Category: General

Michael Rossman: All Of Us Or None

It is not likely that many people personally knew, or even heard of, Michael Rossman - yet for those even remotely interested in the alternative culture and politics that thrived in Berkeley, California in the late 1960s, Michael’s spirit looms large. I consider myself fortunate to have known him - however briefly - and to be able to say that he was a friend. He passed away at his wife’s home in Berkeley on May 12, 2008, at the age of 68, after a short but heroic battle with a rare form of acute leukemia.

Michael Rossman

[ Michael Rossman - Photograph by Lincoln Cushing, 2002. A candid shot of Michael working at his All Of Us Or None (AOUON) archive. ]

I first became aware of Michael while visiting the University of California Berkeley in the summer of 1984. While on campus I discovered Know Your Enemy, a small exhibit of Anti-Vietnam War Movement posters then showing at the university’s Heller Gallery. The poster display was curated by the All Of Us Or None (AOUON) archive. Later I asked some of my acquaintances in the Berkeley area if they had heard of AOUON, and I was promptly put in contact with Michael - who had founded the archives in 1977.

Michael invited me to his home where he gave me access to his remarkable poster collection. We became fast friends, talking until the wee hours of the morning about all aspects of poster making and collecting. He was an animated, passionate, enthusiastic, poet philosopher who could seemingly discuss anything under the sun with aplomb. Unsurprisingly he talked about the social history of posters with great expertise, but I was astonished at how naturally he discussed everything from science and literature to political theory. As a matter of fact, he taught science to school children during the last thirty years of his life. I remember our first get together ending with Michael pontificating on the joys of identifying and collecting wild edible mushrooms - complete with his detailed descriptions of various species of fungi.

By the time of Michael’s death, his All Of Us Or None (AOUON) archive had expanded to some 25,000 domestically produced political posters and flyers from the post World War II period. Aside from L.A.’s Center for the Study of Political Art (CSPG), and Lincoln Cushing’s Docs Populi archives, only the Hoover Institution maintains as large a holding of domestic posters from earlier eras (approximately 8,700), and of these, few are from the period Michael focused on in his collection). The core of the AOUON archive focused on the poster renaissance centered in the San Francisco Bay area from 1965 to the present. But the archive’s holdings are also national and international in scope, with one-quarter of its posters coming from outside of California and another 2,000 having been produced internationally. The breathtaking collection well represents all branches of America’s modern dissident cultural and political movements.

Poster - Can’t Jail The Revolution

[ You Can’t Jail The Revolution - Anonymous Serigraphic street poster 1969. Collection of AOUON. The following caption was written by Michael Rossman: "Urging support for leaders of demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic Convention, the poster quotes a notorious news-photo of U.S. sprinters giving the Black Power salute on the Olympic victory stand. The image then evoked the lone Black defendant, bound and gagged in court. In retrospect, it reflects the impact of the politicization of sports, and the Left's fetishism of Black militance." ]

Over the years Michael and I kept in touch through casual correspondence and occasional pop in visits. In the late 80s he came to see me at my Los Angeles studio, where I donated a number of my early prints to his archive. It was during that visit that I learned of Michael’s prominent role in Berkeley’s Free Speech Movement of 1964-1965, as he relayed that history to me in his typically dynamic and energetic manner. When he was finished recounting the tale of America’s burgeoning student movement - I felt as though I had been there.

It was only a few years after Michael’s visit that director Mark Kitchell’s documentary film Berkeley In The Sixties was released. In my opinion it is the finest movie ever made about the protest movement of the 60s, and luckily for us all, Michael appeared in it as one of 15 veteran Berkeley activists whose interviews provided the narrative backdrop to the movie’s historic footage. Michael’s insights and observations helped to make Berkeley In The Sixties the superlative filmic treatment of the period that it is. In 1999 Michael also played a central role in establishing the online Free Speech Movement archive, another invaluable source for historians and activists.

