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Archive for the ‘art’ Category



“Realism” and Its Discontents

Mar27

by: on March 27th, 2014 | 10 Comments »

This has been a strange time in my little world: I’ve been traveling for work while my computer stayed home and lost its mind. I’m glad to say that sanity (i.e., memory, software, and general order) has been restored, and while I still have the sort of compulsive desire to tell the tale that afflicts survivors of accidents, I will spare you most of the saga.

What both journeys—mine and the computer’s—have given me is the opportunity to reflect on the workings of human minds, including my own. In particular, I’ve had a close-up look at the desire to believe, especially to believe the reassuring drone of those in authority.

Earlier this month, I gave a talk at Harvard that focused on some of the key ideas in The Culture of Possibility: Art, Artists & The Future. I focused especially on the way Corporation Nation has consigned artists to a trivial and undernourished social role, instead of understanding artists as an indicator species for social well-being akin to the role oysters play as bio-monitors for marine environments. I pointed out how arts advocacy has steadily failed (e.g., President Obama asked Congress for $146 million for the National Endowment for Arts [NEA] in the next budget, $8 million less than this year, when he should have requested $440 million just to equal the spending power the agency had 35 years ago). Yet advocates keep making the same weak arguments and pretending that losing a little less than anticipated constitutes victory. There’s an Emperor’s New Clothes flavor to the whole enterprise, a tacit agreement to adjust to absurdity and go along with the charade.


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A Literary Meditation on Guatemalan Politics

Mar19

by: Kathleen Alcalá on March 19th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

La Negra y Blanca
by Deena Metzger
Hand to Hand Publishing, 2011

La Negra y Blanca is a book with several designations on the cover – it’s described as a fugue, a commentary, and a novel.

I had to look up fugue to see what it meant in a literary context, only to find that it is a dissociative state caused by severe mental stress, or a musical composition in several voices, in which the themes are played by all the instruments, sometimes in counterpoint.

La Negra y Blanca is certainly not a novel in the traditional sense of the word, with a protagonist who overcomes obstacles and transforms into a better version of him or herself along the way. The book recently won the PEN/Oakland-Josephine Miles Awards created to honor writers of exceptional works often not acknowledged by the mainstream literary community.

It is certainly out of the mainstream. Perhaps this is a commentary, but then we would have to decide on what. The politics of Guatemala? The state of literature in Latin America? The life of the author, Deena Metzger?

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Just Call Me Chief Policy Wonk!

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2014 | No Comments »

For a year and a half or so, I’ve been an advisor to a new and exciting project, the US Department of Arts and Culture, which is demonstrating the public cultural presence we need in this country by performing it. Watch Deputy Secretary Norman Beckett explain it in a video clip.

My role is Chief Policy Wonk, a title I love. Today, the USDAC launches a call for 12 Cultural Agents. Here’s how the press release described it: “This move signals an exciting new phase in the growth of the fledgling department. Drawn from a dozen different communities across the country, the twelve new Cultural Agents will embark on a process of training and community-building, culminating in the co-creation of ‘Imaginings.’ These arts-infused events will invite local participants to imagine and enact the world they wish to inhabit in 2034.” More information at the USDAC website: the deadline to apply to be in this first cohort of Cultural Agents is March 24th, and anyone can sign up anytime to join the USDAC mailing list, take the pledge as a Citizen Artist, and take part in other ways.

This locally based work is just part of the USDAC “sandwich.” On one side, grassroots organizing to engage and affect local communities in their own conscious cultural development; on the other side, a national vision of truly democratic cultural policy and intervention, fueling that local development and much more. In between, a vibrant national conversation about culture as the container for national and community renewal, about cultivating the imagination and empathy we need to create a future we want to inhabit.


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Sharon Abreu’s Song for “The Left Hand of God”

Feb25

by: Sharon Abreu on February 25th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

Sharon Abreu

An environmentalist friend of mine whose religion is Christian Science recently sent me a 2010 article from the Christian Science Sentinel. The article is about author John Merritt (called “The Green Baptist” by Christianity Today) and his book Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet. Merritt is quoted as saying, “How can you be a Christian and not care about the environment?”

