Archive for the 'SLU/CIIS 2010' Category



“a healthy opposition to ideologies” (I miss my Dad today)

A link from Infoshop leads to a Web site called Little Black Cart, which is a combination blog and shopping cart for books, mags, ‘zines, etc.  Reading topics include: anarchism, communism, culture, green anarchy, situationist, insurrection, anarchy, autonomism, and surrealism.  Here is what they write about Situationists.

The Situationists (or Sits) were artists from various countries who formed a group in the 1950s called The Situationist Internationale. They critiqued modern society in its various economic, social, and political aspects. They wanted to bring Marxism up to date, to construct a theory of what was going on in society that was preventing people from being able to live fully and act freely. The result was a critique that centered around everyday life, rather than on abstract economic forces. The idea of the “Spectacle” (the empty roles and values and passive rituals that modern life both perpetuates and relies upon) was at the heart of this.

The Situationists were characterized by a healthy opposition to ideologies (if you think of ideologies as sets of ideas that people pledge allegiance to, stop thinking critically about, and only defend). As part of that opposition the Sits denied that there was such a thing as Situationism, doing their best to fight off the stultifying, paralyzing effects of dogma and the party line.

I think I got “a healthy opposition to ideologies” from my Dad, a Congregational minister who left the church to become a professor at a community college and a maximum security prison.  I remember him talking about why he left the church, in that he felt the church as an institution in general was heading in the wrong direction.  This was in the early 1970s during the height of the Vietnam War and civil rights movements.  He said that he felt he would be a better minister working with those from a disadvantaged working class and others who deserve equal opportunities in life.

Shepard Fairey, a RISD grad, quotes the Situationists as an influence in his own work as a street and sticker artist.  His Obey Giant campaign “manufactures quality dissent since 1989.”

I have come across a number of German stickers in the past five years that reflect Situationist perspectives, which will be the subject of one of my text panels for the upcoming exhibition at SLU, “Contemporary Street Art in Berlin as Cultural Expression and Political Protest.”  Quiet mornings are helping me formulate the exhibition in my mind, and I realized today that the subject headings in my sticker database will form a perfect framework for these text panels.

In the context of German street art, I’d say that anarchy is not about lawless chaos.  Rather, according the Oxford English Dictionary (via Wikipedia), it refers to “A social state in which there is no governing person or group of people, but each individual has absolute liberty (without the implication of disorder.)  But is bound by a social code.”

Wooster Collective in Berlin

Too bad my SLU study group and I will miss the Wooster Collective meet-up in Berlin and a chance to meet Marc and Sara Schiller, the NYC-based couple who has done so much to advance street art around the world.  Plus the students would have loved going to the hip Club der Visionaere; they talked about it all the time.

No complaints, though.  Our recent trip was fantastic in all respects!!

Hatch Kingdom

Lots to write about our trip to Hatch Kingdom, the only sticker museum in the world, but for now:

Photography exhibition at C|O Berlin

The SLU study group — Kat Dwyer, Bridget Montesanti, and Charlie Reetz — and Spencer and I went to C|O Berlin for a photography exhibition entitled Die Stadt, the City.  C|O Berlin is situated in Mitte near the well known Kunst Tacheles alternative arts center.  The exhibition included the work of 18 artists from the agency Ostkreuz who for well over a year traveled to 22 cities around the globe to explore and examine present-day urban realities.

From the C|O catalog, “The city: cradle of civilization, melting pot of cultures, mentalities, religions, and ideas, and the locus of human desires for security, freedom, and prosperity. In cities, all those that would never cross paths in the country suddenly converge and collide. The city liberates its inhabitants from the fetters of kinship and family; it requires and fosters enormous cultural and social achievements. It creates concentrations of severe poverty, but frequently offers the only chance of escaping from it. In the city, every person is part of some larger whole, and at the same time, just a tiny, unimportant part. The city offers closeness but creates anonymity. It is everything and its opposite—all at the same time and in the same place. It harbors within it the future of the world.”

Holocaust Memorial

This post is out of chronological order, but I wanted to share that the St. Lawrence study group visited the Holocaust Memorial last Thursday, adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate.  We noted that in a city filled with graffiti on almost every imaginable surface, the block of flat gray stelae that comprise the Holocaust Memorial are kept free of commentary (if one can call graffiti commentary, that is).  We’ll talk more about this today with time (finally) to reflect upon what we’ve seen and experienced thus far in Berlin and Munich.