Until just recently I corresponded with Michael by e-mail, exchanging dispatches on the state of contemporary art and its possibilities - but the e-mails stopped coming from him a while back. I knew that because of his failing health he had restricted his immediate contacts to family and the very closest of friends. Still, he managed to find the strength to stay in touch with his extended family through the use of his personal web log, where he kept his associates across the globe abreast of his deteriorating condition. He did so with surprising gusto and dignity, managing to turn his end into a learning process for all. What struck me most about Michael’s final days was the calmness with which he faced his certain onrushing death - he confronted it like a lion. I would add that type of courage to all the remarkable traits that were a part of this dear man, his intellectual curiosity, open mindedness, compassion, gentleness, and belief in humanity.

Without crudely idolizing Michael - goodness knows how I detest hero worship - I attest to his having been an exemplar amongst the veterans of the 60s “movement”. He was in fact the very embodiment of egalitarian counter-cultural ideals and values. Now that he is no longer around, and I need not worry about embarrassing him, I can say in all honesty that our greatest tribute to Michael Rossman would be to live like he did.

[ UPDATE: A public memorial will be held for Michael in Berkeley on Monday, June 23, 2008, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley, in Kensington. Everyone is welcome to attend. ]

Robert Rauschenberg 1925-2008

Robert Rauschenberg died at his home on Captiva Island, Florida on May 12, 2008, at the age of 82. Unquestionably there will be many eulogies written about the iconoclastic artist, and there’s not much that I can add in noting his accomplishments or his passing - save for the following. Rauschenberg always impressed me as being one of the more significant artists associated with the Pop Art movement, and my reason for feeling this is encapsulated in two well known quotes from him; “It is impossible to have progress without conscience” and “The artist’s job is to be a witness to his time in history.”

Collage by Robert Rauschenberg

[ Signs - Robert Rauschenberg. Collage. 1970. The artist captured the apocalyptic 60s by depicting the oppression of African Americans, the war in Vietnam, the death of Blues rocker Janis Joplin, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. ]

Rauschenberg stood apart from his Pop Art colleagues in using his skills to draw attention to social and political issues. His art activism certainly had its shortcomings, nevertheless, his many attempts at fusing art with social concerns were noteworthy. During the course of his life he created artworks that addressed the issues of war, racial equality, nuclear disarmament, apartheid, economic development, artist’s rights, and environmentalism - themes that all too few of today’s artists seem willing to tackle. While mainstream accounts of his life and art will focus upon his being a modern art innovator - reducing his achievements to mere questions of style and aesthetics - we should not forget that Rauschenberg was also a citizen artist deeply concerned with how his art could help change the world for the better.

Collage by Robert Rauschenberg

[ Earth Day - Robert Rauschenberg. Collage. 1970. As an outgrowth of 60s activism, Earth Day was first proclaimed and celebrated in the United States on April 22, 1970, when some 25 million Americans rallied across the nation to demand a cleaner, healthier planet and an end to environmental destruction. Rauschenberg created this poster, the first of its kind, to popularize and celebrate the observance. At the time the American bald eagle, symbol of the nation, was endangered with extinction due to pesticides - so Rauschenberg made the bird the focal point of his collage. ]

Rauschenberg officially announced his Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange ( ROCI - pronounced “Rocky”), at the United Nations in 1983. It was a self-financed project that had as its mission the promotion of international peace and cultural exchange through collaborative art making. Under the auspices of ROCI, Rauschenberg visited and worked with artists in countries around the globe, using materials and skills found in each nation to create arworks that were donated to and exhibited in each host country. The culminating 1991 ROCI exhibit took place at the National Gallery of Art in Washington as part of the museum’s 50th anniversary celebration. The project would eventually visit 22 countries, including Mexico, Japan, Tibet, Venezuela, Germany, and Malaysia. It should also be noted that Rauschenberg’s ROCI project openly defied the Reagan administration’s Cold War policies by visiting the Soviet Union, Cuba, and China - but it would be in the South American nation of Chile where the artist would encounter the terror and dread behind the realpolitik of the Cold War.

