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You may have never heard the names Noah Fischer, Paddy Johnson or Kalle Lasn, but they are very occupied with Wall Street just now. As the spectacle known as “Occupy Wall Street,” or OWS, grows in number and venue, many are questioning its purpose and origins, which these three know better than most.
Various groups proudly take ownership for the OWS phenomena and seek to officially speak for them. But one that has remained on the shadowy fringes of public perception may have helped to catapult the entire phenomena in the first place – a group of left-wing artists who have been planning this for months.
Adbusters, an anti-capitalist group based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is the brainchild of filmmakers Kalle Lasn and Bill Schmalz. The OWS movement is their most “successful” in a string of obstructionist strategies, which includes “Buy Nothing Day,” mass hummings and nudity, anti-advertising and posters for the recent Greek turmoil.
Adbusters bills itself as a group of artists and “culture jammers” whose goal is to change the flow of information, the function and power of corporations and the “way meaning is produced.” No sign of monomania here.
“Street Art” from Adbuster’s website
The group fired off this invitation on July 13, 2011: “Are you ready for a Tahir moment? On Sept. 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.”
Adbusters sent it out to 94,000 “redeemers, rebels and radicals,” but many of the artists who showed up are just young thrill seekers or unemployed, without such grand aspirations.
The group’s goals seem even darker, as they support “systematic destruction” of art tarnished by the sin of popularity and scold successful street artists such as Swoon or Banksy. It is their authoritarian decision that art must be subversive in order to justify its existence.
In Adbuster’s manifesto, Wall Street, the “financial Gomorrah of America’ causes all types of global problems, yet they offer no clear answers. One of the more irrational solutions is a 1% tax on “all monetary transactions” to be “globally dispersed” by some as yet unknown pan-national Santa Claus. This is their answer to end globalism?
One of movement’s hopeful saviors is President Obama, whom they “demand” to end “Corporatocracy” and the influence money has on Washington. Now, a lot of conservatives could get down with that, but OWS would likely balk at consenting to agree with such rubes.
Another plaintive appeal comes from an artist who expected a little more cronyism from the White house: “I really wish President Obama would show the same support for artists that we showed to him during his campaign.”
Just how this directly relates to art isn’t clear, largely because it doesn’t. Yes, it is said that “all art is political,” just as a case could be made that “all art is energy” or something else. My theory is that Lasn and Schmalz at the very least are closet politicians. It is one thing to express political views through art and another to entirely co-opt art for the express purpose of grandstanding and propaganda. Occupy Wall Street artists fall into the latter camp by 99%.
The language of the group, including the “art and culture” wing of OWS makes it pretty clear: “Assembly of diplomats,” “General Assemblies,” “tactical briefings” and “going back to the scaffolds” – does this have a familiar ring about it? Some hybrid between the French Revolution and the United Nations?
“Fischer Wall Street” from Thirteen.org
Last week’s invasion by OWS into museums (“Occupy Museums”) was not necessarily an afterthought, but the original purpose of artists such as Brooklyn’s Noah Fischer, who launched his own war on capitalism, the use of currency and national identity (notably ours) long ago.
Fischer, like many left-wing artists, operates in a world full of contradiction and hypocrisy. A product of privileged education, he studied in the moneyed halls of academia such as Columbia University. Wealthy benefactors built and fund these colleges, which OWS would seem to oppose for others.
In the “manifesto” pages of the OWS Arts and Culture department, Fischer criticizes the “absurd elevation of one individual genius over another human being for the monetary gain of the elitest of elite.” Yet Fischer apparently lost no sleep over the filthy lucre he received from a Fulbright scholarship, recognized as one of the most prestigious in the world. It also places him in an elite, rare class along with Bill Clinton, Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and other poor proletarians.
Paddy Johnson is another key figure with the OWS art scene. A New York art critic and writer she edits the art blog “Art Fag City.” In spite of the name, Johnson is not without clout, as New York University and other institutions advertise on her site and vie to be noticed.
She also curates for the most prestigious art venues on earth, such as the Venice Biennale, and writes for high profile publications. In 2008 Johnson received a grant from Creative Capital, (that would be money) and served on the board of the Rockefeller Foundation New Media Fellowships (more money). This is all acceptable if OWS leaders receive the fruits of capital investment, instead of someone else.
Wall Street protest, Aaron Burr Society
The “Aaron Burr Society” is a shadow actor and long-term planner of actions like the OWS. This anarchist, anti-capitalist group has attempted its own Wall Street protests over several years and is heavily involved with this one.
Their website honors Aaron Burr and quotes Jefferson, Franklin and Teddy Roosevelt. They describe their Society as an “absurdist, conceptual artwork operating in the public sphere, building on the revolutionary traditions.” Aaron Burr Society also generates art and graphics in attempts to change U.S. politics and the economy.
The decision by OWS to move from Wall Street to museums is rationalized thusly: They are “temples of cultural elitism controlled by the 1%.”
Huh? Will OWS now dictate how large a consensus must be (must factor in class, income, race and gender) before items are displayed by museums? Short answer, they probably would. And in keeping with the 1960’s theme, “teach-ins” are required before invading museums; some comrade will tell you what to think and say, all in the spirit of re-education.
Occupy Museums, from official site
Karen Archey of ArtInfo had the nerve to question the logic of occupying private museums in “Why is Occupy Wall Street Protesting NYC Museums, and Not Super Rich Galleries and Art Fairs?”
It is a reasonable question, and Will Brand responded that every “official” demand from the “Demands Working Group” has been aimed at government institutions rather than private industry. Why are they camping in Wall Street rather than the White House then?
Let’s look at the “art” produced by this outpouring for a moment. Their logo is a closed fist – so innovative. Power to the people, subtle hints of violence and force and may the ’60s be always with you.
And then there’s the “No Comment” art show which ended Oct. 16. Hundreds of crude, paper drawings and slogans littered the street. Looked like a gigantic doting mother’s refrigerator, replete with smeared food. Performance art included “provocative” acts such as burning money. The U.S. government does that all day long, what else is new?
Even on the OWS sites, many artists are skeptical or disapproving of the protest against museums.
One wrote, “I hope you get beat up, arrested and beat up again.”
On Paddy Johnson’s post, some commenter noted the irony of protesting the few official supporters of the arts: “Get real. … Like MOMA is not somehow a bastion of hedge fund liberal humanism?”
American groups are having so much fun getting into museums, they’ve inspired groups from Los Angeles to Athens to do the same. In Vancouver, Canada, there was a siege against the Vancouver Art Gallery with participants voicing unrelated demands for … no particular reason.
Our nation’s economic problems are serious and personal for millions of people. Artists have historically illuminated and vocalized social issues, sometimes even giving their lives for them – in this case though, some artists are the problem.