April 13, 2007

16 Beaver Group


Realizing the Impossible

Realizing the Impossible -- Art and Anarchism: What: Roundtable Discussion on Anarchist Aesthetics :: When: Monday 04.16.07 @ 7:30 :: Where: 16Beaver Street, 4th Floor :: Who: Free and open to all.

We are happy to host a conversation on Anarchist Aesthetics with several contributors to the new book “Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority” (AK Press), edited by Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland. Erika Biddle, Dara Greenwald, Josh MacPhee, and Cindy Milstein will present a roundtable discussion that is intended to be an open forum, not a panel.
Their hope is that this public event will bring together people that may not be in dialogue yet, but should be. We would like to start the Roundtable promptly at 7:30, so please come early if possible, and bring questions.

This event dovetails with Saturday’s 1st Annual New York Anarchist Bookfair.

For the complete contents of the book please go to http://www.16beavergroup.org/anarchist/content.jpg

Presenter Bios:

Josh MacPhee is an artist, curator and activist currently living in Troy, NY, usa. His work often revolves around themes of radical politics, privatization and public space. His second book Realizing the Impossible: Art Against Authority (AK Press, co-edited with Erik Reuland) was just published. He also organizes the Celebrate People's History Poster Series and is part of the political art collective.

Cindy Milstein is co-organizer of the Renewing the Anarchist Tradition conference and a board member with the Institute for Anarchist Studies. [LINK TO www.anarchiststudies.org] She's also a member of the Free Society Collective and Black Sheep Books Collective in Vermont. Her written work appears in periodicals and several recent anthologies, including Globalize Liberation (City Lights), Confronting Capitalism (Soft Skull), and Only a Beginning (Arsenal Pulp).

Erika Biddle is a founding member of the collective Artists in Dialogue. She can often be found tweaking text for Autonomedia and for Perspectives, the biannual journal of the Institute for Anarchist Studies. She is also on the board of the IAS. One of these days she's going to lose her mind, remember how to write, and become a full-time poet.

Dara Greenwald has participated in collaborative and collective cultural production and activism for many years. Participation includes the Pink Bloque, Ladyfest Midwest Chicago, Version>03, Pilot TV Chicago, and other groupings that resist being named. She worked as the distribution manager at the Video Data Bank from 1998-2005, where she distributed independent media and experimental video art and worked on the preservation of the Videofreex collection. She also writes, curates, and makes art. Her videos have screened widely, including at Images Festival(Toronto), New York Underground, Yerba Buena Center (SF), and Ocularis(NY). She is currently studying Electronic Arts at RPI in Troy, NY.

Introduction/Realizing the Impossible

It is said that an anarchist society is impossible. Artistic activity is the process of realizing the impossible. —Max Blechman, “Toward an Anarchist Aesthetic”

by editors Josh MacPhee and Erik Reuland

For years we have wanted to read a book like this, and finally we have been able to produce it. As anarchists, we have seen our politics denigrated by other artists; as artists, we have had our cultural production attacked as frivolous by activists. Our interest in the intersection of these subjects is both extremely personal and intensely political. One of the goals of this book is to put forth examples, past and present, of groups and individuals that have attempted to collapse the dichotomy between pure aesthetics, unmoored from a societal context, and purely utilitarian art, slavishly beholden to politics. Much of what is explored in this collection, from Clifford Harper’s focus on craft to the social experimentation of 1970s video collectives, exists in this in-between space, each in its own way refusing “art for art’s sake” as well as the rigid rules of propaganda.

Even if we reject the idea that art can be boiled down to simple utility, that doesn’t mean we can abandon a concern with efficacy. Although our art might be rooted in an attempt to achieve some sort of liberated self-expression, as artists we also create in order to communicate. It is not surprising, however, that we have little sense of the influence of anarchist art, since there is hardly any discussion about art within anarchist and anti-authoritarian circles (or any Left political circles beyond Marxist academia, for that matter). We want to interrogate this here: What is the impact? Who is the audience? What are anarchist artists trying to say, to whom, and why?

Of all the political philosophies, anarchism has been the most open to artistic freedom, rejecting the basis of both Marxist and capitalist conceptions of art. Both of these ideologies use different language to make the same basic claim: the former states that all art is simply a product of class antagonisms, or in other words, art is the result of the prevailing economic conditions (currently, market capitalism); and the latter demands that all cultural production should be squeezed into the market system, or in the logic of capitalism, the primary productive use of art is economic. For full text please read online at: http://www.16beavergroup.org/events/archives/002200.php

Reappropriate the Imagination! by Cindy Milstein
(published in Realizing the impossible, edited by Josh MacPhee & Erik Reuland, AK Press, 2007)

An art exhibit, albeit a small one, is always housed in the bathroom of a coffeehouse in my town. A recent display featured cardboard and paper haphazardly glued together, and adorned with the stenciled or hand-lettered words of classical anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin and Errico Malatesta. The artist’s statement proclaimed, “I am not an artist.” The show offered only “cheap art,” with pieces priced at a few dollars. Undoubtedly the materials came from recycling bins or trash cans, and perhaps this artist-who-is-not-an-artist choose to look the quotes up in “low-tech” zines.

There is something heartwarming about finding anarchist slogans in the most unexpected of places. So much of the time, the principles that we anarchists hold dear are contradicted at every turn, never discussed, or just plain invisible. And thus seeing some antiquated anarchist writings scribbled on makeshift canvases in a public place, even a restroom, raised a smile of recognition.

But only for a moment—then despair set in. Why is anarchist art so often a parody of itself, predictable and uninteresting? Sure, everyone is capable of doing art, but that doesn’t mean that everyone is an artist. And yet it is generally perceived as wrong in anarchist circles that some people are or want to be artists, and others of us aren’t or don’t want to be. Beyond the issue of who makes works of art, why can’t art made by anti-authoritarians be provocative, thoughtful, innovative—and even composed of materials that can’t be found in a dumpster? More to the point, why do or should anarchists make art at all today? And what would we want art to be in the more egalitarian, nonhierarchical societies we dream of?

This I know: an anarchist aesthetic should never be boxed in by a cardboard imagination.

Pointing Beyond the Present

The name of one radical puppetry collective, Art and Revolution, aptly captures the dilemma faced by contemporary anarchist artists. It simultaneously affirms that art can be political and that revolution should include beauty. Yet it also underscores the fine line between art as social critique and art as propaganda tool. Moreover, it obscures the question of an anarchist aesthetic outside various acts of rebellion. It is perhaps no coincidence at all, then, that Art and Revolution’s logo design echoes the oft-quoted Bertolt Brecht contention that “art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it”—with “ART,” in this collective’s case, literally depicted as the hammerhead.

Certainly, an art that self-reflectively engages with—and thus illuminates—today’s many crushing injustices is more necessary than ever. An art that also manages to engender beauty against the ugliness of the current social order is one of the few ways to point beyond the present, toward something that approximates a joyful existence for all. To read the full text with images and notes, please go to: http://www.16beavergroup.org/anarchist/cindy.pdf

16 Beaver Group
16 Beaver Street, 4th / 5th fl.
New York, NY 10004
phone: 212.480.2099

4,5 Bowling Green
R,W Whitehall
2,3 Wall Street
J,M Broad Street
1,9 South Ferry

Posted by jo at April 13, 2007 01:10 PM