In the book Robert Rauschenberg: Breaking Boundaries, author Robert Saltonstall Mattison wrote extensively about Rauschenberg’s harrowing and controversial days in Chile. On September 11, 1973, the democratically elected socialist government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a military coup engineered by the U.S. government - bringing the dictator General Augusto Pinochet to power. Thousands of civilians were executed or simply “disappeared” by the military, and the bloodletting was still going on in 1984 when Rauschenberg arrived in Santiago, Chile. The artist recalled, “Armed soldiers were everywhere, and I was startled by the sounds of gunfire in the streets.” Rauschenberg had entered the country for a fifteen day visit just as Pinochet had declared a state of siege to crush popular protests.

According to Mattison, Rauschenberg “traveled to Chile without fully realizing the degree to which the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s repressive policies were tearing the country apart”, a fact that points to the artist’s naiveté. Rauschenberg “soon encountered students and political activists. He often met them secretly in church sanctuaries, where they told him of friends and relatives who had ‘disappeared.’ As a result of these experiences and against the advice of his staff, Rauschenberg went on his own to the outskirts of Santiago to photograph everyday life in the slums.” To his credit, Rauschenberg refused to be seen as a representative or agent of the U.S. government, and he shunned State Department help in arranging ROCI project details. It should be recalled that at the time the Reagan administration was moving to normalize its relationship with the military regime of Chile.

Many pro-democracy proponents viewed Rauschenberg’s trip to Chile as inopportune, and Donald Saff, a ROCI staff member in charge of logistics, recollected: “I never experienced as much anger about any artist’s project with which I have been involved as about ROCI Chile. The reactions from friends, fellow artists, and others was absolute outrage that Bob would stage a show with Pinochet in control.” Personally I would have counted myself amongst the critics, but Rauschenberg saw his Chilean exhibit as a radical gesture that would eventually help to open the path to democracy. Perhaps it did, though I’m still inclined to think of the ROCI Chile project as a mistake and one of the artist’s political shortcomings. On the other hand, I can’t deny Rauschenberg’s obvious sympathies for the people of Chile as they struggled for a free and open society.

While tributes to Rauschenberg recall the boldness with which he toppled art world sacred cows, let’s not forget the spirit he displayed in navigating the treacherous seas of national and international politics. If more artists today were willing to acknowledge and address social issues in their works - we’d all be in much better shape.

Edward Hopper: A Retrospective

Edward Hopper (1882-1967) is the subject of a major retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago, the last venue for a traveling exhibition that included stops at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the National Gallery of Art, Washington. Encompassing nearly 100 of the artist’s most notable prints and paintings, the exhibit features some of the artist’s most iconic canvases, New York Movie (1939) and Nighthawks (1942) to name but a few. As a youngster Hopper’s paintings provided me with an entry point into the art of the Great Depression period, and I recall as an adolescent being mesmerized by his works. So without hesitation I cite Hopper as one of my influences.

Automat - Oil painting by Edward Hopper

[ Automat - Edward Hopper. Oil on canvas. 1927. From the permanent collection of the Des Moines Art Center and currently part of the traveling Edward Hopper exhibit. ]

The figurative realist paintings of Edward Hopper continue to be extremely popular with the general public and a good number of critics. In 2004 the Tate Modern in London mounted an exhibition of Hopper’s works that turned out to be the second most popular show in the museum’s history - pulling in nearly half a million visitors during its three month run (a 2002 exhibit of paintings by Matisse and Picasso was the Tate’s most popular show). I think it’s a mistake to ascribe Hopper’s continued popularity to simple nostalgia, as I’m certain the allure of his work is based upon a modern audience seeing itself reflected in the portrayals of alienation he so often depicted. In essence Hopper was a social realist, and what he quietly revealed about late 20th century American society still rings true today. Conceivably, another explanation for Hopper’s lasting popularity might be found in his final written statement, published in the Spring of 1953:

