Archive for the ‘activism’ Category
Posted on April 15th, 2009 in activism, collaboration, project news and tagged activism, art, boston, gentrification, presentation, public transportation, thinktank
Several Directors from the Think Tank that has yet to be named (including me) converged in Boston a couple weekends ago to present a project called “Community” in Question: Conversations and readings on art, activism, and community vis-à-vis the Green Line Expansion in which we investigated the proposed public transportation expansion (MBTA Green Line) into Somerville-Medford to examine how residents respond to (both for and against) changes in transportation and how transportation effects their cities. The project was developed for a conference on the intersection of art and activism at Tufts University, and, while the conference proceedings I attended were rather exasperating, I think our project was one of the TT’s most successful to date. We organized a talking/walking tour along a portion of the proposed transit expansion Somerville and then culminated at the Davis Square T stop on the Red Line in Somerville’s largely gentrified central hub. The unique opportunity here was to observe and discuss the effects of the previous expansion (dating from the mid-80s) on the community 25 years hence in order to consider the potential effects of Green Line expansion on another part of Somerville and adjacent Medford. In the process of developing the project we contacted and invited key stakeholders and policy makers from the community to offer their expertise and perspectives, and several of these folks joined our walk and greatly enriched the conversation. Also noteworthy is the release of Vol. IV in the series of occassional readers which compiles several texts on the following themes related to the question of community: Theoretical discussions on Community, Learning from Activists/Organizers: How to participate in a community, [Common] Space, Artistic responses to Community, Building Communities.
Posted on February 7th, 2009 in activism, collaboration, project news and tagged action mill, activism, civil discourse, democracy, public sphere, research, social media, uarts, web
I’ve just begun working on a design research project with my colleagues and great friends, Jethro and Nick, of the Action Mill and three undergraduate students at the University of the Arts. The project, Social Media for Social Change, investigates how networked technologies and social media may be used to create hybrid public spaces where civic discourse and meaningful participation are facilitated, organized, and nurtured at a grass-roots level. We see this work as vital if we are to harness the potential of networked communications in creating spaces for discussion, disagreement, and community, especially when so many of our everyday interactions with others are circumscribed by social media. I invite you, readers, to follow along at the project blog and join the conversation.
Posted on July 4th, 2008 in activism, collaboration, musings, peripherals and
Last week in Philadelphia, PennPraxis and the newly rebranded Central Delaware Advocacy Group (of which I have been a member for the past 2 years and have written in support before) publicly unveiled a 10 point action plan for implementing the nominally citizen-driven planning vision for the Central Delaware Waterfront. The event included commentary from city planning professionals and bureaucrats that also featured a climactic endorsement from Mayor Nutter, who pledged to begin implementing some early action items within the year. No small victory for many of us was Nutter’s reiteration of the fact that the proposed big-box casinos are antithetical to the kind of waterfront many of us are working to build.
Yet, for all the plan’s championing of public access to the river, bike trails and parks, mix of commercial and residential uses, I felt a certain sinking in my stomach. From my reserved perch in the second row, I turned around to my left and my right to scan the standing-room-only crowd, and I saw energized and enthusiastic citizens, many of whom have devoted hours of time towards crafting the vision for the waterfront. I saw a lot of people who appeared to be like me—white, educated, professional class—and, while my survey was not scientific and while it would be imprudent to place to much emphasis on the demographic of one isolated event like this, the lack of a significant attendance by either people of color or the working class in a city with overwhelming percentages of such folks is alarming when observed through the broader lens of the neoliberal vision of the city. The “rediscovery” and “redevelopment” of Philadelphia as a desirable place to live will tend towards the homogenous; economic, cultural, racial, and ethnic diversity must be actively sought after and guaranteed if such a value is to be sustained and physically manifest in the life and form of the city.
As I listened to rhetoric in the remarks from those speaking at the event—those speaking in some respects for me as a participant in the waterfront planning process but also speaking to me as a citizen and constituent—I was thinking about David Harvey‘s recent lecture on the “right to the city” (see video below), as well as the recently formed coalition of anti-gentrification and anti-displacement groups united under the same name. I’m currently working through Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity which adeptly tracks the political-economic shifts that have occurred between Fordism/Modernism and Late Capitalism/Postmodernism over the last century. Of course, as a trained geographer, Harvey’s particular strength in this research is in how he ties it all back to a discussion of spatial practices and the transformation of the city under these conditions. (I also highly recommend another lecture by Harvey from a couple of years ago entitled “Neoliberalism and the City.”
