dispatches

A Syllabus for Antifascist Cinema (part I)

What images and narratives, what poetics would allow for the emergence of a version of us that invests in the dignity and well-being of all of us? What life-long training, support systems, and affective mutual aid networks would nurture our perception of freedom as the freedom of all people? What tactile or olfactory experiences would boost our immune system against the competitive market mentality governing every aspect of our lives? What would make us gentler, but more committed to preserving our ability to protect one another from violence – which at the end harms not just the most vulnerable, but all of us? What kinds of exposures, ways of relating, sensual, libidinal, erotic, poetic and material possibilities may be explored for the germination of a contemporary subject less prone to embracing fascism and more alert to identifying and rejecting it?

It is a difficult task to learn how to debunk the myth of ‘protection’ promised by policing, militarization, concrete national borders and governance by finance when our education system operates under the same structures. It is not easy to reject the seemingly only solutions available to our many problems and failures when the media and all other realms of representation are replete with propagandas of such exemplified ‘solutions.’ it is even harder to do so when we all feel vulnerable, alone and desperate individually, yet we are too afraid to come together in our vulnerability, aloneness and desperation. We are kept separate by the echo chambers of competition and  individualization that tell us "You're not good enough if you don't compete hard enough," "all publicity is good publicity," that "you gotta play the game" and "run yourself like a business": your art, your body, your love, your kinships. It is impossible to listen to a voice inside of you amidst so much noise, so much chaos and a barrage of horrifying news — under what feels like a political sleep paralysis: you can’t move, you can’t scream or wake yourself up even though you are fully aware of this nightmare.

The emergence of a subject capable of refusing these terms is a primary task of antifascism. The germination of this antifascist subject is cultivated by action, but also by an intentional aesthetics. The aesthetics of antifascism, if we can conceive of such a thing, would start with a multiplicity of images, perspectives, stories, timelines and narratives; it would emerge in fragments, a collage of imperfections and flaws, revealing the seams of its constructedness, embracing the inability of the image to be one or whole. What representations of the world, what images and narratives from whose perspective can provide an alternative to what Jennifer Barker calls “the tyranny of images generated by aestheticized politics” in her book The Aesthetics of Antifascist Film: Radical Projection? And what medium is better fit than film for the “documentation of the fragments of history” to oppose “fascism’s insistence on an aesthetic simplification of reality”?1

When pondering the aesthetics of antifascist art, I begin with considering the possibilities of cinema as still one of the farthest-reaching and free-traveling mediums for the world’s working class. Both in the digital age, and under one global pandemic of possibly more to come, film can travel with much more ease than any object can afford. This aspect of the medium, in addition to cinema’s unique ability to construct reality, is also what has made it a favorite tool of fascists, most infamously in the case of Leni Riefenstahl’s The Triumph of the Will and Olympia, among other Nazi propaganda. Today the entanglements of the US TV and Hollywood movie industry normalizing police violence, and spectacularizing imperial expansion through war and neocolonial conquest is not a secret. In this preliminary attempt to write a “syllabus” for antifascist cinema the central question was: What would make an individual more susceptible to adopting fascism as a solution to financial, cultural, psychological and political problems?

The questions of colonialism, racism, patriarchy, nationalism, policing, militarization, environmental violence and imperialism are not secondary, but central to the ongoing crisis of fascism. “It was Fanon, having escaped from Vichy-controlled Martinique to enlist in the Free French Army, who later posed the question in his decolonial classic The Wretched of the Earth: What is fascism but colonialism at the heart of traditionally colonialist countries?,” writes Nicholas Mirzoeff.2 “For DuBois,” writes Cedric Robinson, “the precondition for fascism was a civilization profoundly traumatized by slavery and racism.” “Like many ordinary Black people,” Robinson notes, “DuBois believed that the West was pathological and fascism an expression of that nature.”3 In a speech at Barnard Center for Research on Women, poet and writer, Dionne Brand states: “The triumph of capitalism has given rise to what is now called populism, but what is in fact fascism – the inability to conceal the sharing of the world and the demonizing and casting out of people who are blamed for being in the world. I have to say that it is not that I have not lived this before. It is not that this affect does not follow or hover. To me, Black people in the West have always lived under conditions of fascism. It is that in this particular moment there is an acute peak in the instantiation of fascism.”

The intent of this list is not subliminal advertising or indoctrination, but an affirmation of what Nicholas Mirzoeff calls ‘the right to look’ in his eponymous book, The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. He states:

“Confronted with the disasters of the twentieth century (and now those of the twenty-first), antifascism has had two tasks. First, to depict the reality of fascist violence as violence, and not as an artwork. Next it must offer a different possibility of real existence to confront the fascist claim that only the leader could resolve the problems of modern society. It meant claiming a place from which there is a right to look, not just behold the leader. For both W. E. B. Du Bois and Antonio Gramsci, writing in the 1930s, that place was what they called the “South,” understood as the complex and difficult place from which resistance had to begin and also as the emergent future.”4

South-looking, what follows is not a definitive or a comprehensive list but the beginning of a provisional syllabus, a list in progress, a first draft to be amended, expanded and added to, a sketchpad for a collective drawing of the contours of antifascist cinema. The selected films deploy narratives, temporalities, and subject formations in relation to various historical contexts to form a cacophony of voices and multiplicity of perspectives, relations, histories and desires for a different world. In addition to being imperfect and incomplete, the list may also appear odd at first glance. Although some of the films are situated within a specific history of fascism, others take place in different moments in history under various forms of tyranny, looking back at our collective past to better understand how we arrived here.

The selected films depict life under occupation, colonial settlement, war, segregation and racial violence, carcerality, heightened nationalism, toxic masculinity, militarism and policing. These are stories of rage and alienation, but also love and joy under structures built to annihilate them. These films depict both fascism in its brutal, absurd and violent ways, and the material means and methods of resisting, combatting and fighting tyranny – an antifascist cinema free of “exemplary” tales where “the hero is the West; the value is individual freedom (in material or spiritual terms); the interdiction is authoritarian mass movements; the villain, charismatic leaders; the misfortune, fascism; the rescuer, bourgeois democracies; the struggle, the Second World War; the moral: “The hero was imprudent, but managed to redeem himself on his own.””5


1. The Conformist (Il Conformista), Bernardo Bertolucci (1970)
[MUBI]

Let’s start with a classic: Marcello begins working for the fascist secret police in pursuit of a “normal life” through heterosexual marriage. He is assigned the assassination of his former professor, an antifascist living in exile in Paris. (Also pictured in the header image.)


2. Love Meetings (Comizi d'amore), Pier Paolo Pasolini (1965)
[YouTube
]

No genuine conversation about antifascism, cinema or antifascist cinema is imaginable without Pasolini. While Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom is a classic in the cinema of antifascism, Pasolini’s entire oeuvre can be looked at as an exploration of a poetics and aesthetics which resist fascism, tyranny and hegemony. My Pasolini pick is a film less ostensibly engaged with direct politics: a feature length documentary made in 1965 about sex, birth, sexuality, marriage and prostitution in Italy. Beginning with asking young children how children are made, Pasolini interviews a wide range of Italians from across different class, professional, generational, age, ethnic, gender and political backgrounds about a range of social taboos, specifically the deregulation and criminalization of prostitution in Italy. The film works as a portrait of a heterogeneous Italian society with as many different responses to a single issue as the number of people interviewed. Through the fragments of responses from factory workers, poets, young kids, teenagers, and mothers, this film opens a window onto the work of a poet and filmmaker who sought the erotic in political struggles.


3. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion (Indagine su un cittadino al di sopra di ogni sospetto), Elio Petri (1970)
[The Criterion Channel]

A Roman police detective reports his own crime of murdering his lover. Predictably, he gets assigned to investigate his own crime on the same day he gets promoted from the Chief of Homicide to the Chief of the Political Division. In one of the most unsettling and resonant monologues in the film, he preambles his acceptance speech with “Gentlemen, I hope you appreciate the novelty of this meeting. It’s American style!” and continues: “The difference between common and political felonies is dwindling more and more each day…. Inside every criminal, a subversive may be hiding, and inside a subversive, a criminal may be hiding.” All along the investigation, the only living witness to his crime is his murdered lover’s upstairs neighbor: an anarchist student, Antonio Pace who is arrested in a protest and perfectly meets the criteria for a criminal suspect: a “socially and politically dangerous individual.” During an interrogation scene, when the murdered chief dares Antonio to turn him in, the young student responds: “You are here and that’s where you’ll stay, a criminal leading the repression.”


4. A Song of Love (Un chant d’amour), Jean Genet (1950)
[YouTube]

The oldest film on the list, and the only film Genet directed; A Song of Love is a sensual love story touching on homosexuality, race, surveillance, militarized order, prisons, dreams and a concrete wall penetrated with a straw through a hole for two lovers to share a smoke (breath) between their prison cells.


5. The Wall (Duvar), Yılmaz Güney (1983)
[YouTube]

Yilmaz Güney’s last film was made briefly before he died from cancer in exile. Güney lived in France after escaping from prison in Turkey five years into a nineteen year prison sentence for the alleged murder of a public prosecutor in Yumurtalık. Güney’s films had been banned in Turkey since 1980 by the ruling military junta. Duvar takes place in a children’s prison ward in Turkey where a group of incarcerated children organize an uprising as their only way of being transferred to a “better” prison.


6. The Cycle, دایره مینا, Dariush Mehrjui (1978)
[YouTube]

Premiering first in Paris, then Berlin, the film was banned in Iran for four years until released in 1978. The Cycle follows Ali, a young man with an ill father in need of hospitalization. To provide for his father and himself, Ali starts working with a bourgeois doctor who runs an underground blood bank, soliciting blood from the most forgotten strata of the Iranian urban society: the extremely poor, homeless, and drug addicts, many with infectious diseases. The infected blood is then used to treat the upper strata of the society in need of blood transfusions and gets carried from one body to another without class, ethnic, gender or other discrimination. The film is said to have provided for the foundation of Iran’s National Blood Bank in 1974. One of Dariush Mehrjui’s most acclaimed films, The Cycle is based on a play by Gholam-hossein Sa’edi. Sa’edi had previously worked with Dariush Mehrjui on Gav (The Cow), a pivotal film in the history of Iranian cinema, based on one of his short stories. One of Iran’s most influential fiction writers with great sensitivity and awareness about racial, ethnic and class dynamics in Iran, Sa’edi spent the last few years of his life in exile. In Paris, Sa’edi was in conversation with Yilmaz Güney, a filmmaker he admired, to collaborate on a film script. Sa’edi died in 1985, almost one year after Güney without the two ever meeting in person. They are both buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.


