Citizenship

Points of Reference: Artists’ Power of Ungovernability

A few points of reference from this week of flourishing resistance.

Afire with revolutionary love

I made and gifted this papercut-and-ink poster. It was inspired by Rep. John Lewis and Susan O’Malley. Still learning.

Last night, I co-hosted a Protest Sign Work Party. We supplied paper in fluorescent red, aqua blue, navy blue, gold, and silver. I was elated to see a lot of great paper-cutting, hand lettering, and creative messages. It was heartening to hold space, share, and prepare for the NYC Women’s March on Saturday, among other actions.

Thanks to SOHO20, Rachel Vera Steinberg, everyone who braved the rain and cold to participate, and Materials for the Arts (an amazing NYC city institution!).

The power of artists

I love what Culture Strike posted about the power of artists’ resistance.

[…] has also been having a very hard time finding musicians to perform at his inauguration ceremony, making him angry. This proves that even a person like […] understands the power of music and culture, and not having a legit cultural icon performing at his ceremony supports the notion that artists and cultural workers do not stand by him, his administration, nor his rhetoric. It shows just how powerful artists are and how much influence [we] have.*

Saying no to opportunities can be trying, but it’s a choice we all have, and we have to exercise it to understand our capacities to resist. We can’t afford complicity. Now is a time for opposition (we can oppose with revolutionary love; see Representative John Lewis’ interview with Krista Tippett on On Being).

*As per my last post about not re-inscribing power, I redacted the name. I’ll try out different ways to avoid adding to […]’s over-representation. The parens and ellipse are sort of nice because power is inherently empty (H/T Amanda Curreri), and those who occupy it can be displaced (H/T Kerry James Marshall).

Social purpose

Friday’s ArtStrike is spurring soul-searching among some artists, who question the efficacy of participating. To me the answer is obvious: collective action is comprised of personal actions. But that’s hard to see without a sense of social purpose.

Perhaps, if it develops social purpose, then the project of seeing ourselves as interdependently entangled, and as agents, not subjects is necessary and urgent work.

Autocracy & emotional self-determination

An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d’état or mass insurrection). (Wikipedia)

One aspect of autocracy that offends is the intentional disregard for others. The autocrat exempts himself from principles foundational to social bonding: fairness, mutuality, accountability, integrity. (As M said, the spectrum of possibilities of the unreasonable continues to widen.) Simultaneously, being emotionally immature, thin-skinned, reactionary, petty, and vindictive describes a counter-example of how to be in the world. I would like to craft my resistance on my terms, to self-determine my emotional tone of resolve.

Artists/Ungovernables

While organizing artists is notoriously difficult—like “herding cats” as the cliché goes—maybe that means, optimistically, we’re inclined towards ungovernability.

ungovernable: not capable of being governed, guided, or restrained; not submissive to government or control (Mirriam-Webster)

OK, you’ve got cats, artists, ungovernability—this is so meme-ready, artists. Go with it!

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Make Things (Happen)

Make Things (Happen) Response Activity Sheets

Examples of completed and make-your-own activity sheets.

A few weeks ago, I received a nice surprise in the mail. Suzanne L’Heureux from Interface Gallery sent me some of the completed and make-your-own activity sheets from the Make Things (Happen) exhibition in February. One of the hardest things about that project was leaving just two days after the opening, saying “so long” to friends, and not seeing how the project would play out over the month. Going through the responses was joyful and bittersweet. Here are a selection.

Artist unknown, contribution to Make Your Own Activity Sheet station, 2015// Think Feel, Arrghh, OK, reflect

Artist unknown, contribution to Make Your Own Activity Sheet station, 2015

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Galeria Rusz.

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Galeria Rusz.

Participant unknown, response to activity sheet by Nick Lally.

Participant unknown, response to a pattern-based drawing activity sheet by Nick Lally.

Artist unknown, contribution to Make Your Own Activity Sheet station, 2015 // The I/You/Me/We Pyramid

Artist unknown, contribution to Make Your Own Activity Sheet station, 2015

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Dionis Ortiz.

Participant unknown, coloring activity sheet by Dionis Ortiz.

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Susan O'Malley (1976-2015).

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Susan O’Malley (1976-2015). This is one of five activity sheets that Susan contributed. You can learn more about Susan at morebeautifulthanyoucaneverimagine.com.

Participant unknown, activity sheet by Kevin B. Chen.

Participant unknown, complete-this-drawing activity sheet by Kevin B. Chen.

If you are one of the unidentified artists or participants and would like me credit you, get in touch.

Find all 45 activity sheets at the Make Things (Happen) web pages.

With gratitude to Suzanne, Interface Gallery, all MTH artists, and participants.

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Community

Art Moves 2015 billboard festival will be dedicated to Susan O’Malley.

“Susan took part in the Art Moves Festival in 2012 and was twice a juror of the Art on Billboards competition. She always brought her wonderful mixture of optimism, energy and professionalism.”

This year’s theme is “What has real value? Can money buy everything?” The deadline for submissions is July 22, 2015.

Art Moves 2015

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Community

Susan O’Malley and Tiny Beautiful Things

In advance of Sunday’s public celebration of the life of Susan O’Malley, I offer those who are reeling from loss a book recommendation, which Susan presciently shared with me.  

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on love and life from Dear Sugar, by Cheryl Strayed. // Source: CherylStrayed.com

Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here.

—Cheryl Strayed

 

Susan was reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar when we roomed together on an art trip to Poland. She spoke glowingly about it, and highly recommended it to me. This was in early September 2012. Later that month, one of the worst things that have happened in my life, one which I wouldn’t wish upon anyone, happened.