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world. No amount of skillful invention can replace the essential element of imagination. One of the weaknesses of much abstract painting is the attempt to substitute the inventions of the intellect for a pristine imaginative conception. The inner life of a human being is a vast and varied realm and does not concern itself alone with stimulating arrangements of color, form, and design. The term ‘life’ as used in art is something not to be held in contempt, for it implies all of existence, and the province of art is to react to it and not to shun it. Painting will have to deal more fully and less obliquely with life and nature’s phenomena before it can again become great.”

Of course, Hopper made his statement when Abstract Expressionism was the dominant force in the American art scene, and more importantly, at a time when art elites had pronounced realist painting to be woefully old-fashioned - a viewpoint we are still largely saddled with today. But then, Hopper was impervious to the avant-garde movements that swept over the later half of the 20th century; Surrealism, Action Painting, Pop Art - all had absolutely no impact upon him whatsoever. Now that the chilly detachment of postmodernism has become the prevailing fashion in art, many are looking towards artists like Hopper for craft, beauty, technical virtuosity, and narrative without the tedious yoke of irony.

Night Shadows - Etching by Edward Hopper

[ Night Shadows - Edward Hopper. Etching. 1921. Included in the traveling Edward Hopper exhibit. ]

Hopper’s social realism was of a psychological bent, showing individuals who were estranged from each other and at odds with their surroundings - even his depopulated cityscapes suggested disquiet. Hopper’s evocative paintings provide just enough of a story to pull in the viewer, even while maintaining impenetrable mystery - one is never quite certain what the people in his canvases are thinking or doing. While Hopper’s themes often dealt with alienation they were never alienating, and despite the depictions of emptiness and seclusion, Hopper’s works somehow imparted - and still do - a deep and unshakable humanism.

As a student Hopper studied painting and illustration at the New York Institute of Art and Design, where artist Robert Henri was his favorite instructor. Hopper would later be associated with the Ashcan School of social realism launched by Henri and his rebellious cohorts, in fact Hopper first exhibited in a 1908 group show in New York organized by some of Henri’s students. Early on in his career Hopper sustained himself by working discontentedly as a commercial illustrator, a profession he positively detested, and it wouldn’t be until the later half of his life that he met with any success as a painter. He sold his first painting at the 1913 Armory Show, and wouldn’t sell another for ten years. His premier solo exhibit in 1920 was a depressing affair that generated neither critical acclaim nor sales. Thankfully Hopper had the fortitude to press ahead with his work despite the difficulties he faced - a determination that should inspire anyone who swims against the conformist mainstream.

Office in a Small City - Oil painting by Edward Hopper

[ Office in a Small City - Edward Hopper. Oil on canvas. 1953. Alienation and emotional isolation in consumer society - a critique more applicable today than ever before. Painting in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. ]

Hopper was a private man of few words, and he made but three written statements concerning his views on art. The following quotation came from Notes on Painting, a short discourse published in the catalog of his 1933 retrospective at New York’s Museum of Modern Art:

“My aim in painting has always been the most exact transcription possible of my most intimate impression of nature. If this end is unattainable, so, it can be said, is perfection in any other ideal of painting or in any other of man’s activities. The trend in some of the contemporary movements in art, but by no means all, seems to deny this ideal and to me appears to lead to a purely decorative conception of painting. (….) I believe that the great painters, with their intellect as master, have attempted to force this unwilling medium of paint and canvas into a record of their emotions. I find any digression from this large aim leads me to boredom.”

The Edward Hopper retrospective runs at the Art Institute of Chicago until May 11, 2008.

Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed

Storefront for Art and Architecture is a non-profit organization in New York that prides itself on being one of that city’s few alternative groups focused upon architecture and urban design. Established in 1982, the group seeks to advance innovative architecture through education, artist’s talks, film screenings, forums, and exhibitions. For the first time the group is conducting an event outside of New York by coming to Los Angeles to present an exhibit and forum on Soviet architecture - the playfully titled, CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed; a showing of photos by Fréderic Chaubin documenting architecture from the last two decades of the Soviet Union (”CCCP” was the abbreviated Russian title for the former “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”).

The press release for the exhibit and forum states that Chaubin traveled extensively through the former Soviet Union, documenting the “startling architectural artifacts born during the last two decades of the Cold War.” It further states that buildings from this late period were a far cry from the “vapid exercises in architectural propaganda” that form the stereotypical understanding of Soviet architecture. I believe the CCCP exhibit will frame Soviet architecture as a counter-point to how architecture is appreciated and practiced under capitalism, which should raise a number of significant questions.

Whatever one may think of the Soviet experiment, there’s no argument that from 1917 to 1932, the Soviet Union witnessed an eruption of avant-garde and experimental art. Soviet Architects were no less impacted by this upsurge, and they fused engineering and city planning with communal ideals. Groundbreaking Soviet architects like Alexander Vesnin, Vladimir Shukhov, Ilya Golosov, Yakov Chernikhov, and many others all labored to this end, designing and building worker’s clubs, sports facilities, offices, theaters, factories, communal apartment blocks, cooperative kitchens, collectivist living spaces and much more - all designed with a classless future in mind.

But the Soviet experiment in worker’s rule also attracted important architects and engineers from outside the Soviet Union, such as Le Corbusier from France, Erich Mendelsohn of Germany, and the American industrial architect, Albert Kahn. A highly successful young architect, Mendelsohn was given a commission by the Soviets to design and build a factory in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). He was the first foreign architect to be called upon by the young Soviet regime, and the result of the collaboration was the remarkable Red Banner Textile Factory, a masterpiece of Constructivist architecture. Albert Kahn’s architectural firm designed and constructed over 500 factories for the Soviets between the years 1930 and 1932.

Red Banner Textile Factory

[ Red Banner Textile Factory in Leningrad - Photograph by Richard Pare, part of the Lost Vanguards exhibit. The Soviets gave a commission to German Architect Erich Mendelsohn in 1925 for the design and construction of the ultramodern factory. ]

The CCCP exhibit opened on April 11, 2008, for a month long run at a so-called “Pop-Up” store located at the Paperchase Printing building on Sunset Blvd. “Pop-Up” stores are a novel concept that circumvent profit-making venues in favor of unoccupied spaces that can be used for short periods of time. On Sunday April 13, 2008, at 2 pm, in conjunction with the exhibit, the Pop-Up Store will hold a public forum on Soviet Architecture. The curator of CCCP and Director of Storefront for Art and Architecture/New York, Joseph Grima, will be a panelist along with photographer Fréderic Chaubin.

Photo by Richard Pare

[ Red Bus Shelter - Photograph by Richard Pare. Architect unknown, date unknown. ]

Also included on the panel is photographer Richard Pare, whose photographic exhibit, Lost Vanguard: Soviet Modernist Architecture 1922-1932, was shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The panel will also benefit from the presence of Barry Bergdoll, who as Chief Curator of Architecture & Design at MoMA, organized Lost Vanguard for MoMA. I very much look forward to hearing Richard Pare, who made eight trips to the former Soviet Union between 1992 and 2000, for the express purpose of photographing what remains of Modernist Architecture from the post-revolutionary period of 1922 to 1932 - a good deal of which is in danger from neglect or being torn down by developers. Pare made nearly ten thousand photos of Soviet modernist structures, with a selection of 74 photographs eventually being presented in his MoMA exhibition and accompanying book. On the eve of his 2007 MoMA show, Men’s VOGUE published a must-read interview with Pare, which also includes a slide show of the stunning buildings captured by Pare’s camera.

