Call for Artists: Wall Street Occupennial!

by Whitney Kimball on October 5, 2011 · 1 comment Breaking!

Liberty Plaza general assembly meeting

Art is mobilizing! The Wall Street Occupennial is gathering proposals, volunteers, and donations in order to hold a series of art events related to Occupy Wall Street. They are currently archiving all occupation-related art projects on the Occupennial’s tumblr page, and apparently an upcoming exhibition will take place outdoors, across from the New York Stock Exchange.

In keeping with the format of Occupy Wall Street, the Occupennial is conceived of as a horizontal power structure in which there are no leaders, just co-organizers. Naturally, with swaths of interested volunteers and evolving, outdoor meetings at Zuccotti Park, it’s still pretty difficult to keep track of meetings and projects: Occupy Wall Street has, like, five twitter accounts and no single spokeman. We’re not sure, for instance, if the twitter feed for “Occupy Art World” and its plans to protest outside New York and San Francisco galleries has any affiliation with the Arts and Culture working group.  [Side note: they just tweeted at us that ad sales control our content.  It's true; during a routine blow job last night, Larry Gagosian gave editor Will Brand some excellent suggestions for next week's news coverage.]

The plan is to fundraise using the successful Occupy Wall Street Kickstarter campaign as a model. It seems there is massive potential for growth; the occupation has already garnered tens of thousands of dollars in a few short weeks. Occupy Wall Street is rapidly expanding, with multiple blogs, powerful new allied organizations, and now an interactive online map of protests that have sprung up across the U.S.  As of Saturday, there were 20,000 people on the Occupy Wall Street Livestream page, and there is now an “Occupied Wall Street Journal” (containing a stirring call-to-arms by former NY Times writer Chris Hedges) and a movie project on the horizon.

When Art Fag City took a trip to Zuccotti Park a few days ago, it seemed that the Occupennial will have to sort out some growth-related challenges.  Even while we were talking, the circle continued to crowd with people, who every minute or so would interrupt and need to be filled in.  The circle steadily expanded.  Hand signals were established.  Soon we couldn’t hear anyone through the noise; messages traveled by the “people’s mic”, a system of human repeaters something like a mix between a Pentacostal sermon and the beacons of Gondor. Inevitably, the arts and culture co-organizers needed to split off in order to be productive.

Even after reaching the decision-making part of the conversation, general consensus is difficult to reach; the stakes are high when everyone is included.  A recent Hyperallergic post noted the movement’s backlash against, for one, “No Comment,” a show that uses the standard “1%” exhibition format and may have included itself in the Occupennial to pay the rent.  According to curator Marika Maiorova’s Kickstarter campaign, the previous 9/11 show didn’t get any foot traffic because of the protests and now needs to pay the bills.  To be fair, it seems like the logical thing to do, but this is the sort of issue the Occupennial can expect in the future.

Another obvious but unstated challenge is whether the art world and the real world can actually get along.  Using the people’s mic, one co-organizer announced, “Making a map [making a map] of artists who are struggling in New York [of artists who are struggling in New York] would be much more revolutionary [would be...] than another show of Kara Walker and friends..”  To which another responded, “I’m happy if Kara Walker wants to do something. [I'm happy...] I’m also happy if my next door neighbor wants to do something”- this got a lot of upward-finger-wiggling, which means “I like.”  Project proposals range from zombie face paint to what sounded like a high-production-value performance with projections and puppetry.  One co-organizer reminded us, though, that this is a movement built by artists.  “We all look the same,” he said, and, looking around, it was undeniably true.

Ben Davis published a piece on ArtInfo today on how Adbusters helped create Occupy Wall Street.  His conclusion about the media mockery and cynicism directed at protestors was a comparison between The Economist’s practical suggestion of what to do in tough times (stick close to a rich person and hope they’ll take you on as a housekeeper) versus Adbusters’s impassioned-if-somewhat-clumsy climb for better solutions.  He asks us,

…when it comes to addressing the reality of actual human beings in 2011, who is really deserving of your scorn? The people with the “reasonable” ideas or the people who have seen how crummy these ideas are, and decided to open a whole new conversation?

This is the spirit of the art movement.  The only criterion for a project to pass is that it does not raise any serious ethical conflicts with the movement, and the sole job of the exhibition curator will be to include as broad a scope of work as possible.  The point is not to make a show for the canon, though some great work may be enabled, even by academia’s standards.  The point is to talk to everyone, which requires all of it – from Kara Walker to zombies.

  • Pennylcarlson

    Well! I have a piece in “No Comment,” and I’m pretty much a “neighbor” as opposed to a known artist.

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