Something called the “Degussa incident” refers to a scandal in which an anti-graffiti chemical called Protectosil was used in the construction of the memorial stelae.  From Wikipedia, “On October 14, 2003, the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger published a few articles presenting as a scandal the fact that the Degussa company was involved in the construction of the memorial producing the anti-graffiti substance Protectosil used to cover the steles, because the company had been involved in several different ways in the National-Socialist persecution of the Jews. A subsidiary company of Degussa, Degesch, even produced the Zyklon B used to poison people in the gas chambers.”

Street art + art fair = an oxymoron

The Stroke 02 urban art fair was disappointing.  Aside from its overly commercial focus, it lacked the vibrancy we’ve seen and experienced on the streets and elsewhere.  Right from the beginning, we all asked, “Why Munich?” and later learned “that’s where the money is.”

The fair itself was situated in a four storey building next to the well groomed Englischer Garten in Munich, which alone seemed an odd and unfortunate decision.  The most interesting project was a live painting by 11 artists from Switzerland.  They had pieced together a large grid of 80 or so 16 x 20 boards, which they painted, re-painted, and painted over in a very dynamic and fluid manner.  The squares could be purchased as individual works of art, again indicative of the focus on sales.  However, the quality of this group’s work was very high, and the artists’ drawings, paintings, and stencils all worked very well together.

Aside from the Hatch Kingdom booth/room, most of the rest of displays were flat and stiff.  Objects on walls.  Way too much airbrush and cliche’d imagery.

I’ll write more later, b/c I need to go meet the students soon.

“The Man stickin’ it Back” as one of this post’s tags refers to The Money Man.

Alternative Berlin

At Spencer Homick’s suggestion, my SLU students — Kat Dwyer, Bridget Montesanti, and Charlie Reetz — and I signed up for a walking tour yesterday with a group called Alternative Berlin to see and learn about street art.  It was a great way to begin our two week journey — better than I expected, to be honest.  Our guide Mark was extremely well informed, not only of the “scene” itself, but also about the ways in which artists engage the community with their work.  He discussed street art as much more than mere decoration and/or defacement of the public environment.  The work we saw expressed commentary and critique regarding various social-political issues here in Berlin, Europe, and elsewhere.  I’m going to ask the students to choose one artist each and reflect upon and write about what they saw.  Prost, Just, Miss Van–I’ll need to check my notes to list some of the other artists.

We also went to the ATM Gallery to see an exhibition entitled Mutation by stencil artist Czarnobyl.

At the end of the day, Mark had everyone cut an 8-pieced stencil of a gorilla, and we spray painted it onto a piece of canvas to bring home with us.  The students loved it.

Antjie Krog

We heard back from Katharina Haverich at the Haus der Kulturen, and we’re signed up to read on Friday night.  Here is what she wrote:

There is a chance that by Friday June 4th (evening) we will be through with Gourevitch (read in German) and Sebald (read in German).

The later that day I’d schedule you and your students, the higher the chance we will have reached Krog (read in English).

My sense, from what I’ve read so far, is that this will not be performance as spectacle, but rather performance as a form of witnessing.  I’ll do more research and post again later.

The sticker scene yesterday was slightly disappointing in that most of what we came across was highly commercial.  Some antifa stuff here and there, but a lot of advertising and pop culture.  This shouldn’t be too surprising in that we were right in the heart of touristy Alexanderplatz and the Hakescher Markt

Rules of Evidence at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt

A program entitled Rules of Evidence will be presented at the Haus der Kulten der Welt during the first week of June when I’ll be in Berlin with three students to study street art. Curated by Okwui Enwezor, the project is “the first edition of a new biannual encounter at Haus der Kulturen der Welt that will feature five days of thematic programmes, conceived by a group of international filmmakers, curators, artists and theoreticians. A key component of the encounter is the critical re-evaluation of historical processes in the light of the contemporary moment. Also at stake is the role that images and strategies of representation, subsumed under the term ‘documentary,’ have acquired in present-day politics.”

SLU professor Obiora Udechukwu is a colleague of the well-known international curator Okwui Enwezor.

I saw on the HKW Web site that they are looking for readers to participate in a series of public readings that “involve throughout the entire forum live public readings from books on historic atrocities: W.G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction; Antjie Krog, Country of my Skull; Philip Gourevitch, I Would Like to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will All Be Dead.”  I have written to see if my students and I could participate.  Obiora and Chika Okeke-Agulu (AKALA) will be in Berlin next week and now I know why.

Stkkrs wthht Brrddrz

Traveling in various realms, sticker shaman Spencer Homick has created a wiki for the upcoming trip to Berlin with three SLU students.  And a Facebook site.  Stay tuned.


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