7. Born in Flames, Lizzie Borden (1983)
[The Criterion Channel] [Kanopy]

In Lizzie Borden’s dystopian sci-fi, the post socialist-revolutionary US is as sexist, classist, racist and misogynist as ever before. The film depicts, at times graphically, instances of everyday and structural violence and juxtaposes them with the more explicitly and institutionally recognizable forms of violence: the terrorist activities of The Women’s Army. Towards the end of the movie, after their two independent radio stations are burnt down, the women continue to broadcast from stolen U-Hauls and disrupt a presidential address after hijacking the state TV station and set the antennas on top of New York’s Twin Towers on fire in order to prevent the media from further disseminating lies and propaganda.


8. The Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett (1978)
[UCLA Library Film and Television Archive]

There are many movies from the LA Rebelion cinema that perfectly belong in this list. The Killer of Sheep takes place in post-Watts Rebellion Los Angeles. A signature of LA Rebelion defying tired Hollywood traits, the film opens a window onto small details of everyday life of a working class Black family. Stan works in a meat packing factory where he is ‘the killer of sheep.’ Scenes of preparing the animals to be slaughtered, hanging the meat, washing and cleaning up are interspersed with children playing, men meeting and making business deals, children and adults loving one another. Camaraderie, slow dancing, despair, alienation and loss are so tenderly woven into a story of everyday life on the margins of what is institutionally represented in the mainstream. Through the simplicity of its numerous tableaus, and juxtapositions such as “The House I live in” playing on scenes of children playing in the urban spaces of South Los Angeles, Burnett’s subtle cinematic critique questions the promises and core values of freedom, justice and other myths of US democracy.


9. As Above So Below, Larry Clark (1973)
[UCLA Library Film and Television Archive]

One of the most explicitly political films of the LA Rebelion, this dystopian sci-fi is set under a fascist regime. A former US marine joins an underground guerilla network of Black insurgents to organize an armed revolution.


10. Underground (Подземље), Emir Kusturica (1995)
[MUBI]

Spanning WWII, the Cold War and the Bosnian War, the movie begins with a communist taking his family and community to an underground bomb shelter during the German airstrikes on Belgrade. Time freezes for the community living underground who continues to believe the war is ongoing and the country still occupied by the German. By the time they leave the Underground, the war is already a thing of the past, distant enough to be reenacted and turned into movies. In the last scene of the film, the underground community gather together on a piece of land by the sea to celebrate the leader’s son’s wedding. Jovan, who was born and raised in the bunker, has only recently seen the world outside of the dark and drunken gun manufacturing shelter where he has lived his entire life. In a dream-like last scene, as people continue to celebrate the piece of land they’re on separates from the mainland and begins to float away. The film ends with the words “Once upon a time there was a country….”


11. Hate (La Haine), Mathieu Kassovitz (1995)
[Kanopy]

In the aftermath of anti-police riots in Paris, three young men, a Jew, a North African Muslim and an Afro-French boxer, spend twenty exhausting hours in the banlieues of Paris where they live.


12. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1974)
[The Criterion Channel]

One of my all time favorite movies with the most poetic and ever resonant title! Taking refuge from pouring rain, Emmi, a white German widow walks into a bar where the voice of Lebanese singer Sabah is playing out of a jukebox in West Germany. “I pass by here every evening and hear that foreign music” she tells the bartender, clearly uncomfortable in this dark corner of her neighborhood she had never before stepped foot. There she meets Ali, a young Moroccan migrant and frequent at the bar. Played by El Hedi ben Salem, Fassbinder’s lover, Ali develops a romantic relationship with Emmi, leading to their marriage and more.


13. The Battle of Algiers, Gillo Pontecorvo (1966)
[Kanopy]

Deemed the most important political film of all times, it is not surprising to note the number of books, chapters and dissertations dedicated to more than Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers. The film is a favorite of both anti-colonialists and generals of ‘the war on terror’ – with a screening at the Pentagon in 2003 to demonstrate how the French had already figured out successful tactics, but failed strategically to control the Arab terrorists. The Battle of Algiers is a film for all times, as long as we live in the legacies of Europe’s problems. In the words of Aimé Césaire: “The fact is that the so-called European civilization — Western civilization — as it has been shaped by two centuries of bourgeois rule, is incapable of solving the two major problems to which its existence has given rise: the problem of the proletariat and the colonial problem: that Europe is unable to justify itself either before the bar of “reason” or before the bar of “conscience.”


14. Nostalgia for the Light (Nostalgia de la Luz), Patricio Guzmán (2010)
[The Criterion Channel]

In the above cited chapter, Antifascist Neorealism (The Right to Look), Nicholas Mirzeoff reminds us: “The practice of “disappearing” anti-government activists, meaning having them killed and disposed of in secret—was begun by the French during the revolution and later exported by them to Latin America, most notably in Argentina and Chile. Such practices, far from forming a decolonized visuality, epitomize the secrecy of the police in separating what can be seen from what must be declared invisible.” One of the most philosophical documentaries about the history of the ‘disappeared’ and the atrocities of the US backed military dictatorship in Chile (among other countries in South America), Nostalgia for the Light is multidisciplinary poetry: “A revolutionary tide swept us to the centre of the world….around the same time, science fell in love with the Chilean sky. A group of astronomers found they could touch the stars in the Atacama desert. Enveloped in stardust, scientists from all over the planet created the biggest telescope in the world. Some time later, a coup d’etat swept away democracy, dreams and science.” The astronomers’ looking up at the sky parallels a group of women whose loved ones who had disappeared during the dictatorship were kept in concentration camps, tortured and killed in the Atacama desert—their bones preserved by the salt in the dry sand where nothing ever grows. Nostalgia for the Light cuts through the layers of violence that run parallel to the strata of the earth: “A people without memory are a people without a future.”


15. Haitian Corner, Raoul Peck (1987)

A carpenter by day and poet by night, Joseph is a refugee in Brooklyn, NY who has fled Haiti where he was tortured as a poet and activist under the dictatorship of Jean-Claude Duvalier. Living in exile in New York, one day he recognizes the voice of his torturer.


16. The Prize (El Premio), Paula Markovich (2011)

Paula Markovich’s autobiographical film is set in San Clemente del Tuyú in Argentina where she spent much of her childhood. Set during the military dictatorship in Argentina, a young mother and her seven year old daughter hide in an abandoned beach house. One day representatives from the national army visit the small rural school to promote a writing contest about the Argentine nation. The conflicted seven year old writes an essay describing how the military has kidnapped her father, causing debilitating panic to her mother. In one scene, as the child witnesses her terrified mother burying “political” books in the sand, she imitates her by burying one of hers “for play.” The water washes over both of their buried books.


17. The Chronicle of Disappearance (سجل اختفاء), Elia Suleiman (1996)
[YouTube]

Elia Suleiman’s first feature film tells the story of the filmmaker himself who stars in the film under his initials, E.S. after returning from New York to Palestine. The film is made with a cast almost entirely of his family, relatives and other nonactors. Structured as a chronicle, in different chapters of multiple vignettes, the film is ripe with absurd humour that is the signature of Suleiman’s films. Made and released after the Oslo Agreement, it depicts mundane everyday scenes of life, leisure and business in Palestine with a recurring trait of mocking authority, especially the Israeli police.


18. Zama, Lucrecia Martel (2017)

It is perhaps an odd choice to have a period film set in the 18th century in a list of antifascist films. Lucrecia Martel’s latest film, Zama starts with Don Diego de Zama, a Spanish functionary overhearing a group of indigenous women bathing and practicing the equivalents of Spanish words in Guaraní. It is a rare historical cinematic depiction of Spanish colonial rule in South America.


19. Cemetery of Splendour, Apichatpong Weerasethakul (2015)

Jen returns to her former school turned hospital where numerous soldiers with a strange disease are comatose for days at a time. There she is introduced to a woman “who helps the police with her ability to communicate with the spirit of those murdered and missing.” Jen, who's married to Richard, an American army veteran she has met on the internet, spends time with one of the ill soldiers during all his waking hours. Conversations throughout the film are interrupted by the soldier’s sudden falling asleep.


20. The House is Black (خانه سیاه است), Forough Farrokhzad (1963)
[YouTube]

In pre-revolutionary Iran ruled by a monarch, the avant-garde poet and filmmaker Forough Farrokhzad takes a trip to one of the most forgotten corners of the country, a small village where the patients with leprosy are quarantined. Reminiscent of Che Guevara’s volunteering at San Pablo leper colony, she submerges herself in the community to document the tender moments of life, intimacy, beauty and laughter.


21. Endless Poetry (Poesía sin fin), Alejandro Jodorowsky (2016)

Jodorowsky’s 2016 autobiographical fiction film bears an undeniable resemblance to the first segment of Bolaño’s 1998 novel, The Savage Detectives. Young Alejandro leaves his family to merge himself in a new life surrounded by poets, writers, homosexuals, outlaws and bohos in Santiago de Chile. During Carlos Ibáñez del Campo’s second dictatorial rule in Chile, Alexandro, an antifascsit poet, leaves his hometown for Paris. Only in a Jodorowsky movie you can find a character, the poet’s mother, who communicates in an entirely different genre throughout the film: the musical!


Gelare Khoshgozaran is an undisciplinary artist and writer who, in 2009 was transplanted from street protests in a city of four seasons to the windowless rooms of the University of Southern California where aesthetics and politics were discussed in endless summers. Her work has been presented in solo and group exhibitions at the New Museum, Queens Museum, Hammer Museum, LAXART, Human Resources, Visitor Welcome Center, Articule (Montreal), Beursschouwburg (Brussels), Pori Art Museum (Finland) and Yarat Contemporary Art Space (Baku, Azerbaijan). She was the recipient of a Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant (2015), an Art Matters Award (2017), the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award (2019), and the Graham Foundation Award (2020). Her essays and interviews have been published and are forthcoming in contemptorary (co-founding editor), The Brooklyn Rail, Parkett, X-TRA, The Enemy, Art Practical, Ajam Media Collective , The LA Review of Books and Temporary Art Review, among others.


The Work after Our Rage

The Work after Our Rage

Here we are again. A white knee on a black neck for a murderous and callous nine minutes. Nine minutes that echo across lifetimes. Nine minutes that are unbelievable and totally believable and beyond excruciating to watch. Nine minutes that yield waves of protest across the country. Nine minutes that may or may not yield any kind of justice for the murdered.

We wrote about this almost six years ago in a paper called A Case for Social Emergency Procedures. Since then our country has been on a downhill spiral that doesn’t seem to have a bottom. This particular juncture on the spiral is back to the one that we call a Social Emergency.

We are in rage. We are in pain. We are in the streets. And the work will need to continue after our tears, anger, pain and protest.

Since we wrote the initial paper on the Social Emergency, we have written a book called Ideas Arrangements Effects. We believe the framework can be useful as we look at the scale of the work ahead of us:

Ideas are embedded in social arrangements, which in turn produce effects.

Right now, violent ideas about black people are embedded in every arrangement of American society, and the effect is constant black death.

Most Americans—particularly those who are not victims of Afrophobic hatred and violence—relate to the social problem of state and culturally sanctioned violence one episode at a time. These ways of relating to it are all within the range of each effect. In this case the effects are the specific murders of specific black people.