Harvey’s critique was playing through my mind in the form a series of basic questions about this waterfront plan and the process by which it came to be… For whom are we making this waterfront and this city? Who shows up? Who participates, and why or why not? What, specifically, are we doing to ensure the inclusion of under-served and under-privileged residents? How is the quality of life raised for all Philadelphians? Hidden among the mantras of “civic engagement” and “community participation” are those missing from the program, those I didn’t see at the event last week. We have to work diligently to bring all strata of the city into the planning and making of the next era of Philadelphia. The level and attention to community involvement I have witnessed over the last few years here is admirable and should not be dismissed. However, our under-served communities often remain in the shadows and require much more outreach in order to build understanding, trust, and the kind of relationships that engender empathy and mutual respect across longstanding economic, racial, and cultural barriers.
Posted on April 27th, 2008 in activism, collaboration, project news and
There’s been a recent flurry of activity by myself and other close collaborators. Or rather, the activity has been somewhat constant; only, at certain moments the iceberg’s tip becomes visible, thus revealing the bulk of thinking and working lying beneath the surface…
Meredith and I recently installed a project in the Multimedia Gallery at the University of the Arts (where she and I are currently teaching): “TERRA INCOGNITA” invites viewers to join in a contemplation of the relationships that exist between the space of the gallery, the currently vacant lot at 313 South Broad Street, the impact of the University of the Arts on land use in Center City Philadelphia, as well as our roles as active inhabitants of these spaces. We became interested in the vacant lot as a very conspicuous mark made by the University in the heart of downtown Philadelphia (along the so-called “Avenue of the Arts”) that is physically felt by anyone who has ever walked down that part of Broad Street. When building that occupied that site was demolished by the University several years ago, half of the sidewalk was torn up and the lot fenced in, disrupting the pattern of pedestrian traffic along the way. For more contextual information and documentation, visit the project web site
As mentioned in an earlier post on a developing project, the Think Tank that has yet to be named recently unveiled the first major documentation of what will be a long-term project investigating the productive relationships between art, activism, and education. Four Think Tank Directors (myself included) performed public orations of radical texts in specific sites in Chicago, Boston, and Philadelphia; each text responded to the specific site. The impetus for these orations was generated by an initial conversation on art, activism, and education, as well as the subsequent compilation of a third Think Tank Reader on this very subject. Audio and video documentation, a small zine, and the Think Tank Readers were all recently presented for public consumption at Version>08: DARK MATTER in Chicago. First theorized by Greg Sholette, “dark matter” refers to “a hidden social production has always found its own time and space apart from hegemonies of power and the objectifying routines of work.” I believe that many Directors in the Think Tank would locate their work in the vicinity of dark matter. Read more about this ongoing work, watch videos of the first public orations, and download the corollary materials: Radical Orations on Art, Activism & Education.
I also want to highlight two recent projects by Heath (aka DITE, Director of the Dept. for the Investigation of Tactical Education) and Katie (aka DICP, Director of the Dept. for the Investigation of Cross-Pollination), both of whom are friends connected via the small but exceptional network of people from my days at OPENSOURCE and Champaign-Urbana, IL.
Heath (in collaboration with Brad Thomson) has just completed a small zine, Is anyone fucking listening? A mini anthology of desperate political acts, which will be included in the upcoming exhibition “The Audacity of Desperation” curated by Jessica Lawless and Sarah Ross. The zine presents an admittedly incomplete selection of desperate acts by individuals and groups who, when faced with extreme oppression, resort to sometimes extreme acts of opposition and resistance in order to assert their own agency, their own right to self-determination and self-definition. Importantly, this history is offered not only as a document of these under-acknowledged events but as a way to bridge this past with what may be required of us today and tomorrow in terms of oppositional political activity:
These actions shouldn’t provide a template for dissent today, but should provide some footing to build off of. Obviously, all of these events were a specific response relevant to the position the activists were put in, and today is no different. Specific contexts call for specific actions and these should serve as acts to learn from and study. However, we must remain aware that new and strategic responses to the state we find ourselves in are necessary.
