Thursday, May 13, 2004

politically engaged art troubles me not because I dislike it but because I wonder how efficacious it is at motivating the listener/viewer/reader.

this afternoon I stopped by one of my favorite used bookstores, Beer's Books, located right across the state Capital, ya know, where President Terminator has taken up residence. I bought From Act Up to the WTO: Urban Protest and Community Building in the Era of Globalization, ed. by Benjamin Shepard and Ronald Hayduck, Verso 2002. and evidence of this book gives me hope that we, early 21st Century citizens, can and will use our collective power to change bad policies and corporate malfeasance. the anti-war protests last year was a sure shot of adrenaline. I recall the anti-war protest at the Capital last year had an attendance of around 10,000 to 15,000 people, though official records claimed a number, if I recall correctly, of 5,000 individuals. something, it felt like, was happening, and perhaps this bent administration might just listen up. but they didn't of course and now, well. . .

but when I got home I watched an old video of U2 doing their great song, "Sunday Bloody Sunday." wonderful, powerful stuff, and yet the pessimist in me thought all the kids in the audience wants to do is rock. so much for changing the world for the better.

so the power of art: perhaps, as one writer said, as for our civilization we are doomed, but for the individual there remains a chance.

I grew up on punk rock, real, loud, obnoxious, nihilistic stuff. there was an energy and real pathos in it, for example when Johnny Rotten (and sometimes John Lydon) spat about the Berlin Wall: I'm looking over the wall/And they are looking at me! The Sex Pistols' politics was found in the the zeroes, those luminous absences created by individuals who have nothing in a wealthy country. it ain't for nothing punk band names were negatives: D.O.A, Black Flag, X, Social Distortion . . .

and so for political art: perhaps we in the USA are not so politicized anyway. a couple of years ago a painter friend came back from the SFMOMA with its catalogue of contemporary Latin American art. almost all of it was overtly political/sociological/scatological, even. and a lot of the pieces had much to do with the human body, its form, excretions and so on. we don't do much of that. it seems we have a fear of the body and its functions. is it related to our fear of political activism? I know this might sound rather hippie-ish of me, but I do think learning to love is much harder than hate. and political art must engage in acts of love. We do love and we do die, not we must love each other or die, and so we are finite, everything is, which is the greater argument to act in loving. right? what's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding.


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