And our response each time is righteous rage. We hit the streets protesting another set of back-to-back black deaths at the hand of the US carceral culture and state. This response is critical. It’s what makes the work possible. And it’s like a sprint. It increases our blood pressure. It takes adrenaline. It’s physically hard. It’s dangerous. And it’s tremendously urgent.

Another set of responses happen at the range of effects and the set of relational concerns that arise from the specific incident or set of incidents: We look after each other, lift up black life, worry about our children, share information, resources and prayer.

Each episode demands these responses and demands justice, absolutely. But when we dig into each episode as if it were an individual act, when we ask about the qualities and intentions of each victim and/or perpetrator, we go down a rabbit-hole of individuation. This makes a kind of distinct enclosure and separation possible. Separation from the act and separation of the acts from each other. It individuates conceptions of some kind of justice. It makes us fight each time, in each town and city, for a righting of a particular, individuated wrong. It is like fighting a swarm of locusts one locust at a time.

And as we dig in to fight each racist actor—each “rogue cop” or crazed “Ben” or privileged “Becky”—our focus separates these actors from the state. Our narrowed vision separates them from the social culture out of which they emerge and find the entitlement to act.

These actions are the state. These actions are American culture.

Our wave of protest and resistance is part of the first phase of confronting the effects of state and culturally sanctioned violence. In our scale and urgency, we point to more than one death. We begin the work of connecting the dots of centuries of injustice. But this protest phase will need to increase its durability to make the kinds of cultural and social transformations needed. It has to grow into a bigger second phase; one that’s focused on the many arrangements of American life that produce black death.

Once we move from this phase we are experiencing now, let’s move to investigating and dismantling the set of state and cultural arrangements that produce black death. This move demands that we shift our focus from individuated black death to focusing on the state and cultural context we are enmeshed with, participate in and seek safety from. To this end, we ask us all to make a conceptual and practical move—especially white people and others who are not victims of violent and lethal Afrophobic hatred. This shift ideally should erase the line between you and the state, between you and the racist cop or crazed, white 911 caller.

If we don’t move from effects to arrangements the cycle will continue. If we want to break the cycle, we have to contend with the arrangements giving life to the cycle. If the work of protest is like a sprint, this work is like a triathlon. It’s grueling, it uses multiple skills and above all, it requires endurance.

Here we lay out a proposition a set of assignments to help us with this shift.

Assignment 1 – Advocate for/ support / listen to /and build up ALL Black, Indigenous, and Immigrant led organizations and efforts in this moment

While we are in the heat of protests, many of you are looking to support your black, indigenous, and brown leaders. They will all be needed for this long haul struggle. You are checking in on them, asking about their emotional wellbeing and the like. This is awesome. Here’s the next step, especially for people with resources and/or philanthropic networks: Ask Black / Indigenous / Immigrant leaders about their organizational capacity.

Our organizations need fully funded budgets. We need the capacity to engage in this fight full force. And that looks like us having the wherewithal to increase our human capacity and to be able to engage for the long haul.

If you have the capacity to support, simply do it. If you know and are looking to black/indigenous/ immigrant leaders to lead at this time, ask yourself what connections do you have to financial resources, donors and philanthropic networks. Put your resources to work for all of the leaders you know. At this moment the work needed is simply too complex and daunting to not have all hands on deck at full capacity. And given the realities of Covid19, organizations that are needed the most to lead in their own way at this moment have likely lost funds, human resources and capacity.

Assignment 2 – We must address the ARRANGEMENTS

If you pay taxes to the state, if you vote, if you are protected by 911 and the police every day, you are part of the arrangements of the state. Come up and really look at the State, the state of your State. Come up and look at your culture, the state of your culture. Sit with and study how culture and state invest in and promote the behaviors found in these individuated effects. These are the social arrangements we speak of: our acceptance of policing our children in public education systems, our all white small towns and cities, the countless ways we prioritize white comfort in public space, the many ways we can hide racist fear behind white-washed regulations and “this is how things work”. These are places ripe for inspection and re-imagining.

Isolate all forms of militarized state police (including ICE)

We need to create ways to keep these kinds of actors away from the people they seek to destroy. As we speak, American culture has accepted concentration camps for immigrants at the border, tanks rolling in to our cities to fight protesters, and armed civilians and police killing Black people in their homes and daily lives. For those of us who don’t accept this, we need to step up and physically separate these forces from those they seek to harm.

Let’s work with lawyers and international peacekeeping experts to find the right way to describe a cease fire and spatial amnesty from all forms of police occupation in our communities.

Let’s work with choreographers, geographers, spatial and embodied thinkers and practitioners to imagine and deploy techniques that make this kind of work possible.

Conduct a National People’s Investigation – Make the Arrangements Public

Let’s map the overlapping arrangements that produce and accept black death. Let’s expose national patterns within and between the state and the culture.

For example, one arrangement we could begin by mapping is that of 911, a state arrangement that intersects with cultural ideas. As we map its connections back to ideas of white safety (and the arrangement of police in protecting that safety), we see how 911 is integral to the equation of white safety yielding black death. We see how white fear has been weaponized, but also how communities of color are left without safety when they call for help and the result is violence against them and their loved ones.

As a National People’s Investigation, let’s explore and expose such overlapping arrangements, using them as the bridge between the tragic effects they produce and the sturdy ideas that are embedded within them. Let’s learn from relational practitioners, like acupuncturists, anthropologists, process philosophers, and artists who focus of relation, pattern and form. Let’s look to the practitioners, activists and academics constantly working to challenge and change unjust arrangements. Let’s be co-led by grassroots organizations, intermediaries, diverse faith institutions, as well as academic ones. Let’s deploy multiple kinds of ethnographic techniques and participatory action research. Let’s keep our eyes wide open.

This project would not yet be for reconciliation. It is simply a project of truth. We advocate for a deep sitting with, a deep encounter with the truth.

Assignment 3—Let’s make the IDEAS public

When you back up one step further to the ideas embedded in these arrangements, it’s easy to say the idea in operation is racism or anti-blackness. And yes, all too often, even after lengthy fights to change arrangements— think police cameras, civilian oversight boards, decriminalization of marijuana, etc.—we find racism stealthily finding ways to circumvent these changes. This is, in part, due to the fact that racists hold so much power over the arrangements of this country. But it is also due to the ways in which this broad idea we call racism is too vague. It lets people who don’t see themselves as racist off the hook too easily. It individuates the problem again. We need to articulate the specific ideas / beliefs that make up the state and American culture’s will to kill.

What form will it take to change a nation’s ideas of itself and “the other”? Let’s fight for People’s Addresses, States of the Union-We-Need, where we can hear from thought-leaders who have spent their lives searching for more specific terms to describe the situation we find ourselves within, thinkers whose conceptual prowess in their fields is brave, counter-intuitive and eye-opening. Let’s engage the wisdom of elders who have connected so many dots, and the sharp insight and language of our youth. Let’s test new language from our artists, activists and academics. We need new kinds of perspective on the ideas at play within these arrangements, ideas that are sharper, clearer, more precise. And as we expose the tenacity of racialized ideas and the complex ways that we all embody them, we need to listen.

Protest as Birth

We’re hoping that this powerful current wave of national protest will give birth to lasting change. To ensure this, we must collectively shift from our tendencies to fall back into the old normal in between murders. We must shift from losing our focus as a particular black murder recedes to increasing our focus on the arrangements that produced it. And we must turn towards the deep work of undoing the ideas that will inevitably produce the next murder.

We hope that people will add to our assignments–our nascent ideas for National Investigations, mapping arrangements, People’s Addresses and more. Through our collective commitment to this work, we hope to find new levers for imagining, creating, and enforcing the kinds of change we need. We want nothing less than to change the ideas and arrangements that produce black death.

We see a powerful and diverse mix of interventions. We see collective bodies from the scale of small towns to large states stepping into unprecedented investigations into their carceral cultures and practices. We see the arrangements of national media covering People’s Addresses and Declarations in the ways they have covered Presidential ones. We see artists depicting the truths of these investigations in ways that require encounter.

This will not be easy. It will not be quick. Ultimately our goal is the total transformation of America’s carceral state and culture. We need a completely new model. This is why we have to increase the actors, gather our strength, and look for a long haul struggle. We are looking to fundamentally change the heart and mind of American culture. This is simply the doorway.


The Design Studio for Social Intervention (DS4SI) is dedicated to changing how social justice is imagined, developed and deployed here in the United States. We function as a creativity lab for social justice work in the public sphere. The Studio is a space where activists, artists, academics and the larger public come together to imagine new approaches to social change and new angles to address complex social issues. We also design social interventions that engage populations in imagining and designing new solutions to social problems.


Let's Not Be Afraid of Each Other

LET’S NOT BE AFRAID OF EACH OTHER

JULY 7, 2020 | IN DISPATCHES | BY UMI HSU and THEODORE (ted) KERR

LET’S NOT BE AFRAID OF EACH OTHER

JULY 7, 2020 | IN DISPATCHES | BY UMI HSU and THEODORE (ted) KERR

On January 17, 2020, METANOIA: Transformation through AIDS Archives and Activism opened at ONE GALLERY in West Hollywood in Los Angeles County. The exhibition is an archival examination of community-based responses to the ongoing AIDS crisis in the United States curated from holdings in the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives (ONE Archives) at the USC Libraries, as well as, The Center Archive in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center in New York City.

Curated by members of What Would an HIV Doula Do? (WWHIVDD?), at the invitation of ONE Archives Foundation (a nonprofit community partner to the ONE Archives at USC Libraries), Metanoia primarily centers on the contributions and experiences of Black cis and trans women and cis and trans women of color who have always been at the forefront of the movement, but often found at the margins of AIDS archives, art exhibition, and histories. Metanoia was first exhibited at the Center in New York City in 2019 before a three-month run in Los Angeles where the exhibition (with the original closing date of April 5, 2020) came to an abrupt end. As of the writing of this text Metanoia is still up, but not on view. 

In late February 2020, the news of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) started to circulate and it became clear that life was about to change. Since then, there have been over 525,470 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19, with over a quarter occurring in the United States. On March 12, 2020, ONE Archives Foundation, following city rules, closed the gallery to the public and awaited approval to re-open. Before the doors closed, the WWHIVDD? curators (Katherine Cheairs, Alexandra Juhasz, Theodore (ted) Kerr and Jawanza Williams) and ONE Archives Foundation were working to create an exhibition-related zine to debut at the LA Art Book Fair. After the LA Art Book Fair was cancelled, Umi Hsu, Director of Content Strategy at ONE Archives Foundation, suggested the curators still create a zine, but make it about COVID-19. The curatorial team agreed. 

