this morning I randomly came across Caitlin Roper’s lengthy and fascinating interview with Jana Leo on Bomb’s blog, which contains a few reproductions of images and documents from the archive. Roper’s piece, I think, provides enough background context to give Leo’s project meaning even to those who can’t see the show in person.
To be honest, I feel somewhat relieved that I don’t live in New York and therefore don’t have to decide whether or not I want to visit Leo’s show and read her archives. I have an easy out, this time. But I did have to make the decision about whether and how I should write about it, particularly in the zippily superficial context of a blog post. So in that sense, I am still a participant in Leo’s project, still accountable for my decision to engage it from a distance in the manner that I have.
Here’s a last, chilling postscript. Eva Rhodes (nee Eva Majlata), the unnamed woman who was the subject of Ono’s aforementioned film Rape, was bludgeoned to death in 2007 by one of her employees, set on fire, and buried not far from an animal sanctuary she had established in Hungary. Sukhdev Sandhu writes movingly about Rhodes’ death, and Ono’s film, here.
Here’s hoping Meg’s sister “Peanut” Manuel kicks some ass at the US Boxing Championships!!
*Bruce Nauman’s Topological Gardens wins Golden Lion for best Pavillion at Venice Biennale (Art 21).
*John Baldessari and Yoko Ono receive Golden Lions for lifetime achievement in Venice (Unbeige). Go Santa!
*Marguerite Horberg plans Porto Luz, a new artistic center for Bronzeville (Chicago Weekly).
*What to wear during an Orange Alert? interviews Green Lantern Press editor Tobias Bengelsdorf.
*Eight museum shows you won’t be seeing in L.A. anytime soon (plus other cancelled shows across the country). Can someone scoop up MOCA’s cancelled Luisa Lambri show and bring it to Chicago? Pleeeaaase? (Culture Monster).
*Even the Louvre is worried about its future now (Unbeige).
*Berwyn resident John Sisto discovered to have kept over 3500 religious artifacts and antiquities from Italy, 1600 of them stolen. (New York Times, Chicago Breaking News).
Yoko Ono while returning to Montreal on Tuesday to unveil an art exhibit celebrating the week 40 years ago she famously stayed in bed with her husband John Lennon in a hotel room high above downtown Montreal and slept in about peace died of massive trauma to the head when the “Yes Painting” complete with ladder & magnifying glass fell on her.
Ono was in the city for the anniversary of the 1969 bed-in, which is being marked by an exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, titled Imagine: The Peace Ballad of John & Yoko. The exhibit would have opened Thursday.
“Montreal means very much for me because it was a place where John and I created a very important statement,” the 76-year-old artist told reporters at the museum on Tuesday right before saying “Oww oww that ladder is crushing my bones, get it off get it off, I have brittle bones from Coprophagia so this really hurts”
That went on for 30 minuets while local pedagogues and reporters documented and critiqued the latest and unbeknownst to them final performance art work by Ms. Ono.
Montreal’s city coroner ruled that it was an accident but Mark Kostabi is wanted for questioning in relation to the event since as the Police Chief said:
“This seems like the kind of shameless promotional work that he would do” and followed up with “Plus I always wanted to meet him, I have one of his paintings over my desk, you know the one with the gray androgynous human figure in a empty room holding a odd but ironic object that fits nicely with the title, he’s so handsome too.”
Kostabi’s lawyers have released a statement that he has a solid alibi since he has been in Rome for almost a decade doing nothing.
More to come as it unfolds this sad sad April 1st, 2009.