Volume 78 - Number 25 / NOVEMBER 19 - 25, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Yippies and Young Lords, Weathermen and Yes Men
Three shows to cure the post-election blues

EYE OF THE REVOLUTION
David Fenton
Through November 26
Steven Kasher Gallery
521West 23rd Street
212-966-3978, stevenkasher.com

SIGNS OF CHANGE: SOCIAL MOVEMENT CULTURES 1960’S TO NOW
Through December 6
Exit Art
547 West 21st Street
212-966-7745, exitart.org

OURS: DEMOCRACY
IN THE AGE OF BRANDING
Through February 1
The Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Parsons The New School for Design
66 Fifth Ave. (entrance on 13th St.)
212-229-8919,
newschool.edu/johnsondesigncenter

 

By DEBRA JENKS

If you’re a campaign junky suffering from withdrawal, there are three shows in town where you can get a post-election fix. Make your first stop “Eye of the Revolution,” a show of photographs by the 60’s underground-news-photographer-turned-CEO David Fenton. In 1969 Fenton dropped out of high school to work as a photographer for the Liberation News Service (named after the Viet Cong National Liberation Front), which paid him $25 a week. He’s now the CEO of Fenton Communications, a progressive PR firm with clients like MoveOn.org, Greenpeace and Nelson Mandela.

Fenton’s job at the Liberation News Service and his association with the Students for a Democratic Society gave him access to groups like the Weatherman (he was the only journalist permitted to photograph them). His photos document the major movements and groups of the era, such as Civil Rights, Woman’s Liberation, Gay Rights, Black Panthers and anti-war effort. We also see the people at the forefront of these movements: Abbie Hoffman, Bobby Seale, Huey P. Newton, John and Yoko, and yes, Bill Ayers.

While the portraits of personalities have significant historical interest, the most powerful are those of the anonymous rank and file. In one image a middle-aged woman wearing a headscarf, hands on her hips, confronts a pot-smoking demonstrator at a Washington, D.C. smoke-in. In another, a line of nurses in white uniforms stands on the sidewalk raising their fists during a Chicano Moratorium event in Los Angeles. There’s an alarming image of a policeman on horseback chasing a lone flag burner through Central Park (run boy run!). A peace sign floats in the sky above a Black Panther rally. Then there’s the woman dressed in her Sunday suit and gloves, holding an American Flag and a sign that reads, “Protest is Patriotic.” Her mod sunglasses bear a humorous resemblance to the stars and stripes.

Next, head over to “Signs of Change” at Exit Art. The show is a collection of more than 300 posters, photographs, flyers, and films, tracing social activism and protest from the 60’s to the present day through the grassroots aesthetics of its cultural output.

Curators Dara Greenwald and Josh MacPhee organized the material thematically, beginning with “Struggle for the Land,” which includes the American Indian movement (AIM), Catholics in Northern Ireland, the Palestinian youth movement that ignited the first Intifada (an Arabic word for “rebellion”), and Natives in Vancouver struggling against destruction of their land by the 2010 Olympics.

“Agitate! Educate! Organize!” focuses on labor and worker revolts, including the teacher’s strike in Oaxaca, Mexico in 2006 that led to the formation of the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (APPO). “McStrike-Paris, ” 2005, is a short documentary about striking employees’ 6-month occupation of a McDonalds in Paris. “Richmond Strike,” is a newsreel from the 1969 Shell Oil strike in Northern California, where police attacked workers and their families. There are also posters from the 1980 Gwangju student uprising in South Korea, where 700,000 citizens took control of the city, the Italian Operaismo (workerism) and Autonomen movements.

Equal rights fighters appear under “Forward to People’s Power,” including Lotta Feminista (an Italian Feminist movement) ACT UP, Black Panthers, The Young Lords, and Think Tank, a group of inmates from the Green Haven Prison. “Reclaim the Commons” concerns the struggle for clean air and water, housing, healthy food, transportation, green space, and an agenda of common wealth and equal access to all. This section combines a host of squatter’s movements, and others like Reclaim the Streets, Camp for Climate Action, Critical Mass, and the Pollok Free State, where “campers” constructed a network of tree houses in 1995 to block the path of a proposed highway in Glasgow, Scotland.

Viewing the show clockwise, you end up at “Globalization from Below,’ which takes aim at issues of global capitalism, NAFTA, the WTO, and “precarity.” Precarity defines the situation of the temporary worker, day laborer, immigrants, contingent labor like adjunct faculty, and service sector employees — the conversion of the proletariat into a “precariat.” The artist “rtmark” (a play on trademark) turns activism into a collaborative art (check out his website www.rtmark.com), and his “Global Sale” could just as easily be part of the show at Parsons, where the lines between art and design, politics, activism and advertising are intentionally blurred and subverted.

Curator Carin Kuoni’s timely and smart “Finally Ours: Democracy in the Age of Branding” examines the way American values like freedom and individuality are “sold” around the world, at democracy as a global brand. The ideal of democracy as a participatory system is the show’s main thrust, and Liam Gillick’s circular constructivist benches on a raised platform literally and figuratively place participation at the center.

The relationship of the individual to the system is also the subject of Ariel Orozco’s “Contrapeso.” Orozco performs an Olympian balancing act, holding himself horizontally at the top of a flagpole. He invokes the power of the proletariat, and the muscular images from a WPA mural or Social Realist painting. But there’s a catch. We learn that it took the artist months of practice to become the flag for one second, implying that individual representation is next to impossible.

The show includes collaborative teams like the Yes Men, Komar & Melamid, and PETlab, and several Internet art sites. Paul Chan presents a documentary of Lynne Stewart discussing her conviction and reading the poetry of William Blake and Bertolt Brecht. Sharon Hayes performs “My Fellow Americans,” a video in which Hayes reads all nine plus hours of the official speeches of Ronald Reagan in a monotone voice. Without the ex-actor’s choreographed intonations, the words become an empty stream bordering on gibberish. Nadine Robinson also appropriates political speeches, layering them with a laugh track that reveals an acute distrust of democracy’s ability to bring about meaningful change.

 

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