Within days, amid social distancing protocols, emails went out to members of What Would an HIV Doula Do? inviting them to submit words and images that respond to a prompt that had been brewing in the recent days: What Does a COVID-19 Doula Do? The responses that came back illustrated a community already engaging with the COVID-19 crisis, with people who were committed to justice and care, drawing upon their skills as people involved within the ongoing HIV response. What emerged was a stand alone project that captured the urgency of the moment, while reflecting the larger themes of Metanoia. The exhibition’s title is of Greek origin and expresses the possibility of change through transformation. As Metanoia demonstrates, HIV/AIDS is a powerful agent of change and transformation that happens through community, activism, words, sex, care, and the materials that document these human efforts. The What Does a Covid-19 Doula Do? zine does much of the same work, updated for the times in which we live. 

In the following conversation, Umi Hsu and Theodore (ted) Kerr share their thoughts about the zine within the larger context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and resurgence of powerful Black Lives Matter activism sweeping the world. The frame for this discussion is four questions that Kerr crafted early in quarantine as prompts to urge people and groups to archive history as it is happening.

On January 17, 2020, METANOIA: Transformation through AIDS Archives and Activism opened at ONE GALLERY in West Hollywood in Los Angeles County. The exhibition is an archival examination of community-based responses to the ongoing AIDS crisis in the United States curated from holdings in the ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives (ONE Archives) at the USC Libraries, as well as, The Center Archive in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Center in New York City.

Curated by members of What Would an HIV Doula Do? (WWHIVDD?), at the invitation of ONE Archives Foundation (a nonprofit community partner to the ONE Archives at USC Libraries), Metanoia primarily centers on the contributions and experiences of Black cis and trans women and cis and trans women of color who have always been at the forefront of the movement, but often found at the margins of AIDS archives, art exhibition, and histories. Metanoia was first exhibited at the Center in New York City in 2019 before a three-month run in Los Angeles where the exhibition (with the original closing date of April 5, 2020) came to an abrupt end. As of the writing of this text Metanoia is still up, but not on view. 

In late February 2020, the news of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) started to circulate and it became clear that life was about to change. Since then, there have been over 525,470 deaths worldwide due to COVID-19, with over a quarter occurring in the United States. On March 12, 2020, ONE Archives Foundation, following city rules, closed the gallery to the public and awaited approval to re-open. Before the doors closed, the WWHIVDD? curators (Katherine Cheairs, Alexandra Juhasz, Theodore (ted) Kerr and Jawanza Williams) and ONE Archives Foundation were working to create an exhibition-related zine to debut at the LA Art Book Fair. After the LA Art Book Fair was cancelled, Umi Hsu, Director of Content Strategy at ONE Archives Foundation, suggested the curators still create a zine, but make it about COVID-19. The curatorial team agreed. 

Within days, amid social distancing protocols, emails went out to members of What Would an HIV Doula Do? inviting them to submit words and images that respond to a prompt that had been brewing in the recent days: What Does a COVID-19 Doula Do? The responses that came back illustrated a community already engaging with the COVID-19 crisis, with people who were committed to justice and care, drawing upon their skills as people involved within the ongoing HIV response. What emerged was a stand alone project that captured the urgency of the moment, while reflecting the larger themes of Metanoia. The exhibition’s title is of Greek origin and expresses the possibility of change through transformation. As Metanoia demonstrates, HIV/AIDS is a powerful agent of change and transformation that happens through community, activism, words, sex, care, and the materials that document these human efforts. The What Does a Covid-19 Doula Do? zine does much of the same work, updated for the times in which we live. 

In the following conversation, Umi Hsu and Theodore (ted) Kerr share their thoughts about the zine within the larger context of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and resurgence of powerful Black Lives Matter activism sweeping the world. The frame for this discussion is four questions that Kerr crafted early in quarantine as prompts to urge people and groups to archive history as it is happening.

1. WHAT DID YOU DO?

TED: I am writing this on June 8, 2020, in an empty house belonging to my friends in Crown Heights where I am house sitting for the month, a big change from the Flatbush apartment I share with 2 roommates. I am drinking coffee in the backyard and the chirping of morning birds are a kind of silence from the sounds of police helicopters and sirens that have been tracking the powerful Black Lives Matter protests over the last 11 days. I share this all with you because my life right now is radically different than 3 months ago when news of COVID-19 began to hit, and we began to discuss the idea of making a zine. 

UMI: Thank you for sharing, ted. I am writing this on June 22, 2020, in my house, where we set up ad hoc workspaces since the Safer At Home orders from the Governor of California. Sounds permeate in this space. Between Zoom conversations from my partner’s desk and my own, I hear birds chirping, sprinkled with explosive sounds from fireworks of unidentifiable sources. It’s unclear whether the fireworks are set off by residents eager for the Fourth of July celebration, or a distractive tactic from the police. Occasionally, I hear LAPD helicopters hovering overhead to threaten the unhoused folks who have reclaimed public domain properties a couple of blocks away. In this soundscape of protests for Black Lives and housing rights, and the police suppressions of the uprising, I can no longer differentiate between celebration and contestation. Can you believe it was only three months since we started about the zine?

TED: It is hard to believe, and that’s why these questions are important to me. They provide an opportunity to parse out what has transpired in a short amount of time. And in that parsing, we can gain some insight into ourselves and the world around us. 

It is also nice to remember the order of things. For example, before we started talking about the COVID-19 zine, I had started working with a new friend and brilliant artist / organizer Ripley Soprano to create something to combat the growing fear people were having of each other in the face of COVID-19 and all the questions we had about how it was transmitted. We started using social media to popularize this phrase we were using between us: LET’S NOT BE AFRAID OF EACH OTHER. The “Let’s” does a lot of the phrase’s heavy lifting. We wanted to project something proactive, collective, and positive. 

Our common friend Virgil B/G Taylor made a graphic of the phrase for us. He paired our phrase with an image from the film SAFE (Todd Haynes, 1995). We used this graphic to promote a Zoom online gathering (originally slated for an in-person event) where folks could share their thoughts, feelings, and plans about the pandemic. Over 1000 people liked the image between Ripley’s social media posts and mine, which is a lot. And over 50 people came to that first Zoom gathering where we broke people up into break out groups so folks could be more intimate with each other. 

All of this was in motion, when you emailed with the zine idea, and everything fell into place. I emailed a lot of the Doula community and asked them to respond to the question, “What Does a Covid-19 Doula?,” phrasing it in that specific tense because I knew so many of us were already taking action. Virgil ended up designing the zine, and so many people – including all the curators of the exhibition, plus 30 other people, ended up contributing. I came on as editor, and one of the instinctual choices made in the process was to include work from the Metanoia exhibition, to create a line of activism across time, issue, and people. 

UMI: The moment we had to close the gallery doors, I realized that this was going to be a new era. Art and culture were going to look and feel different. The removal of physical experiences in our life would affect how relationships are forged. I remember leaning into the transformative spirit of Metanoia, both in the word and in the exhibition. I was trying to figure out how we at the ONE Archives Foundation and the ONE Gallery could transform not only the experience of the show, but also the experience of the pandemic. My mind began searching for a form of transformative agency that could create the conditions for community formation during this time of social distancing. 

Zine as short-form publishing has been a tool for cultural and community organizing since the pre-Internet era. An explosive community power is born out of the rapid creation of an object, a container of parts contributed by individuals who may or may not have been connected previously. Through contributing to a collective thing, individuals could be organized into a community. The idea of the zine was already on the table because of our previous commitment to exhibit at Printed Matter’s Los Angeles Art Book Fair. The form and function of zine seemed to make perfect sense, given our interest and necessity to contribute to our current historic moment.

Beyond the making and releasing of the zine, we organized a series of conversations that unwound over social media and synchronous events on Zoom. We hosted four virtual gatherings, each with a focus on a subset of inquiries that emerged from the zine – archiving a pandemic, decolonizing care and insurgent knowledge, how HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 compare, meditative grounding and spreading calm. The making and distribution of the zine was itself a creation of a micro community, a movement of change toward establishing collective care and reflections early during the COVID-19 crisis in the US.

UMI: Thank you for sharing, ted. I am writing this on June 22, 2020, in my house, where we set up ad hoc workspaces since the Safer At Home orders from the Governor of California. Sounds permeate in this space. Between Zoom conversations from my partner’s desk and my own, I hear birds chirping, sprinkled with explosive sounds from fireworks of unidentifiable sources. It’s unclear whether the fireworks are set off by residents eager for the Fourth of July celebration, or a distractive tactic from the police. Occasionally, I hear LAPD helicopters hovering overhead to threaten the unhoused folks who have reclaimed public domain properties a couple of blocks away. In this soundscape of protests for Black Lives and housing rights, and the police suppressions of the uprising, I can no longer differentiate between celebration and contestation. Can you believe it was only three months since we started about the zine?

TED: It is hard to believe, and that’s why these questions are important to me. They provide an opportunity to parse out what has transpired in a short amount of time. And in that parsing, we can gain some insight into ourselves and the world around us. 

It is also nice to remember the order of things. For example, before we started talking about the COVID-19 zine, I had started working with a new friend and brilliant artist / organizer Ripley Soprano to create something to combat the growing fear people were having of each other in the face of COVID-19 and all the questions we had about how it was transmitted. We started using social media to popularize this phrase we were using between us: LET’S NOT BE AFRAID OF EACH OTHER. The “Let’s” does a lot of the phrase’s heavy lifting. We wanted to project something proactive, collective, and positive. 

Our common friend Virgil B/G Taylor made a graphic of the phrase for us. He paired our phrase with an image from the film SAFE (Todd Haynes, 1995). We used this graphic to promote a Zoom online gathering (originally slated for an in-person event) where folks could share their thoughts, feelings, and plans about the pandemic. Over 1000 people liked the image between Ripley’s social media posts and mine, which is a lot. And over 50 people came to that first Zoom gathering where we broke people up into break out groups so folks could be more intimate with each other. 

All of this was in motion, when you emailed with the zine idea, and everything fell into place. I emailed a lot of the Doula community and asked them to respond to the question, “What Does a Covid-19 Doula?,” phrasing it in that specific tense because I knew so many of us were already taking action. Virgil ended up designing the zine, and so many people – including all the curators of the exhibition, plus 30 other people, ended up contributing. I came on as editor, and one of the instinctual choices made in the process was to include work from the Metanoia exhibition, to create a line of activism across time, issue, and people. 

UMI: The moment we had to close the gallery doors, I realized that this was going to be a new era. Art and culture were going to look and feel different. The removal of physical experiences in our life would affect how relationships are forged. I remember leaning into the transformative spirit of Metanoia, both in the word and in the exhibition. I was trying to figure out how we at the ONE Archives Foundation and the ONE Gallery could transform not only the experience of the show, but also the experience of the pandemic. My mind began searching for a form of transformative agency that could create the conditions for community formation during this time of social distancing. 

Zine as short-form publishing has been a tool for cultural and community organizing since the pre-Internet era. An explosive community power is born out of the rapid creation of an object, a container of parts contributed by individuals who may or may not have been connected previously. Through contributing to a collective thing, individuals could be organized into a community. The idea of the zine was already on the table because of our previous commitment to exhibit at Printed Matter’s Los Angeles Art Book Fair. The form and function of zine seemed to make perfect sense, given our interest and necessity to contribute to our current historic moment.