Photo by Richard Pare

[ Melnikov House - Photograph by Richard Pare. Architect Konstantin Melnikov, constructed 1927-1931. ]

CCCP: Cosmic Communist Constructions Photographed, runs from April 11 to May 17, 2008, at the Pop-Up Storefront located at Paperchase Printing, 7176 Sunset Blvd. (2 blocks west of La Brea, corner of Formosa) Los Angeles, CA 90046.

Blood: A Work in Progress

Oil painting by Mark Vallen

[ Blood - Mark Vallen. Oil on masonite. 18" x 24". Click here for a larger view. ]

A work in progress, my portrait of an anonymous African American man is intended as a rumination on racial politics in contemporary American society. The painting’s meaning and emotional focus is contingent upon who is viewing it, and while some may see menace, a great many others will perceive dignity. I have it in mind that my model’s unflinching gaze, the painting’s emotive color scheme, and the work’s very title - will all coalesce to form a challenging portrayal. While the work may seem finished to most, there are still a few painterly flourishes I wish to add.

4000 U.S. Fatalities in Iraq - So Far

Today the Associated Press reported that the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the deaths of four U.S. soldiers in Iraq, bringing the American death toll to 4,000. When I posted my very first article on this blog in November of 2004, some 849 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq. The four American soldiers who lost their lives today died when their patrol vehicle was blown up by a roadside bomb in southern Baghdad. The estimate for Iraqi civilian casualties is anywhere from 89,000 to well over 600,000, depending on the sources quoted. I have no art related anecdote to connect to these cheerless statistics - they offer they own profundities.

Body Worlds: Diary of the Dead

On January 29, 2005, I wrote an article titled Body Worlds: The Art of Plastic Corpses?, in which I criticized the popular traveling exhibitions of plasticized human bodies that have garnered so much national attention in the United States. On March 4, 2005, I wrote a follow-up article, Body Worlds Corpse Factory, which took a closer look at Gunther von Hagens, the man behind the “Institute of Plastination” and the inventor of the process by which human cadavers are preserved by injecting them with molten plastic. In my articles I raised doubts regarding the moral and legal questions surrounding the Body Worlds exhibit, not the least of which was the possibility that some of the bodies on display were in fact executed Chinese prisoners. Since publishing my critique of Body Worlds, few U.S. media outlets have offered anything but positive reviews for the exhibit - until now.

On February 15, 2008, three years after my having publicly criticized Body Worlds on this web log, ABC News broadcast a devastating examination of the traveling exhibitions of plasticized human bodies, questioning the ethics of the exhibits and calling into question exactly how the cadavers have been, and are being obtained. Journalist Brian Ross and his investigative team, working for the ABC televised news magazine 20/20, went to China and conducted an undercover investigation into the black market for human cadavers. They interviewed a black marketeer involved in collecting and selling “unclaimed” human bodies, who supplied 20/20 with photos showing the bloody bodies of executed prisoners - bound hand and foot - being delivered to a facility that would then sell the corpses for around $200 each. The black marketeer alleged that, “some of the bodies were given to Chinese companies that supply corpses preserved in plastic for display in the United States.”

In the course of its investigation, ABC’s 20/20 found that Corcoran Laboratories, Inc., in Traverse City, Michigan, USA, not only sells plasticized human bodies from China on its website, it’s a main supplier to Premier Exhibitions - one of the major exhibitors of plasticized human bodies in the United States. Apparently things have become a little hot for Corcoran Labs since the 20/20 broadcast. If you go to the official website for Corcoran Labs, you’ll find their homepage has been replaced by an innocuous “site under construction” message, however, that’s merely a deception. The internal pages of the website still display plasticized human bodies for sale.

The Los Angeles Times reported that on January 24, 2008, the California Assembly voted 50 to 4 to approve legislation that requires exhibitors show documentation that proves deceased people to be put on display as plasticized models actually consented to be exhibited. The bill’s sponsor, Chinese-American Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco), said “Although plastination was intended to advance medicine and science, many entrepreneurs are using plastination to make outrageous profits by dissecting, mutilating and parading unwilled bodies around the world and in our state - asking for consent and verification is not too much to ask.”