In March Meredith and I traveled to Boston for a couple of days and met up with Katie who gave us a brief orientation to the town—together we wondered aloud why the squares aren’t square—including an introduction to the Freedom Trail (my photos here). Katie has been researching the trail, its origins (the creation of a Boston journalist in 1951), and its evolution in development of a project that interrogates the construction of specific historical narratives and the purposes for which such narratives are invented. The Freedom Trail: Economic and Cultural Pilgrimage is a series of photographs of the removed and added Freedom Trail as well as a self-guided podcast tour of the original Freedom Trail; it will be on view from May 10 through June 21 at Proof Gallery in Boston.
Posted on March 18th, 2008 in activism, collaboration, project news and
I and a few other Directors in the Think Tank are slowly (so slowly, it seems) working on a third reader that addresses the issues of art, activism, and education. Along the way, we realized the potential for a related project in which we will each perform public orations of fragments of some of the texts that we find particularly resonant. The orations will be executed and documented in specific sites in the cities where we live—Philly, Boston, Chicago.
Today I was speaking with the Dean at the University where I teach who raised the question of reenactment—quite appropriately—wondering if that strategy was being employed in our project. Certainly, reenactment has been on a lot of our minds, especially given Mark Tribe’s recent Port Huron Project and Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreave reenactment that a few of us recently saw at the ICA Boston (to name just a couple recent examples). I’ve also recently watched T.R. Uthco and Ant Farm’s restaging of JFK’s assassination, The Eternal Frame, which recreates the event as it was filtered through the lens (literally) of the Zapruder film footage. The historical reenactment is a powerful form, and within the spectrum of verisimilitude there are many variables to manipulate for meaningful re-presentation of the so-called historical event: site, persona, language, factual/fictional, mediation. Deller’s project is contextualized within the larger practice of popular historical reenactments, the kind of grand, period-piece performances of military battles and Renaissance fairs. Deller relied on these weekend pros to stage his elaborate reenactment of the coal miner labor strike in the UK that involved hundreds of clashing workers and police.
But I digress slightly. Our oration project is not about reenactment (or maybe it is, but in less specific way?). I think that it is more related to the tradition of public speaking—like really public speaking, setting up on a street corner, jumping on the soapbox, shouting it out. The project also satisfies a desire to get some of these texts we’re reading out there in some form even if only partially into the spaces of the cities where we live. Of course, I haven’t attempted the oration yet, so I’ll reserve judgment until then.
I plan to read a fragment that actually deals with the notion of city speech. It’s from a “Laboratory for Civil Discourse” by Steven Schroeder:
City speech is not simply or uniformly nice; on the contrary, it is often confrontational and rough. A place in which speech was simply and uniformly nice would be homogeneous and have nothing but smooth edges. [...] Beauty is defined not by excluding those who do not fit within existing boundaries but by crossing boundaries to acknowledge the fittingness of diversity encountered in the city. Crossing boundaries involves confrontation and is rarely smooth. But that it is part of city speech means that civil discourse has not occurred if boundaries have not been crossed.
Nor is city speech simply a matter of saying something. If it does not also ensure space and time in which to say nothing, the listening essential to discourse becomes impossible. In terms of boundary crossing, this means that civil discourse has not occurred if boundaries that define spaces of sound and spaces of silence have not been recognized and honored. Both sound and silence are crucial if the city is not simply to degenerate into a place of violence.
Finally, and most emphatically, city speech does not avoid argument. In fact, the rhythm of crossing, recognizing, and honoring boundaries is descriptive of the discipline of argument. [...] Where there is no argument, there is no civil discourse, and there is no city. Such a place is likely to be defined in one of three ways: either it is surrounded by an essentially impermeable boundary that excludes difference; or it is marked by violent struggle for control of turf; or (most likely) it is a mixture of both, with enforced homogeneity near the center of power and violent struggle for control of turf on the fringes.
I have learned this lesson well during the last few years of community work in Philadelphia. Civil discourse is tough; it requires constant attention and diligence, especially to resist the urge to retreat from the spaces of conflict (Meredith and I have jointly written about this before). I don’t always succeed; it’s a process of becoming.
So, I’m going to give a public speech about city speech in the city. But where? A little more thinking and research left to do before I make that decision.