Beyond the making and releasing of the zine, we organized a series of conversations that unwound over social media and synchronous events on Zoom. We hosted four virtual gatherings, each with a focus on a subset of inquiries that emerged from the zine – archiving a pandemic, decolonizing care and insurgent knowledge, how HIV/AIDS and COVID-19 compare, meditative grounding and spreading calm. The making and distribution of the zine was itself a creation of a micro community, a movement of change toward establishing collective care and reflections early during the COVID-19 crisis in the US.

2. WHY DID YOU DO IT?

UMI: In a pandemic, time is a critical axis. Public health officials measure the spread of the virus in terms of time. Mutual aid efforts strive toward immediate impact. I started asking myself: How can a cultural reflection happen at the speed of epidemiology? What are the benefits of thinking collectively while in the midst of a seismic historic shift? 

As an organization that shares LGBTQ history, we center narratives about the LGBTQ struggles for liberation, against social injustices and oppressions. The HIV/AIDS history has taught us that successful movement work requires constant reflection. Art and culture have played a critical role in forwarding the movement, not just in memorializing it. Human reflections and cultural expressions fuel the momentum of change work, and bolster the spirit of the change makers. 

For the COVID Doula zine project, I wanted to create a critical space for the artists, curators, writers, and historians to dialog about social inequity and historical oppressions related to COVID-19. I also wanted to make available a moment of collective expansiveness to reimagine better possibilities in terms of health outcomes and uplift expressions of human dignity and resilience.

TED: I so appreciate what you say about HIV activism being about constant reflection. Informing my actions at this time was the years of HIV community work I had done where stigma is so pervasive. I knew that once we started being scared of each other, and seeing people as vectors, the virus would be the least of our worries: depression, blame, and inequality would all block any meaningful collective responses to the virus. In the Doula work I have learned that collective and individual trauma can block people and communities from the wisdom, resources, and skills that they could have at their disposal. In order to reduce harm in the face of terror, it is good to hold space for each other and remind each other who you are and who you can be. That was the bulk of what I saw as my task on this earth in the early weeks of the pandemic. The zine was a good way to invite people to reflect on what they were doing, and then share with the world, the different ways they could be.

As the zine was circulating on social media I was as excited when strangers liked the project. From the start I saw the zine not only as a source of information, and a model for others to build upon, but also as an archive in real time. In the first three months of COVID-19 I was really obsessed with people documenting themselves. From AIDS work, I know that we lose so much history and that loss hurts us in the present and the future. It is okay to re-learn some lessons over again, but there is a cost to all this re-learning that is paid by the people who lived through something the first time, and whose tactics and ways of being have been erased. 

These 4 questions that we are responding to are my attempt to normalize archival practice, specifically, normalizing being accountable for the good or even banal things we have done. Right now in our culture we speak a lot about people who do bad things being accountable, but why should it be only them? Why can’t we have a record of the ways we did not cause harm? 

UMI: Speaking of accountability, I believe that arts and cultural institutions should have a role in harm reduction and social justice. Programmatic work is not neutral, neither is archival collection. Preserving and telling history comes from a position and a series of decisions made about how history affects the future. The culpability and accountability of archives and museums’ work is unfolding in current conversations now. I’ve been following the work of Museums & Race. I’m hopeful for an institutional transformation.

Time is also a measure of financial output and capital investment. I wanted to put our investment into the creation of change that we knew was going to have a meaningful historical impact. Not all of what happens in history is monumental. Micro exchanges of emails, Zoom calls, Instagram stories, graphics and tweets as records of our time and behaviors will eventually effect large-scale change. These micro-level human stories have a resonance now and it will later have a further resonance over time. We’re putting a pin in the now for future resonance to reach across.

This is not typical history programming, and archival missions should not be limited to representing history. Can we start to reimagine history programming so that we can engage in the now, and create conditions toward possible change that is informed by history? I feel like this is a good question for all cultural institutions now.

3. WHAT WOULD YOU DO DIFFERENTLY?

TED: This is easy. I wish I had cast a wider net in who I asked to respond to the prompt. I got too scared to ask people I felt like I didn’t know well enough out of fear that they would feel imposed upon. What I failed to remember in that moment was often in crisis folks just want to feel useful, to actually be given a task that can help out the collective.

UMI: I wish that we had made a print version of the zine. Physicality is comforting. A physical format can invite multiple reads and further reflections. Conversation pieces, when embodied, can be more powerful. Community work is about repetition with familiar concepts within lived experiences. I want more of that. 

I also would have liked an opportunity to include more voices from non-US communities. The experience of the pandemic differs vastly depending on the location of people’s lived experience. A comparative perspective could help render some of what we see as impossible possible within a different set of institutional and social circumstances. We need a range of possibilities because change requires vastness in terms of creativity, difference, and tension.

4. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN NOW?

UMI: I would like to see a Part Two of the zine that reflects on the pandemic and protests. I sense a productive tension to couple these two overlapping historic events. A rapid reflection can invite multiple perspectives into this moment of double rupture. I imagine that this volume would look and feel pretty different, with a distinct emotional tenor, but equal relevance from history. The information cycle is moving even faster now than it was three months ago. A zine would seem like a long-form expression now and would ask people to slow down and reflect on their current moment. 

TED: When Shelter in Place orders began, and COVID-19 really kicked in for many of us, I never imagined that the thrust of history would respond in its own powerful way. We can have all sorts of complicated feelings about the pandemic, health and protesting, but the resurgence of Black Lives Matter happening on a global scale feels like exactly what needed to happen after the initial phase of COVID-19 pandemic. Suffering and premature death in the US is not just about anti-Black racism within the justice system and healthcare systems. For the health of our fathers, mothers, parents, lovers, and friends, we need white supremacy to end. 

UMI: I agree with you, ted. I see the transformative spirit embodied by the Black Lives Matter movement that’s calling for a change across all systems and institutions inside and out. In the wake of the recent US Supreme Court ruling that expanded Title VII anti-discrimination employment law to include sexual orientation and gender identity protection, a civil rights movement that began in the mid-20th century, we question how long it takes for a change to happen. In this time of progress and upheaval, the fight for Black liberation and racial justice calls for a reckoning with history. COVID-19 is just the beginning of this reckoning. With more than four hundred years of institutional anti-Black racism behind us, we have a lot of work to do. Every march, conversation, email, Zoom meeting, text message, infographic, and social media post counts toward ending this history of violence and oppression.

TED: YES! And I think the work begins with the self and our communities. By exploring what we have done in the past – as individuals and community members – we can discuss intent vs. impact, and work with ourselves and others to be accountable to what we have done right, and what we will do differently going forward. I encourage everyone to use the 4 questions we’ve answered here as a way to both think about what has already happened, while also working towards progress. I would say take time to answer the questions yourself, but also share the questions over social media and invite others to be part of your elevation. Maybe even organize Zoom chats, or social distance talks in the park.

UMI: Let’s keep it rolling. With these 4 questions, we can be on a journey reflecting on past, present, and future. I’d like to imagine that each instance of doing this, we form a micro conversation universe, some overlapping with one another, and others reaching into places we haven’t been. Every bit of wrestling with history counts. What did you do? Why did you do it? What would you do differently? What needs to happen now?

What did you do? Why did you do it? What would you do differently? What needs to happen now?


Call for Contributions

The urgent need for new institutional imaginaries preceded MARCH, and these timelines are much longer than our present pandemic and protest movements. This fall, we aim to look above and beyond our current situations to consider the structural issues already (and continuing) to be at play as we consider propositions for the future in ideas, actions and form. Appropriately, our inaugural print edition will occupy the first issue of October in its form and purview. In response to October’s originally stated mission to propose “radical departures articulating the historical movement which enclosed them,” this print edition and corresponding online content will consider what the urgencies and possible expanded forms of art criticism at present may be.

We invite proposals for new or unpublished essays of approximately 2,500 words to be considered for publication. You are welcome to send us pitches and/or drafts (including experimental writing and adaptive new forms) at any time, but the final drafts to be considered for print (and priority consideration for online publishing) will be due July 15.


The Theft of Time

Busy Bee. Bergman Salinas. Portland, April 2020

The Theft of Time

As we sit, observing the abundant early spring bloom of the undisturbed cherry tree in our backyard, reality is real. Reality is hard to believe, and yet there is evidence. Manufactured reality industries cannot generate its bullshit fast enough to keep up.

A striking fact, at home in isolation from each other, is that the most effective form of fight is rest. This is extremely so during COVID-19, but rest from manic growth will also lower C02, N02, high blood-pressure, slow illness, halt deforestation and glacier melt. Right now, we are taking the largest Sabbath in the history of the earth.6 Never before has there been a collective chill-out like this. There has never been such observance at once: around two billion people have paused their quotidian hustle. What will the world look like after this? Will society permanently adjust anthropocentric rhythms, spending long, unproductive hours staring into the advancing flora? Will we finally be in solidarity with each other — and with ourselves —  by working in solidarity with nature?

Louis van Houtte: Flore des Serres et des Jardins de l’Europe. 1865. Public Domain

To sing to a plant is to care for the animal that feeds on this plant and for all the unborn children whose totemic becomings will be the Dreaming of this plant, or the animal which feeds on it.7

As much of humanity lurches foolishly to maintain the illusion of infinite growth, Rabbi Heschel’s observations from 1951 weigh even more now: “How proud we often are of our victories in the war with nature, proud of the multitude of instruments we have succeeded in inventing, of the abundance of commodities we have been able to produce. Yet our victories have come to resemble defeats… it is as if the forces we had conquered have conquered us.”8

The Week-end

The three Abrahamic religions set time aside for observance, and this became part of secular work life after the labor struggles of the early 20th century won the right to the weekend. Islam does Jumu’ah on Friday, Jews take Shabbat from Friday night to Saturday night, and Christians do Sabbath on Sunday. All faiths set aside sacred time away from work life: Hinduism and Shintoism take time out every day, (as do more observant Abrahamics) and, like Buddhists, take full days out each month following lunar cycles. When observance is a command to comply, it is a classic form of oppression, to bow down before a central authority, no questions allowed. However, observance also takes the form of the awareness of nature and its gradual cycles of renewal and decay. Ritual observance suggests a path to value time itself, to reconnect with nature and contract life away from the abuse of time as a base commodity.

Boring Solutions

Design for a gilt table clock. Lefebvre Manufactory, Tournai, Belgium. 1800–1825 Smithsonian Institution, Public Domain.

In a typical action narrative, the main character leaps from one extreme event to another, punctuated by wise-cracks and non-stop, sequenced jump-cuts. However, in a real disaster, we find mostly stillness, a sense of slowed time. Once an event occurs and then sinks in, extreme action happens in flashes, followed by calm. Most time spent on lock-down is down-time. Soldiers experience disturbing boredom while waiting for action, senses heightened with potential, then deadened with monotony, in a psychological spiral leaving few veterans well in the aftermath. A well-filmed narrative where a good person fights and wins justice is a great escape from a reality in which the opposite is usually true. However, reclaiming time (precious in our one-and-only life) is an act of observance. We observe that we are part of nature, mindful that we are also alone.