On March 14, 2008, the California Science Center located in downtown L.A.’s Exposition Park, will premier Gunther von Hagens’, BodyWorlds 3 & The Story of the Heart. While Gunther von Hagens insists that the human cadavers used in his exhibits are from people who willfully donated their bodies to be displayed, and that none of the corpses are executed prisoners from China, his money-making blockbuster exhibit of flayed and plasticized human beings still presents troubling moral questions.

Una visión de religión totalitaria

My painting, A People Under Command: USA Today, is included in the traveling exhibit, Fundamental, which opens at Espacio de Cultura LA BOCA in Madrid, Spain, Feb. 21, 2008. Exploring the sensitive subject of religious fundamentalism in the 21st century, the group show at the Madrid gallery runs until until March 2nd, 2008. LA BOCA is located in the Lavapiés neighborhood of the capital, not far from the world famous Museo Reina Sofia. Here’s the Spanish language version of the exhibit’s Press Release:

Painting by Mark Vallen

[ A People Under Command - Mark Vallen. 1985. Acrylic on canvas. ]

Una visión de la religión totalitaria en el siglo XXI
La Boca - Espacio de Cultura. Madrid, Espania
Del 21 de febrero al 2 de marzo 2008

‘Fundamental’ busca destacar la amplia variedad de formas del fundamentalismo que surgen en el mundo actual. La exposición nos da una visión oportuna del mundo inquietante del extremismo religioso, pretendiendo de esta forma disipar falsedades, informar al público y estimular el debate.

El programador Alex Potts, miembro del colectivo NATO “Ofensiva Táctica de Artes del Norte”, de Manchester (Reino Unido), estrenará la exposición multidisciplinar en Lavapiés, el mismo barrio donde se planeó el ataque del 11-M. Esta exposición cuenta con la obra de doce artistas como Parastou Farahour (iraní), Mark Vallen (estadounidense) Debbie Hill (israelita) y su crítica a las fuerzas destructivas religiosas que afectan a sus naciones particulares.

Parastou Farahour viene de exponer al lado de Tracey Emin en Nueva York. Sus padres fueron asesinados por el régimen Iraní y su obra critica el fundamentalismo islámico con pictogramas hechos en papel de pared que muestran escenarios de tortura.

Por un lado, en la pintura de Peter Štrovs (esloveno) figura una comparación fisonómica satírica del papa y Osama Bin Laden. Por otro lado, figuran de la mano de Andrew Stern (americano) imágenes inquietantes de Iraq después de la invasión, así como también de la revolución iraní procedentes del fotógrafo Magnum Iraní, Abbas.

La exposición incluye también una emocionada serie de fotografías que se sacaron clandestinamente en Afganistán durante el régimen Taliban procedentes de RAWA (Asociación Revolucionaria de Mujeres Afgana) las cuales documentan el abuso ejercido sobre las mujeres musulmanas.

Alex Potts dice: “Cuando los historiadores del futuro examinen los principios del siglo XXI, el tema del fundamentalismo religioso se distinguirá. Hoy en día se escucha tanto sobre ‘el fundamentalismo islámico’ que da la impresión de que sea lo único que hay. Pero resulta que el extremismo religioso es un fenómeno global que surge de diversas creencias teológicas y pensamientos políticos y son esos los que busca mostrar.”

En la exposición figuran técnicas de arte muy diversas: desde cuadros, fotografía, esculturas, hasta visuales. Paralelamente habrá una muestra de documentales que fomenten el debate.

‘Fundamental’ esta financiada por Arts Council England y European Cultural Foundation. Se lanzó en Manchester en Septiembre de 2007 y seguirá en Berlín la próxima primavera.