This question excited me. And, not surprisingly, it brought me back to the Network of Spiritual Progressives, which I joined in 2003 when it first sprang from Tikkun as the “Tikkun Community”. So much of our work since 2003, and so much of Rabbi Lerner’s work over decades, has addressed the question of why so many people seem to vote against their own best interests, which includes voting for candidates who promote natural resource extraction over environmental protection, progressive energy policies, and the health and well-being of the voters who put those politicians in office.

I’ve been encouraged over the last few years to see more Christians speaking out in favor of environmental protection, acknowledging the reality of climate change and the likelihood that human activity is intensifying global warming. I appreciate groups like Restoring Eden and Christians for the Mountains, who understand that the rights of nature and of people are inseparable.

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The Teapot that Saved the World: Art Activism by Ceramist Richard Notkin

Feb22

by: Annie Pentilla on February 22nd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Richard Notkin. "Men at Work" (2013). Ceramic, glaze, watercolor, copper patina, wood backing 20.25" x 8.5" x 2.75"

For more than forty-five years ceramist Richard Notkin has been exploring the seeds of human conflict through images cast in clay. Abu Ghraib, World-War carpet bombings, Picasso’s Guernica, ears deafened by the aftermath of an atomic explosion – these are just a few of the images Notkin renders in his wall reliefs to reflect on the modern world he sees around him. What Notkin observes in the world reveals a troubling scene: a planet marred by war, genocide and destruction – in other words, the less-than-savory aspects of human existence.

As an artist Notkin’s had quite the career. His reliefs, teapots and tea sets have exhibited world wide, including in the Florida Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. As he reflects on his life and career, he describes his aesthetic as “art activism.” While it’s taken the span of an entire career to perfect the articulation of his anti-war message through clay, he attributes his passion for activism to a childhood growing up in a Jewish community in the South Side of Chicago.

It was there in Chicago’s South Side, a place rife with religious strife where Catholic and Jewish boys didn’t get along, where he first became aware of the unsettling conflicts between religious and ethnic groups, providing a daily reminder of the kind of tribalism that cause nations to engulf themselves in conflicts like World War II. “We were made very aware of the Holocaust,” Notkin says, recalling members of his synagogue who were survivors, including his dance teacher who had somehow survived Auschwitz as a teenager. “They impressed us with the fact that we needed to be activists, that we needed to be aware and alert and active, and that these things could happen again.” Through his work, particularly those exhibited in the Florida Holocaust Museum, Notkin remains keenly aware not only of the genocide that occurred during World War II, but also the genocides occurring today in Africa and other parts of the world.

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Deceleration & Sustainability

Feb21

by: on February 21st, 2014 | No Comments »

In her concluding keynote for Staging Sustainability 2014, Adrienne Goehler exhorted conference attendees to support a “basic income grant” as a universal right. She put it succinctly: the current system forces overproduction in all realms, even art. The current system of grants for artists, inadequate in so many other ways, operates almost exclusively on a project basis, forcing artists who seek support to think in terms of novelty and output rather than allowing adequate time for work to evolve and emerge organically. As Adrienne said, sustainability needs deceleration. All of us need the leisure to rest, ruminate, imagine ways to throw off the chain of overproduction and overconsumption and rediscover a way of living in balance with each other and the life this planet supports.

“Guaranteed annual income,” “basic income grant,” and “guaranteed minimum income” (or six other ways of saying the same thing) describes a stipend available without a means test or other conditions to any and every person. There’s an international coalition – Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN), which holds its 15th annual congress in Montreal this summer – organized around three simple principles defining a basic income:

it is being paid to individuals rather than households;
it is paid irrespective of any income from other sources;
it is paid without requiring the performance of any work or the willingness to accept a job if offered.

The phrase “basic income grant” struck me with a powerful resonance – two, in fact.