Interconnectedness

Mindfulness marketed as an individual coping mechanism against bio-busy-ness-as-usual is tenuous and temporary. Cosmo-awareness, corporate yoga backbends, and woke, narcissistic productivity mantras offer individualistic, topical salves against the horrors inflicted by non-stop hustling. Heal thyself by thine own bootstraps! Be “mindful” of private profit!  While “interconnectedness” is a cheap, new-age buzzword, there is one clear connection between ecosystem collapse, massive political violence, and rolling social disintegration: the extreme busy-ness of capitalism.

4/4 On the Floor

John Cage declared that percussive music is “future music” enabling escape from the chains of western notation and oppressive classical traditions in music. The future has arrived bearing new chains: dance music is among the most popular genres of music appearing with local twists in almost every corner of the world. The brutal, unceasing 4/4 beat of most dance music matches a heartbeat in stress. Potentially exciting, evoking physical exertion and mental sharpness, the effects of extreme sports or sex, dance music’s unceasing world party has become a death march. Today’s overtaxed heart suffers from hyper competitive overconsumption, hypertension, toxic air and water, toxic human relations and wholesale stress. A highly disturbing method of torture is loud, upbeat music that never turns off. Too much of a good thing quickly becomes horror: sex is great, but forced non-stop sex is abject terror. To be trapped in a pounding nightclub, forever, dancing exhausted, barely standing, while the security staff brutally beats random (disproportionately black and brown) people who try to stop dancing or escape, fires filling up the place with smoke, walls, roof and floor groaning with impending implosion: this is capitalism. These words may have appeared hyperbolic a few years ago, but now even the average taxpayer is beginning to feel something is amiss with their death dance and so they vote for conjurors who promise respite while accelerating the BPM.

Time is measured by natural forces and orbits, and as such is ultimately beyond human influence. However, time is felt by humans in psychological terms of awareness and consciousness. Performances of Bach have sped up 30% in the last half-century.9 Average length of shots in film has been decreasing, increasing jump-cuts.10 Time is decimal decimated by round-the-clock, just-in-time drudgery. Time became a tool of absolute oppression: a 24/7 system of extreme bondage, of oppressive and total compliance. Capitalism’s overreach has automated time into ruthless hurry where priorities are instilled from tyranny. Tech tycoon Jack Ma promotes the merciless 9-9-6 work schedule: 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week, etc. etc.

All, All, All Of Them. Bergman Salinas. April 2020 Portland, OR

If the forced “observation” of 24/7 capitalism sounds like the forced observation of an extremist religion, it is because that is exactly what it is. Capitalism is the largest religion in the history of humanity.11 Walter Benjamin’s reflections from 1921 are even more urgent a century later:

In the first place, capitalism is a purely cultic religion, perhaps the most extreme that ever existed.”12

The market is worshiped and revered like a malevolent, anthropomorphic god. It casts a spell to labor compulsively,  devouring time. Benjamin wrote in his unpublished notes that in Capitalism there are no weekdays, or in other words, every day must be filled with the obligations of piety. “There is no day that is not a feast day, in the terrible sense that all its sacred pomp is unfolded before us; each day commands the utter fealty of each worshipper.”13 Market worship fills every day of the week, month, and year.

שָׁבַת Shabbat?

The word Shabbat שַׁבָּת means “rest” or “cessation” and it is related to the modern Hebrew shevita שביתת which means strike, as in labor strike. Rabbi Hershel wrote “Time is like a wasteland. It has grandeur but no beauty. Its strange, frightful power is always feared but rarely cheered.”14 In global capitalism, time and space lurch barren. Shabbat asks of us instead to lay down the “clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.”15 The sacred (a human decision to value something) is often a place, an object, however since “time is the heart of existence,”16 Shabbat is thus a “palace in time.”17 In Judaism the rhythms of time are observed, and observance is sacred, celebrated by stillness.

All, All, All Of Them. Bergman Salinas. April 2020 Portland, OR

What does it mean to observe? Time is an essential element of observation: settling into a position, taking note, reflecting on meaning, and then, in science, forming experiments to test hypotheses that lead to further observation. Animals continuously scan and track time and space by instinct, enabling them to find food while avoiding becoming food themselves. Humans may also have the innate capacity of observance, however, it is a skill that is inconvenient to capitalism, so there are entire industries developed to wash this ability away in an opioid haze for those who have any free time remaining after toil. Extrapolation of reality through time-based observation of facts is undermined by self-interested industries. Observation is subject to manipulation and obscurantism via the false-narratives of capitalism. Observance to capitalism is snow blindness.

Time and resources on earth appear infinite to human perception. A walk through the Amazon, and a sail over the Pacific is an experience so overwhelming that a human being can barely comprehend the volume of water, and the abundance of life. Geologic time is even further beyond what humans can fully imagine.18 It was incomprehensible that humans could affect such vastness, however, human civilization has become a cataclysmic event itself. But unlike the great Missoula Floods at the end of the last ice age, the anthropocene will not leave fertile valleys behind. Capitalism spurs growth and development as though it could happen infinitely, but it cannot. While the earth is large beyond our faculties, it is finite.

צמצום Tzimtzum?

This section gets even more uncomfortably esoteric, but in the spirit of free time and free improvisation free from the goose stepping of productivity, we assert that this kind of reflection is among the suppressed fundamental joys of living.

Universal Wheel. Savoy, France. Magic lantern slide, optical toy. 1780. Smithsonian Design Museums. Public Domain

In the Kabbalah, the concept צמצום tzimtzum speculates on the moment in creation where HaShem (‘The Name’ one of many Hebrew words for ‘the universe known and unknown’ — sometimes known as G*d) holds back, contracts, from infinity in order to create something finite. Creation, also known as the universe, is a mystery: why does matter exist? Galaxies, planets, and living rooms are finite, though there may or may not be an infinite number of them.19 According to Torah, Shabbat is the day HaShem rested from creative work. But if HaShem is infinite, (the opposite of an object), rest is an anthropomorphic concept, a placeholder symbol for something else. What rest means for HaShem is to revert back to infinity, implying that infinity is a state of rest. Contracting inwards, away from infinity, is necessary for finite matter such as life to exist. (A hammer is a hammer, it is not an infinity, although it is potentially part of infinity, and is made up of mind bogglingly smaller particles, but is recognized as a hammer nonetheless.) Objects therefore are contractions of infinity, they are tiny pieces of infinity that are no longer infinite. What makes objects finite is the perception (possibly and quite probably mistaken) of them as separate and discrete objects from everything else. The Earth is thus a finite object, unfathomably large for perception, but radically smaller than the Solar System, the Milky Way Galaxy, and mind-bogglingly smaller, almost (but not quite) infinitely smaller than the Universe itself. The Earth is an object contracted — at rest — from infinity.

Plein Air Painting, John Riepenhoff. Painted at night, under only the ambient light from stars and the moon, from our backyard, Portland 2018

Contraction

Humans imagine that Earth’s resources are infinite, but in behaving this way, crash headlong into its limits. It is telling that Musk, Bezos, and others, have shifted their obsessions to space travel, having contributed their share towards depleting Earth’s resources, they look to the cosmos for more fuel.

However, when humans rest, when we contract into ourselves, into our families and friends, into time and place, contracting away from productive and creative labor, we experience suggestions of, whispers of, the infinite. Observation shifts both downwards into our own unknowable selves, and outwards into the unknowable universe. Total horror of looking at the infinite and unknown is one reason why humanity prefers to stay endlessly busy. This fear must be dealt with because endless busy-ness is self-negating. Capitalism is a humanity-wide machine to keep busy and avoid reflecting on infinity, that is, to avoid awareness of death. During no other time during its existence has homo sapiens had to work this endlessly for subsistence. Most hunter gatherers worked a few hours a day and spent the rest of their time playing around. Capitalism forces us to work longer hours to survive, and then we hustle even more in order to avoid reflecting on anything uncomfortable. Shabbat is a beautiful device that allows us to come to terms with the infinite: we are asked to sit with it, and ease the body and mind into the peaceful acceptance that we are profoundly small. We reflect that we are in fact alive, a contemplation that only fully blossoms when we understand that this is for a limited time only. To contract from the busy-ness of business, opens us up to the contemplation of nothingness, the infinite and of death, and this improves the quality of life on Earth. Time out spent in contemplation of death (and other abstractions on the infinite) improves life.

Pre-programmed Free-Time

¡Ay, ay, ay! La muerte ya viene Y a toditos nos agarra, Hay que suerte tan chaparra, Pues creo que ni madre tiene. José Guadalupe Posada. Woodcut. 1913. Public Domain

Those lucky enough to enjoy small amounts of free time are compelled to do leisure activities that are productive for capitalism. Sports, arts and entertainment, hiking, gardening, etc are all encouraged as healthy activities, pre-programmed yet again for more productivity. “Free time” is further compartmentalized into total environments called “campuses” at tech companies and universities where amusements such as ping-pong tables and climbing walls are provided within the workspace in order to appear fun and anarchic, but this is still serious busy-ness. Adorno noticed this already in the 1960’s writing “…free time should in no way whatsoever suggest work, presumably so that one can work that much more effectively afterward. This is the reason for the idiocy of many leisure time activities.”20 Furthermore, boredom according to Adorno, does not happen when one has actual free time to choose among meaningful activities. Therefore, activities such as art, philosophy, poetry, and science, when not employed by the market, tinkering, and other “useless” activities (that may in fact offer an alternative focus to production and consumption) are condescendingly called “passions” and then systematically marginalized until they can be reincorporated as packaged commodities again.21

Theft of Time

Clock. Citizens Savings and Trust Company, Nashville, Tennessee, US. 1920. Public Domain Collection of National Museum of African American History and Culture.

In addition to the loss of our natural environment, time itself has been stolen by its just-in-time commodification. The essence of capitalism is logical abstraction, that is, of the symbolic complexity of value formed by social process, wealth, commodity and time. Marx defines labor time like this: “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.”22 This “natural” and generalized way of determining normative value is quasi-objective in that it tries to assign a value of life through time, of existence itself. Value produced through labor does not recognize any individual life, rather individuals are subsumed as abstractions of commodity. Marx calls this a moving contradiction “in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure and source of wealth. Hence it diminishes labour time in the necessary form so as to increase it in the superfluous form; hence posits the superfluous in growing measure as a condition – question of life or death – for the necessary.”23 This condition, named the “social division of time” by Moishe Postone, highlights the absurdity of “necessary” labor vs “surplus” labor.24 Profit is made by exploiting the surplus, in other words, by exploiting people’s time, that is, their lives, by paying as little as possible in exchange. The exploitation of labor is a shocking theft of people’s time on earth, of people’s lives. This theft is rationalized by market-based systems of “value” (capital + variable + surplus = value). The theft of time is justified by the mantra that “profit” is reinvested back into the system, however, the existence of billionaires and their infinitely absurd purchases (a Tesla orbiting Mars? a Russian doll of yachts parked inside larger yachts?) is evidence that this theory was developed in the trash bin of “free market” think-tanks. Market-based systems of value obfuscate the main aspect of the formation of such value, that is, “surplus” aka profit, aka the theft of time.