Supporting the Writer’s Strike

I support the strike now being waged by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) against the six gigantic media corporations that call themselves the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). Since Nov. 5, 2007, 12,000 writers have been on strike over the issue of fair compensation for their works being broadcast on the internet. Currently writers receive nothing from the studios when their works are downloaded or streamed online, and the conglomerates hope to continue refusing writers any percentage of the billions of dollars in profits that will be made in years to come through online distribution. As of Dec. 7, the AMPTP walked away from negotiations with the WGA, insisting that the writer’s union drop six of their demands before discussion could proceed. Striking writers have suspended their picket lines for the holidays - but picketing will resume January 7.

Writers on strike

[ Striking writers demonstration - Photo by Michael Jones, courtesy WGA. ]

Why should an independent visual artist be concerned with the affairs of writers who create content for the U.S. film and television industry? On a personal level, I feel kinship with all those who are involved in cultural output - whether musicians, photographers, dancers, painters, writers, etc., since we share certain commonalities as creative individuals. As the ones who generate art and culture in society, we should not only be aware of our common bonds - we should support and work with each other as natural allies. As with all of the artistic disciplines, it’s very difficult to make a living as a writer. At present it is nearly impossible to have a gainful career as a novelist, playwright, or poet, and as a result, many skilled and talented individuals who are driven to pursue writing because they love it and are dedicated to the craft - have come to write for movies and television. If the gigantic media corporations defeat this strike and the process of corporate monopolization intensifies, it will become increasingly arduous to maintain a life as a writer.

The writer’s strike is not simply their fight alone, the justness of their cause should be apparent to every person who labors for a salary, and it really boils down to one simple question - should workers receive proper compensation for their toil? The six media monopoly giants that make up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers consist of General Electric (which owns NBC), Time Warner (which owns CNN and Warner Bros.), the Walt Disney Company (which owns ABC), Viacom (which owns Paramount and is itself owned by billionaire media mogul, Sumner Redstone), News Corporation (which owns Fox), and CBS Corporation (also owned by Sumner Redstone). That these powerful conglomerates own the nation’s media, from newspapers, radio, and television to movie and TV studios, generating hundreds of billions of dollars in profits - give the lie to their claims that they can’t “afford” to meet the writer’s demands. The estimated corporate revenue from digital streaming alone in the next 2 years is $3 Billion, with not a single penny of those super profits going to writers.

There are some on the sidelines who have turned their backs on the writer’s strike, insisting that the writers don’t deserve support because of the distractive and escapist quality of corporate television programming. While it’s true commercial TV offers few broadcasts of a sophisticated or educational nature, repudiating the writers strike entirely misses the point. Workers in the “fast food” industry are not exactly known for creating and dishing out haute cuisine, but are they not entitled to decent working conditions and fair compensation for their labor? If you work for a living, you should be duly remunerated. The overwhelming majority of writers in the Hollywood industry work on a freelance basis and live and work from paycheck to paycheck. During any given year around half of WGA’s members are unemployed.

If the AMPTP breaks the writer’s strike they will have succeeded in drastically altering labor relations in Hollywood, clearing the way for assaults on wages and conditions for all workers in the television and film industry. The stakes in this strike are much higher than most people realize. On Dec. 19, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to do away with a ban that prevented corporations from owning multiple newspapers and TV and radio stations in the same market. The FCC ruling now makes it possible for corporations, like the six media monopoly giants that make up the AMPTP, to acquire and control even more of the nation’s media outlets.

Equitable compensation for writers regarding the use of new media in the Hollywood motion picture and television industry is the focus of this strike - but there are other issues to ponder as well. The question of monopolization and the corporate stranglehold upon the cultural life of the nation should be on everyone’s mind. How did a handful of megacorporations come to hold so much power over the nation’s art and culture and what can we do about it? Joining in solidarity with the WGA should be a first step. When the striking writer’s picket lines resume in the new year, everyone concerned with fair play, justice, and the democratization of culture, should join them - I know I will.