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Aesthetics & Sustainability

Feb18

by: on February 18th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

In my keynote for Staging Sustainability 2014, I was asked to define “sustainability.” “The implicit meaning of the term refers to its opposite,” I told the group. “We fear having damaged ecosystems so much that life on Earth will soon be unsustainable, so sustainability names our search for whatever can heal that damage and allow us to carry on.” But I have some problems with the word’s way of setting the bar too low, of putting a supreme value on continuation.

David Buckland of the Cape Farewell Foundation (which I wrote about in my previous blog) said that he preferred “resilience” and so do I, because it encompasses the thing we must now all do, learning from loss. But Adrienne Goehler, a impressive fellow speaker at the conference, wants to rescue “sustainability” from the various forms of abuse and dilution to which the term has been subjected. She understands it as “continuous renewal.” And I’m down with that, understanding that the process of renewal entails leaving behind whatever no longer serves our capacity to thrive as we carry whatever supports our well-being into the future.

In Conceptual Thoughts on Establishing a Fund for Aesthetics and Sustainability, published by the Heinrich Boll Stiftung and downloadable from their site, Adrienne preferences her mission this way:

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Staging Sustainability

Feb13

by: on February 13th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

I spent a chunk of last week in a very cold and snowy Toronto at Staging Sustainability 2014, a conference with the subtitle “People. Planet. Profit. Performance.” It was masterminded by Ian Garrett of the Center for Sustainable Practice in The Arts, who teaches at York University. The University was one of an impressive array of sponsors, reflecting the reality that many scientists took part side-by-side with artists and scholars.

In fact, I began to feel that we are beginning to bridge the gap that C.P. Snow—whose own life braided art and science—wrote about in his important 1959 lecture, The Two Cultures, beginning to achieve a common understanding and discourse. As Snow described the problem more than half a century ago (some of his observations are dated, happily, but sadly not the thrust, I think):

There have been plenty of days when I have spent the working hours with scientists and then gone off at night with some literary colleagues [...] I got occupied with the problem of what, long before I put it on paper, I christened to myself as the ‘two cultures.’ For constantly I felt I was moving among two groups—comparable in intelligence, identical in race, not grossly different in social origin, earning about the same incomes, who had almost ceased to communicate at all [...] By and large this is a problem of the entire West.

I’m extremely interested in the way that artists seem to be building—or perhaps the correct word is “living”—the bridge between these realms.

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Theaster’s Way

Feb6

by: on February 6th, 2014 | Comments Off

Photo credit: Studio Museum of Harlem

Theaster Gates has been dubbed “the real-estate artist,” “the opportunity artist,” “an anthropologist, urbanist, activist — the 21st-century artist,” “the poster boy for socially engaged art,” #40 in Art Review’s “2013 Power 100, A ranked list of the contemporary art world’s most powerful figures,” and even “the Mick Jagger of social practice.”

His works include his signature Dorchester Projects, 12 Ballads for Huguenot House and numerous others. In 2012, he was awarded the WSJ innovator of the year art prize. In 2013, he was named a United States Artists fellow and also received the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Arts and Politics. There are many more accolades than I can name.

So when I went to the Studio Museum of Harlem on January 16th for the activation of See, Sit, Sup, Sip, Sing: Holding Court (2012) — tables, chairs and desks salvaged from a now-closed public school on Chicago’s South Side, I believed the hype but still wasn’t sure what to expect.

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Keystone XL has a Job for You! (video satire)

Feb5

by: on February 5th, 2014 | Comments Off

When Keystone XL’s top job recruiter comes to town, he reveals just what types of jobs the controversial oil pipeline would really create.

Oil executives like to claim that the Keystone XL would create thousands of jobs. But in a project fueling so many environmental and health risks, only one man is honest enough to say exactly what those jobs would be. Hint: they’re not in construction.

It’s true, Keystone XL has a job for you! But the question is: do you really want it?

[Note to readers: This is a satirical video. Please do not call Keystone XL about these job openings. Do not send in any applications or letters of recommendation. Instead, we recommend asking the good folks at Keystone XL one question. How's the wig business going?]