Time Poverty

The problem is generalized when we realize that the problem of a life wasted to generate or pursue profit is equal among all classes. There are very few individuals who do not spend the majority of their lives working for capitalism.25 No one is winning when the unquestioned expectation is that everyone should toss their lives into the supposed never-ending growth of capital, and the accompanying liquidation of nature. Of course rich people enjoy extraordinary pleasures and could opt to enjoy free time, however, rich people also pride themselves in the overwork necessary to build and oversee power.

Everyone is hustling, rich and poor. Minimum-wage workers must work many jobs to survive. High power lawyers also put in 60-70 hours per week and take an expensive, stressful “vacation” somewhere tasteless once or twice a year. Everyone is solving workplace problems at all hours of the day and night. The absurdly rich hustle to amass even more wealth and power. Some people fight on behalf of this system, and others fight against it, everyone wasting the precious time of their lives.

Ruth Bader Ginsberg has spent most of her life, day in and day out, fighting for what is right, and while we thank her for giving up the majority of her time for the benefit of humanity, we mourn the loss of her freedom. Charles Koch on the other hand, spent all his time fighting for what is wrong (ironically in the name of “freedom” which of course means the “freedom of the tyrant to exploit”). We all suffer because Koch spent his free time towards normalizing the consumption of ours. Both lives, like most lives, are characterized by extreme time poverty. This situation has grown beyond Marx’s concepts of alienated versus unalienated labor, exploited vs exploiter. Capitalism developed into a hyper-complex system where everyone works primarily for the system itself, absorbing its needs, conforming to the mores, morals, norms, movements, and demand for self-sacrifice on behalf of the holy market. More extreme than medieval Europe, no one escapes its dogma: even the lives of those fighting against capitalism are conditioned by it.

We only have one life, no matter how much power we have. Koch fought to amass power and resources of mind-boggling potential, but he died just the same, leaving behind a dramatically worse world by all measurements, and it is very unlikely he found peace in his lifetime. The political malevolence he wrought was beyond biblical, contributing single-handedly to the destruction of Earth’s resources to an unimaginably huge, superhuman degree. Koch’s actions are difficult to fully comprehend, but a simple way to to explain his drive is the human need for control (the illusion of control) magnified exponentially. The human need for control is driven by fear of the unknown and uncontrollable, especially death. This explains the ongoing war against nature itself, where humanity does battle with nature to increase its own safety, predictability and comfort.  Despite the power and wealth Koch hoarded, Koch died just the same, a finite object disappearing into infinity again, leaving behind sky-darkening industrial works and labyrinthine political machineries. While Koch as an object has disappeared, the world suffers, and would have been much better, much healthier, had Koch never existed, or if he would have lived a humble life. Koch the great industrialist, the great libertarian, the great political strategist, instead railed against death, all but guaranteeing the leviathan rise of nature — climate change puts in jeopardy all life on earth. Nature inflicts collective punishment on all of us because of this man, and those like him. There are unfortunately dozens of Koch clones, and thousands of mini-Kochs, and countless millions of Koch apologists, how are they to be denied before Earth stamps humanity out?

Eternity Again

Shrine (Malmö), Mikko Kuorinki, 2013

During COVID-19, most workers are more afraid of the economic consequences of being out of work, and paying for hospital care, than the consequences of actually contracting the virus. When the threat of disease is less impressive than the threat of unemployment then capitalism is the more terrifying plague.

Funny or sad — or perhaps both — the best chance we have to prevent mass death is to retreat to our monk’s cells, with vows of isolation. Freedom does not come in the terms that have been packaged and sold by capitalism: true freedom is wrapped with time.

Boredom

Busy-ness as usual in the artworld has been disrupted, yet art itself emerges stronger. The artworld is a small part of a society made in the miserable image of neoliberal capitalism: art and artists are exploited as any other resource. This could change. This needs to change. But while artists struggle to survive in the psychopathic marketplace, art itself can and does rise out. One important and overlooked strategy among innumerable possibilities is to strengthen the power of “boredom.” When art is not compelled to fulfill the impetuous demands of the creative economy, it opens towards humanity instead, and defragments time. Observation of time can be decelerated and savored, allowing the perception of slow movement. Art like this is sometimes called “boring” but those who choose to engage are rewarded. The act of engagement, of course, is observation. This power is not to be underestimated, and artworks that communicate on this spectrum play with and celebrate one of the most precious resources: free time.

The morning after
my death
we will sit in cafés
but I will not
be there
I will not be

-Etel Adnan

Cosmic Background Radiation, (the oldest light in the universe) ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)/T. Kitayama (Toho University, Japan)/ESA/Hubble & NASA 2017. Public Domain

This essay is available to download as a tabloid PDF.



Art After the Future

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 04/28/2020 "An experiment" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

Art After the Future

Dear X,

How are you doing today? How is your breathing? Have you checked the news yet? Is this what you expected from your year? Do you think we’ll still have elections by the end of it? What have you been cooking? Are you taking the appropriate number of supplements? Are you getting in your steps? Are we living in a failed state? Do you like my YSL knockoff mask my friend sent? What art is bringing you solace? Are you still consolable? Do you want to share a cocktail over FaceTime later? When are we anyway? Are we already too late?

With Care,
Andrea and James


On March 4th, 2020, the Venice Architecture Biennale sent a mass email announcing the postponement of its intended opening date until the fall. Followed by a second letter on May 18th, 2020 delaying the exhibition until 2021, these deferral letters are the perfect artifact of the art world we knew before. Inadvertently cataloguing the acute derangement of the contemporary art world, the letters trace a persistent belief that both art and the world will be able to return more or less unchanged. They assume an after in which the Collateral Event26 of COVID-19 will be footnoted as a temporary inconvenience to be conceptually recuperated and otherwise overcome. Titled “How Will We Live Together?,” the exhibition’s theme and it’s too-timely deferral arrived at a moment in which perhaps the more proper question is: Will We Live? 

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Read the letters with comments on this open document.

This early postponement was an opening salvo for an indefinite and unprecedented sequence of closures, cancellations, delays, transitions, translations, and digitizations of presence that have marked the art world since. In subsequent weeks, most of the world’s museums went dark and Zoom became the primary medium of social persistence. Artists stayed home, submitted applications for emergency relief funding, and filed for unemployment. They made zines, made sourdough, made performances for Twitch, publications for emails, paintings for eventual outside walls, masks for themselves and mass deployment. The museums scrambled to digitize everything, started reading groups, activated the archives, led remote walkthroughs for maybe no one, wrote us all emails about These Uncertain Times and This Moment; about how Now More Than Ever Art will help lead us through. Art school went on, sort of. Degrees and debt were extended. Learning, in theory, occurred.

Wait, why are we using past tense? When is our present? Where is our future?

We write from within an ongoing all-world event. We began this essay when Andrea arrived in St. Louis for a residency at The Luminary (where James is the director) just as the Venice Architecture Biennale was first postponed in early March 2020. As long-time collaborators, we met at the train station, exchanged hugs, and headed to an event in St. Louis where dozens of people crammed into a classroom, chanted Assata and ate from shared pizza boxes while organizing to shut down the city’s medium security prison. That night, we caught up over drinks and tacos at a busy bar, easy among strangers. We shared some early concerns about coronavirus, playing out worst case scenarios that felt like science fiction. Within a week, our easy proximity gave way to cloistered communications from a few blocks away as distancing procedures set the pace of our days. This text began as a conversation, a shared air, and then moved to mediated sessions from one iMessage to another, from one bunker to another—much in the way that it circulates now between all too many screens.

Within the acute body of the art world, it is increasingly clear that beyond and around the coronavirus the market collapse and global uncertainty threatens an unprecedented slowdown—the proper economic concept for our confused time. Many of the impacts of this pandemic are unthinkable: the sudden global isolation into quarantine, the sheer volume of lost lives, lost time, losses of all kinds. Yet, within the art field, this moment has revealed structural fault lines that have been present for years, underlying conditions that require a rethinking of its core assumptions of normalcy and what worlds to which we will be able to return. As we enter a period of uneven reopenings in the coming weeks and months, into what future are we entering, and which art worlds will persist?

***

In a much-circulated speculation, Americans for the Arts projected that perhaps one third of the museums that temporarily suspend operations during the coronavirus outbreak will never reopen. Another major funder reportedly stated that, given the widespread collapse likely coming within the field, they were waiting to see which institutions would survive before infusing more cash. In other words, they would be there to lend support, but only to the survivors on the other side of this extinction event. Regardless of any stimulus offered now or later, thousands of museums may not reopen. Maybe even more than predicted. Closures will be delayed six, twelve, twenty-four months, as admissions disappear, contributors divert funds to other relief efforts, hotel tax funds dry up, and corporate giving and state support recedes.

Many Cities, States and Universities in the United States and elsewhere are already entering austerity procedures, shutting down Arts and Culture Departments and shifting funds to make up for shortfalls in other areas like healthcare and unemployment.27 Austerity is increasingly becoming a long-lasting assumption. In a well-researched article in The Art Newspaper, the president of the International Council of Museums (Icom), Suay Aksoy, warned, “This crisis has put numerous cultural institutions around the world on the verge of economic collapse,” and reports are dire everywhere. The pandemic’s impact is uniquely cutting across many sectors, forcing shortfalls in earned income as attendance plummets and tourism comes to a complete stop, impacting philanthropy of all kinds, and initiating cuts on a State level in most nations.

Even with emergency stabilization, hundreds of already overleveraged and underfunded organizations are teetering at best, resisting their own impossibility. However, these closures will inevitably affect the most fragile first: un-institutions, artist-run and DIY spaces running on volunteer staff and side gigs, rural organizations, and QTPOC+ run spaces already barely able to survive. In other words, survival will be unevenly distributed, as always.

Those with enough cash reserves and donor connections will sustain, for a time, absorbing a disproportionate share of bailout funds while rarely reaching down to support those more fragile (in art as everywhere), but even reserves can only go so far, as is already becoming clear. The existence of endowments and government funding to sustain institutions in the midst of a crisis is a myth that disappears as soon as austerity is socially acceptable. The museum director retains their full salary as the hundreds below them are on hold with the unemployment helpline.28 The building project goes on (or gets torn down), even as there is no one to enter the galleries. The losses aren’t indexed by the virus, but by the ways the virus manifests the inequities and brutalities of the systems we’ve enabled to exist. In this reordering of resources, which continues to play out on a global scale, a rearticulation of demands for other art worlds is now more urgent than ever.