In grief, my heart felt beaten and bloodied, like it was cleaving itself from my chest. My universe had been permanently re-arranged, and I walked around in a state of shock for months. I wasn’t sure of anything: why I do anything, what the point was. I wondered how to avoid subjecting loved ones to what I’d been through when my own time came. The hurt of life—and death—seemed inescapable.

Strayed is no stranger to the loss of a parent, and those indescribable, intensely personal, most idiosyncratic emotional experiences categorized as grief. She wrote candidly and forcefully about it in Tiny Beautiful Things and Wild. Strayed somehow found the words and the strength to acknowledge the brutality of such loss. Her honesty also lets in cracks of light: unfathomably, imperfectly, we go on. We might be total fucking messes, but we also have to try, even if we fail, to forgive and love ourselves.

On my way home from three of the worst weeks of my life, I sent Susan a message from the airport. I had to thank her for her recommendation. My mourning felt isolating, but Strayed’s words offered moments of familiarity and acceptance. Maybe it can do the same for you, and thereby join the multitude of ways in which Susan’s wisdom lives on.

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Community, Make Things (Happen)

In Remembrance: Susan O’Malley

It is with immense sadness that I share that Susan O’Malley suddenly passed away.

Susan was an artist, curator, and member of the tight-knit San Francisco Bay Area art community. She was my friend and collaborator. She recently contributed to Make Things (Happen), and I last saw her at the opening reception on February 6. She was pregnant with twin girls, and almost due. Susan was radiant, and as characteristically good-humored as ever.

Susan’s positivity in person and via her artworks left countless people with brighter days. I aspired to be more like her: to embody more compassion, forgiveness, and kindness; to be magnanimous in my relationships and outlook; and to let go of what I can’t control.

I have always admired her work—an enthusiastic blend of relational and text-based practices—for its elegant simplicity, humor, and unabashed enthusiasm. It was borne out of her unshakable faith in optimism. She embraced the risk of being sentimental, trusting that sincerity is a virtue that redeems feeling self-conscious or ridiculous. All of us, Susan insisted, are capable of wisdom and love. She asked us to open our hearts to possibilities.

Many of us defend ourselves from the slings and arrows of everyday life with cynicism. Susan remained unapologetically affirmative, even in sustained grief as her mother endured a lengthy terminal illness. That fact speaks to the courage of her humanity.

I saw this in her work, One Minute Smile, when I was still fresh in the clutch of bereavement of my dad. Exemplifying her generosity of spirit, Susan shared an intensely personal, vulnerable moment with a room full of strangers and friends. As she made eye contact with us, we became more present and mindful. Together, Susan helped us acknowledge: Yes, we are fragile… and yes, we have yet-undiscovered reserves of resilience within us, too.

I’m grateful for Susan for sharing her light with me, and helping me and many others find more of our own. She will be dearly missed.

Susan O'Malley with her mobile billboard stating "You Are Exactly Where You Need to Be" in the Art Moves Festival in Torun, Poland, September 2012.

Susan O’Malley with her mobile billboard stating, “You are exactly where you need to be.” Art Moves Festival, Torun, Poland, September 2012.

Romer Young Gallery annoucement
Artforum
Christian L. Frock, “Celebrating the Life of Artist and Curator Susan O’Malley (1976–2015),” KQED

Learn more about public memorials and a memorial fund for the arts: morebeautifulthanyoucouldeverimagine.com

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Not because it’s easy, but because it often isn’t:

Susan O'Malley, One Minute Smile (participatory performance documentation), 2013

Susan O’Malley, One Minute Smile (participatory performance documentation), 2013 // Source: SusanOMalley.com

It’s an invitation to us, really. To try to smile every day, even on the days when we least want to.

—Susan O’Malley
Community, Works

Susan O’Malley, One Minute Smile

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Uncategorized

See: Bay Area Now 7, opens Friday

Very excited for dear friends presenting new works.

July 18–October 5, 2014
Bay Area Now 7
ybca, San Francisco

There’s a lot of reasons to be excited for BAN7, but I’d like to personally cheer these folks:

Susan O’Malley and Leah Rosenberg (by invitation of Montalvo Arts Center). Find your center and then get a little de-centered at their event-specific cocktails on July 24, from 6-8pm.

Susan O'Malley and Leah Rosenberg, Find Your Center, Montalvo Arts Center at ybca.

Susan O’Malley and Leah Rosenberg, installation of Find Your Center, Montalvo Arts Center at ybca. Source: Susan and Leah.

This, unbelievably, is happening at ybca:

Bay Area Art Workers’ Alliance

Bay Area Art Workers Alliance presents an exhibition of works by preparators addressing the invisible labor, aesthetic vocabulary, and materials that art workers use when they install and care for the precious objects that give value to institutions like YBCA. …

Each of these 50 new art works are constructed using on-the-job materials informed by vantages of the preparator — behind the painting, during the paperwork, inside the crate, from truck to office to gallery — that happen between, in proximity to, and in spite of the finished exhibition.

In the collaborative spirit of the profession, BAAWA will present works generated by preparators with a strategic focus on the collective work of a community rather than one single author.

BAAWA’s site: http://www.bayareaartworkersalliance.org

I really wished that I could have attended the Tate Modern’s No Soul For Sale fair of alternative and artist-run spaces, so when I heard that BAN7’s distributed curatorial model was inspired by NSFS, I was intrigued. The featured organizations cut a broad cross-section of the Bay Area art scene. In fact, I’m not familiar with some of them—either they’d begun around or after I left SF for NYC, or they were in entirely different networks. For a scene as small and tightly-knit as the Bay Area, this chance for BAN to present new spaces, artists and ideas is really exciting. It’s easy to knock bi- and triennials, but when the curatorial authorship reflects smaller art organizations, I hope audiences attend with a more open mindset.

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