PHOTO: http://www.animalnewyork.com/2011/jay-zs-occupy-all-streets-t-shirt-removed-from-rocawear-site/

Jay-Z occupying Russell Simmons
Posted: 9/9/12

On February 5th, 2012 the St.Claire in conjunction with the ICA's Excursus exhibition series hosted an open forum conversation addressing artist, art, and contemporary civic action. What follows is an annotated transcript from the second portion of the forum.  Verbatim citations are indicated by quotation marks. To begin each “break-out group” outlines a summarization of what they discussed then the conversation is opened for general responses and thoughts.


I’m just going to quickly outline what we talked about in our group:

Model of art applied to a social model.

Problematic because they are many models of art.

What is something that is pervasive in all models of art?


Its place within art making and social and political environment.

"When you experience love and when you make art you have this moment in yourself that needs to be manifested in the world and in the process of doing that you are unalienated and you are unalienated from your product."

Love being about relationships.

About truth.  Or something Honest.

Seeing something that is in yourself that you want to see in the world.

Anna Neighbor said something very beautiful:

“When you experience love and when you make art you have this moment in yourself that needs to be manifested in the world and in the process of doing that you are unalienated and you are unalienated from your product.”

So then question is how do we structure an economy on that?

This led to a conversation about directness and what it means to be proud of your work.

It’s difficult.

“We can be proud of Fireman.  We can be proud of an Electrician.  But then how do you honor the work of the person who is sitting in a booth direct dialing you about some crap you don’t want to hear?”

It’s difficult to honor everybody’s labor because the labor of a lot of people cause us hardship. 

Maybe Occupy was a way for artist to get involved in a very direct way.

But wait, like, how?

One parallel between the Occupy Movement and the artistic process is that they are both messy.

No clear answers.

No direct ways to do things.

Which is why maybe artists felt attracted to Occupy.

Then we talked about how could the model of art making be expanded to a general social sphere?

But its hard because:

“If art making is its very action is a radical gesture how can we think of that as a model that can be expanded to incorporate everything?”

“What does it mean for a radical gesture to be the norm?”

That was tricky

Does art have a use value?

Should it have one?

Do we want it to have one?

Then we talked about cheese.

We talked about the ubiquity of words like art, curator, etc.

The art of cheese.

A curated dinner menu.

What does it mean for these terms and their understanding to be expanding into fields well beyond the traditional “art” model? 

We decided that Mike is an artful bartender.

“When Mike prepares and delivers a drink with love then there is some art in that.”

This usage implies a level of care and devotion that ties back nicely into love.


How do you propose alternatives to deep seeded structures?  Structures that might not even appear to be structures?

One example within the Occupy Movement is the human microphone (the Human Mike.)

As a performitive and non-structured form of discourse.

It serves to raise questions about conversations.

We talked about the inefficiency and messiness of the Human Mike.

"We talked about the difference between Utopia as a place and the idea of relative momentum.  One that is sort of galloping with us as opposed to somewhere we are moving towards."

What place does that inefficiency have in utopia?

Utopia came up.

“We talked about the difference between Utopia as a place and the idea of relative momentum.  One that is sort of galloping with us as opposed to somewhere we are moving towards.  Which is an important distinction to present in change. “

Two terms we talked about:

The New: How do you recognize something if it is new and outside of the parameters of what is recognizable?

Transmissibility: How do you transmit the New? Is it transmissible? 

If artists have practices that are essentially communication but are not reductive to common terms, then what role do artists have in transmitting the New? 

How does the ability or the capacity to transmit the experimental, the immaterial, the New, how does that relate—how could that be of use to the Occupy Movement?

“I really liked Mike’s comment about utopia not as a telos or a place towards which but as a parallel process which one can jump to at any moment. This is a specific kind of parallel process which has its own form of dialogue which is not necessarily a more immediate form of dialogue, that is to say it has its own sort of problems—the human mike is a perfect example of one which caries a ton of problems.  And there is still class, race, gender problems that it inherits as well.  But it seems very different from other public/private space dialogues ”

Does everyone know what a Human Mike is?

Does everyone know what a Human Mike is?

Thank you Suzanne.

We also talked about the atmosphere at Occupy events being hyper-communicative.

Hyper-communication as maybe an element of utopia

By hyper-communication we mean people are much more willing to get into each other’s business right off the bat.

Environments of transition are other examples of hyper-communicative locals. i.e. airports, train stations, etc.

Pathways of communication seem easier to establish when parties are out of their element; neither here nor there.

Airport bars.

Mike and I are starting a band called, “Human Mike.”

I didn’t agree to that.

“Its a little paradoxical too right, because Occupy is going somewhere to stay there but it turns out to behave in a way that is more transitory.”


We started off with Anita (Allyn) showing this image of a Jay-Z t-shirt that was commodified from the Occupy Movement.

How does an anti-capitalist movement always seem to eventually or immediately get co-opted by capitalism?

Did Occupiers see themselves as anti-capitalists?

We then talked about how the Occupy Movement took a while to garner mainstream media attention or maybe it took several weeks or months for it to coagulate in something that people would take note of.

The similarity between the development of the Occupy Movement and the development of an artistic movement.

It was posited that the shared characteristics of the Occupy and artistic movements, like the absences of an anointed leader, lots of fragment groups and practices, no tangible objectives, etc. perhaps these led to a delay in Occupy’s emergence in the national media attention.

“The media was looking for recognizable indicators—things that look like a movement.  They have to have a list of demands.  They have to have a leader. etc. etc. And this was absolutely what the Occupy Movement was not about.”

How do you live, actually live out day-to-day, alternative models to capitalism?