Amidst these dramatic impacts of an economic slowdown, what we are not seeing is a corresponding personal or institutional slowdown. Instead, many artists and organizations are in the throes of an exhausting pivot to overproduction, including a scramble to new platforms. The current explosion of online content in our field feels frantic. In an opportunistic rush to capture quarantined attention spans, platforms are flooded with new chances to log on, participate, passively consume, and, of course, purchase. Most institutions, which are extensions of our anxious selves, only know how to just keep going. The organizational machine keeps making its way.

The silence, the strike or stoppage too closely reveals oneself to be non-essential—for a budget, to be sure, but also often for a public. Art institutions are built on perpetual motion. The inertia of activity always assumes a next: the next exhibition is announced as the previous one opens, the grant deliverables are always eighteen months out. Now, the programs are rarely cancelled, just shifted online, or indefinitely deferred. These crises at the institutional level inevitably fall on artists, who are asked to show up and reorient their work for a changed world no matter how their bodies or minds are managing. The moving assembly line of deadlines and mechanics of alienated hyper-productivity are at odds with pause, silence—or illness.

From within this truly exceptional moment, we are asking: can we not? Within a rupture in which the overwhelming waves of illness, of stoppage, of death is palpable, can we embrace silence for a moment? The rush to produce refuses the space to reflect on possibilities. Can we step back and witness the vectors of force that keep us in perpetual motion: the pressures from above and outside to perform, overproduce, and appear essential?

Another art world is inevitable. Which art worlds will emerge is not.

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 05/2020 "Room -don't take hugging for granted" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

COVID-19 is a serial link in a concatenated crisis of which any number of viruses could stand in as some shadow line of no return. These conditions, though heightened into a frenzy as COVID-19 has quickly spread globally across borders and bodies and markets and imaginaries, are not new. From the crisis of capitalism to its resultant climate disaster, any assumptions about how life and art go on a fixed timeline with infinite futures under continuous inflation should have been questioned for decades. If anything, the rapid insertion of quarantines, deferrals, cancellations and generalized shutdowns into our previously assumed near futures helps clarify where we actually were—and still are.

In this suspended state, it is clear how precarious any idea of the future is, as well as how much of our work’s meaning is dependent on some future that finally justifies it. The speculative structures of contemporary art and its institutions are a pinnacle of forever futuring that take the most fragile of forms, gestures, and ephemeral marks and attempt to extend them for posterity. This future is embedded into our economy, our institutions and societies, our daily rituals and artistic practices. Institutionalization of future economic opportunities and risks through debt structures, like the student loan pyramid or the many forms of market production, competition, and scarcity, is fundamental to our orientation towards work and reward: a capitalist imaginary foundationally about the future and the possibility of growth.

The infrastructures of the art world require the world to continue as it has been, supported by extreme income inequality and aspirational spectacles for prestige patronage, subsidized by artists willing to take on unsustainable debt to enter graduate programs, and enabled by assumptions of freedom of motion and frictionless exchange. Nowhere is this more clear than in the art world’s dependence on overwhelming resource burns: infinite oil for sprinter van shipments and freights and flights, coal for the climate controlled crates and precise air control in the museum, relentless data kept in cold server warehouses, Frigidaires the size of five football fields chilling our iClouds out in the desert.

How long are we keeping things locked in bunkers and for whom? What are we willing to burn to preserve these conditions? Coal and oil, of course, but what about its after-effects? The Australian bush, old growth forests, our backyards, an eventual future? The assumption of permanence actually creates the conditions for collapse. It seems cruel to single out individual institutions and artworks as not worth saving, yet simple to assess the entire system as unsustainable. We are living in the tension between impossible decisions. Haunting the edges of the art world’s obsession with futurity is the reality that this perceived future no longer exists.

What, instead, is an art that embraces no future? How does the understanding of the creation, circulation, and care of artwork, and support of the individuals, collectives and institutions that make up the art world shift when conceptions of deferred worth are removed? Certainly, artists and the infrastructures of art would have to account for the carbon footprint for all of the making, shipping, preserving, and flying that has defined the contemporary art world. Endowments and cash reserves would be suddenly loosened to support the thousands of already suffering fired and furloughed workers. Adjustments for accessibilities for immuno-compromised and disabled participants and audiences finally accelerated in this time would be made permanent.29 Artistic platforms would embrace slowdowns and refusals as form, and differing abilities were assumed at all times and spaces prioritize many other forms of expression and experience.

Some of these particular pivots precede the COVID-19 pandemic, and many have been working towards this groundshift. Numerous artists, curators, and organizations have been orienting to a more holistic relationship with the environment, the land, and the tentative commons we already inhabit to embrace this changed horizon in which no future can be assumed.30

To work amidst and beyond the virus is to embrace an art with no future, an art of the now.

Art after the future remains an open question —and our time requires a response.

Jose Joaquin Figueroa. 05/13/2020 "Indexical me" from Drawing Archive 2005-ongoing. Commissioned by MARCH.

When I wake up, where should my body be?

“If I survive, it is only because my life is nothing without the life that exceeds me, that refers to some indexical you, without whom I cannot be.” (Judith Butler, Frames of War31)

Coronavirus, perhaps like good art or film or fiction, has done incredible work on the collective imagination, and is rewiring our conception of what is possible. The acceptance of this rapidly shifting world requires us to process a lot of grief. Amidst the grief, there seems to be a new openness to change, and a renewed urgency to remake our systems and relationships to better care for people and the ecosystems we inhabit. What are our infrastructures and institutions capable of caring for this grief while creating space for communal mourning and communal meaning? Can we take time to feel our losses? For now, every day, we are asking simple questions: When we wake up, where should our bodies be? What do we owe each other just for surviving? How are we caring for one another through our own fragility?

What COVID-19 has urgently exposed is our interconnectedness—the sinuous bonds that keep us alive and truly living. This text has many we’s. It also carries interrelated I’s and you’s without whom we cannot continue.32 Just as the virus quickly became borderless and our social bodies were suddenly seen to be porous, both illness and recovery are intimately intertwined—community and immunity returning to their joint root. As the art world emerges from this restless slowdown, can it begin to operate out of the mutuality necessary in this moment?

Art after the future starts to see the world as it is: a fragile, contingent ecosystem in which we are never singular. This un-futured art understands that one’s survival is not in spite of another but with one another. How artists and arts organizations are reorienting now offers some grasp on what will be needed not just now, but what will be needed next. Care collectives, rent strikes, and coalitions of all kinds will be required, as well as an insistence on structural shifts for how work is funded, circulated and shared. The mutual aid and direct support for artists and vulnerable organizations arising now will need to be normalized by grantors, foundations, and the public as immanent life is prioritized. As the social body remains ill and unworkable, artists will need to embrace inoperability. Not-working for once. What work does emerge out of this time will need to not just be conceptually responsive, but materially and structurally responsive to a changed world.

After the reserves and emergency funds are gone, art institutions will need to embrace nestings within one another, and other collective forms of support such as shared infrastructure, space, and staff. Any ethical nonprofit attempting to sustain through this time will need to merge and morph into unfamiliar forms both within and beyond art, perhaps adapting strategies from public spaces like libraries to provide more services and shelter, absorbing more fragile organizations and artistic practices within one another, or abandoning their buildings in favor of grafted publics and partnerships. These recombinations may be necessary practically as funding dissipates, but also represent a moral position of taking up less space in the world: less physical space, fewer resources, reduced carbon consumption, but also making way for other voices to emerge as old forms necessarily change.

Within the unavoidable closures to come (and those already here) how will we embrace ethical endings that seed other futures through the redistribution of not just money, but space, equipment and expertise? Who are the institutional death doulas ready to guide graceful and inevitable exits, to preserve these fragile histories?33 As we take a step (and then the next), as we allocate our time, attention, stimulus checks, ourselves to the tasks on their way we must also ask: What forms of slowness or non-functioning should we preserve from this time? What do we learn from our own sudden emptiness? Inertness? Alertness to our limits? What institutions are worth supporting? What practices are worth preserving? What work is worth making?

We are loosened from time right now in the Great Deferral of 2020. As artists and arts institutions, we can rush in to fill the silence and occupy the time as we are trained to do from decades of over-production. Or, we can let some candles gutter, the fluorescents flicker, and go out. We can let artworks have life cycles, bodied like we are. We can let institutions age. We can take care of the lives they lead, serve as nurses in their illness, as caretakers in a plague. We can make work out of what is at hand. We can say no when our bodies need to. We can say sorry to the earth and each other. We can make space for loss and grief. We can continue to learn from contingency, fragility, slowness and impermanence. We don’t assume a future, but still we support one another today, and the next day, and the next, knowing that our survival is connected in a commons we already inhabit. This is how we will continue to live—together.


MARCH: a journal of art & strategy

We are proud to announce the outlines of our new platform MARCH, even as it arrives at an unprecedented moment.

As a “journal of art and strategy,” our mark and motion is to consider art and art criticism’s capacity to intervene in the world. MARCH is meant as a durational platform with singular purpose: to gather urgent thinking and writing with ideas, actions and forms that embody how we can better be together.

MARCH embraces publishing as an act of protest with which to
address the critical social and political issues of our time.

We have anticipated this announcement for over a year since sharing the closure of our previous project, Temporary Art Review, in March of 2019. However, we could not have foreseen the ways in which the world would encircle this moment with a global crisis that underscores the failures of our capacity to care, as well as the collectivities that are – and have been – forming in the cracks. What we did know is that the world had changed dramatically since we founded our previous publication back in 2011, and that the impending changes moving forward would require a new and extended form, balancing the concerns of the local and regional with those on a decidedly global level.

During this uncertain moment, and the ruptures it is making visible across a spectrum of spheres, our statement drafted months ago proposing that “MARCH emerges at a moment of deepening institutional crisis and is intent on advancing new forms of publication, critique and public action,” is only more true. This is not a manifesto in a moment of crisis, but an opening to a much longer procession.

We are con-temporary, with and of our time – an archive of the present and proposition for a future in which our ideas, actions and form embody this insurrection.

As our name’s multiple meanings imply, we are both noun and verb; idea and movement; located yet open; a borderland between territories in which new possibilities take root. MARCH will act as a gathering place for expansive thinking towards other art worlds, mapping global perspectives, and offering a site for deep and embodied institutional thinking. You may read more information on our introductory website and follow us on instagram, facebook and twitter.

As we announce this project publicly, MARCH is now not just ours, but yours. We invite your thinking and support as we build this platform as a ‘collective research group’ and begin responding to current global events as they unfold, as we can and in whatever forms are available to us. Yet, more urgently, in this moment we resist virality and aim to build deeper roots and quietly stitch together solidarities. In its many tendrils, MARCH is an invitation and a speculation: What is needed now? What is needed next? Who are we, collectively, and what will we make – in the days, months, and years to come?

Sarrita Hunn and James McAnally
Founders and Editors, MARCH: a journal of art & strategy