MASS MoCA edited by Thompson and Scholette
It wasn’t until I read this book, including the essay “Trespassing relevance” by Nato Thompson, that I realised just how politically charged interventionism is. While I am interested in ‘art activism’ it isn’t really where I want to go with my work at the moment. However, it is still very interesting and helpful to look at the ways in which interventionist artists work and how they think about the artworld’s relationship with the public spheres. Much of their work much more closely resemble acts of protest than artworks which is interesting to me. When do actual acts cross the line into artwork?
Thompson writes about Abbie Hoffman’s 1967 act of dropping dollar bills on traders at the New York Stock Exchange then watching them scramble to grab as much as possible. This act made international news and according to Hoffman, “You can’t be revolutionary today without a television set – it’s as important as a gun!”. This is similar to Francis Alys’ aim to create a buzz about his work. The act/work itself becomes less important than the distribution of it or the talk about it. Although, Hoffman’s reasoning for this is that in order to “destroy” some kind of system of power, tools must be used to bring the acts into the public eye and that in this age the most important tool is technology.
Hoffman, alongside Jerry Rubin, kind of foreshadowed the boom of interventionist art in the 1980’s. Hoffman and the ‘yippies’ talked about the role of humour in creating activist artworks. Humour was a tactic. Because of their awareness of the media, it was vital to be aware of how they would be perceived. By mixing wit with the drama of their actions they could manipulate visual codes in a way that, first, made the audience laugh, then second, hit them with a message.
There are many interesting artists in this book but I have chosen just a few to look at in more depth. The following artists all fit into the category of “Reclaim the Streets” and work with a focus on how they are perceived by the public and by the structures put in place by those with power.
Bill Talen plays the role of Reverend Billy and takes to the streets incl huge corporations such as Disney Stores and Starbucks’ to ‘preach’ his anti-consumerism message in a very over the top way. He doesn’t stop until he has been escorted from the premises by the police and has been arrested multiple times. This again raises interesting questions about which element is the ‘artwork’. Is it the preaching itself? Or the character? The reaction from the crowds and online? Or the actions of the police and people in power who are the exact people Rev Billy is challenging? For me, one of the most interesting parts of his work is that Starbucks have actually been forced to develop a document outlining the proper protocol for dealing with Reverend Billy appearances, which is given to Starbucks workers. He has made an actual change to these huge capitalist corporations. That is his influence as an artist.
The Yes Men
The Yes Men have also managed to make a recordable impact on the systems they are calling into question. By “going under cover” they manage to get themselves invited to attend – and sometimes even to speak at – huge events / conferences / lectures. This began with a fake website (www.gatt.org) which copied the official site for the General Agreements of Trades and Tariffs. Through this site they ended up agreeing to speak in Austria on behalf of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Once at these events they have two tactics: either completely piss around and make fun of the people they are addressing, shocking them into listening (e.g “Beyond the Golden Parachute”), or presenting ideal situations as facts, convincing people of power that things are changing and getting them on board, only for it to come out that things are staying as they are (“End of the WTO”).
The Yes Men aim to make these changes happen, or at least give the people with power something to consider. They also leak information they learn at these events, providing the public with a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes world of business.
I have struggled to find out much information about Valerie Tevere, however I am very intrigued by her. In her intervention “A Preliminary Guide to Public and Private Space” she creates a web in a way that is directly relevant to my own work.
Through a series of interviews with members of the public she travels around Amsterdam creating a network of spaces. She asks the interviewee to describe one private and one public space then moves to those locations for her next interview.
The work allows the viewer to “walk” a geo-psychological map of the city in a “vulnerable yet alternate “tourism””
Tevere talks about the role of humour, play and satire in interventionist works as being “necessary tactics employed to catch the power off guard”
I would like to find out more about Tevere and her practice.