Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.
On Saturday I visited the most excellent Take this hammer (Art + Media Activism from the Bay Area)at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Take this hammer is about everything you want an exhibition to be. YBCA is in the City Centre, but us Europeans need to remember that American cities centres are not privileged areas, and San Francisco’s is definitely not. It is an area filled with misery, homelessness and addictions. It is important to point out as showing Take this hammer is a Westminster-like area would be, at the very least, cynical.
The exhibition starts with a funny take on the ever growing tech-industry, in the form of a catchy video/song called Google Apps Apps, by PERSIA featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik. It sets the tone of the exhibition as a show where the most serious matters are presented, if not with humour, at least with a form of playfulness. It is also a tribute to the LGBT and Drag culture of San Francisco. Nonetheless, I’m unsure whether a still from the video is the best way to advertise the exhibition. As much as it is a good start for the whole narrative, it is not the most powerful piece and by being so representative of the image of San Francisco which is exported, it is perhaps the least iconoclast, or radical.
One of the most interesting aspects of the show as a whole resides in its use of technology. The tech industry in the Valley is sucking life out of the city, not only by creating gentrification and in doing so provoking evictions, as the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project shows, but also by avoiding taxes.
Events which are not necessarily visible unless made public by newspapers are here the object of performances, installations and interactive experiences. Technology is used to highlight the effects of gentrification and violence. The website Out of Sight, Out of Mind, by Pitch Interactive, is turned into an installation. It shows the secret strikes carried out by the US in Pakistan – those two countries are not even officially at war. The show goes seamlessly from domestic to foreign dehumanising policies. In fact, the Anti-eviction Mapping Project, where you can navigate the computer to read the stories of the evicted individuals, is not too far from the Out of Sight, Out of Mind process of showing the stories of the victims of drones.
However, one the most striking pieces of the exhibition was for me, by far, the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History. It creates doubt – “I thought Guantanamo was still open?!” – anger – why is this place taking so long to shut down? – hope.
The whole internet is moved – and rightly so – by the profound, systematic and bureaucratic injustice of an affair like the one depicted in Making a Murderer yet Guantanamo prison has been carrying illegal detention for 15years. If you want to be cynical, at least, Steven Avery got a trial. Guantanamo prison is dehumanising, illegal, illegitimate, it’s a disgrace.
If I describe these conditions without permitting my indignation to interfere, I have lifted this particular phenomenon out of its context in human society and have thereby robbed it of part of its nature, deprived it of one of its important inherent qualities.
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism.
Picturing it as “passed future” is highly radical because it does not simply criticise the project, it also questions the responsibility of the public in bringing an end to it. And this is why this show, even in the imperative form of its title, “Take this hammer” is so powerful: it does not only points out what’s wrong or shows what activists are doing. In another post I will talk about strategies and tactics in art, activism and public art. By making struggles visible these artworks engage with the public: you can take a poster of one of the victims of police violence and colour it, rehumanise it, because #Blacklivesmatter.
You can take a postcard of an imprisoned woman with her portrait at the front and her story at the back. You can take the message home, and it is made possible mainly by technology. All the projects have a website where you can contribute one way or another – I will post each website in the coming week, so keep posted. It doesn’t stay in the white cube.