We talked about how historic models such as the communes of the 60s have instilled different structures of thinking and living within generations well beyond their existence.

In the same spirit, maybe it is a specific practices of negotiation, interaction, and communication might be learned in the Occupy Movement and inherited throughout the larger society even after the movement has faded.

How do artists fit into alternative models?

We specifically talked about artists and individuals who create and how that functions in an economy.

There was an article in the New York Times that brought up the question, why isn’t there an accompanying artistic force in tandem with the Occupy Movement?

Although it doesn’t seem possible to make art outside of a capitalistic system there are models of art that do a good job of subverting from within—critiquing what they are apart of.  For example Das Institute.

Yeah we talked a lot about Das Institute.

“All they (Das Institute) are doing is creating more abstraction in the same way that capital creates more abstraction within our world.  The things the are producing can be consumed as art, but it is also a parody of how the corporate system works.”


This is the free-range segment of our discussion.  We can talk about where these three topics intersect, we can respond to points made, or we can just talk about the Super Bowl.

“I know we talked about what a modernist project could be.  We were trying to conceive of something outside of simply destroying capitalism.  One alternative was maybe this idea of carving out time and space.  Creating room.  And this reminded me of what you, Mike, were talking about.  Could you talk a bit more about that wave thing?”

The what?

The galloping utopia.

“Right.  I used Hiroshi Maharishi as an example because he was ridiculed during the 70’s for constantly changing his opinion about everything.  Because as he was confronted with different ideas he would amend his ideology his movement to match and respond to the present.  That is what transcendental meditation is about right? Transcending the present.  So I war trying to imbue that idea of utopia into what we are talking about.  As a present idea—as something that is right here right now that and you can engage with it.  And that is the only way it really exists.  As a point on the horizon it is a nothingness.”

I’m curious what moments give you that feeling of carving out of time and space. As artists?  As lovers?  As parents? If any?  Where does that super-structure fall away?

Well it’s in the empathic potential of a situation. Where we can both feel the same love for something, together.  And that happens in various ways.

How is that for you?

In my studio?  When I’m alone in the dark maybe?

That is interesting because someone brought up the idea of the commune.

How that sort of exorcising yourself from the world and its correlation to utopia as a point rather than a simultaneous stream of existence.

A lot of nostalgia for 60s era protest lifestyle.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this.

You talked about sitting and staring.

Well, I sit and stare a lot.  But that had more to do with work and object value.

“Sometimes the art process is not doing anything at all.  Maybe the not doing anything with your time is what makes it different.”

That is a powerful notion.  Especially when we are considering how to be productive outside of a capitalist system.  Perhaps being non-productive, almost as form of protest, is the most potent form of production.  

Contradictory goals keeping popping up: Not doing anything is the most productive; the objective is to not have an objective; etc.

This relates to what John [Paetsch] was saying about, how do you escape ideology when you are inside the same ideology?

These are methods of thinking that Occupy is seriously engaging with.

"Its not about an end. It’s about being all the way through. "

This is very in tandem with the philosophy of tantric sex. 

“Its not about an end. It’s about being all the way through.  It is the idea that you can orgasm with your entire body, throughout the entire experience of it.  And that a final destination, orgasm, or goal for a movement is not the idea at all.  That is why everyone is having sex.”

Let’s just talk about that.

It’s just the idea that if you don’t have a final goal you can be in the action of doing the entire time.

I think we can draw a line between this way of thinking and the process of art making.

As artists sometimes we make something just to make it and it is the process that matters.

As Occupy engages with methods of non-structured action (non-objective objectives, etc.) perhaps they could look to the artistic process as an existing precedent.

Yeah....I think the tantric philosophy is a really good example but I’m trying to articulate:

“There is a way that what you are saying, for me, can sound very interesting and exciting and there also another way in which what you guys are saying doesn’t sound that dissimilar to what we already have.”

In that some people can afford to be non-productive and that other people can not.

We just have to specify which situations we apply this tantric ideology.

Because it’s not easy to be in the moment at all times and not realistic for all situations.

Thinking about it politically.

Listening is now an endurance act.  Everyone talks but no one listens.

You have an everyday way of navigating the city—choosing the path of least resistance.  But this leaves out whole tangential human environments that maybe should not be discounted.

Occupy was one of these tangential environments:

“You look over at that (Occupy) encampment and think: why aren’t I over there?” 

Then maybe that question is valuable.

I am raising my hand.  I have probably been in school too long.

What about worker rights?

This is happening because people are dissatisfied with something.

We are repeating ideas of escapism as affirmative ways to imagine different forms of living.

How do we connect that to a bunch of Chinese workers threatening to kill themselves over labor conditions?

Do we have a responsibility to make a connection?

I’m not sure these ideas can be connected.

I have a history of being involved in labor movements and I have always kept my art practice separate.

“I think it’s a bit the narcissism of the artist to assume that every interest I have about the world must manifest itself in my making.  If you are interested in politics than you have to make political art?  Then I guess my answer is: go help those guys unionize.”

I don’t feel consumed to connect my art to the struggle of the world.  I’m more concerned with the question; can I connect as a person to the struggles of the world?

" If you are interested in politics than you have to make political art? "

“But if our conversation is about how do I connect as a person in the world in a healthier way then it seems we do have to think about making or not making.”

This is the peril of being a social conscience artist.

This is also saying that art in and of itself cannot be a mode for change.

I think that having faith that art can do something on its own is really important.

Can art do something on its own?

Right now I am approaching art as a way to think about the world.

And maybe this is not enough.

It’s important to point out that artistic engagements with social struggles do not escape the limitations inherit in direct political or social engagement.

NGOs have subsumed a lot of the responsibility of worker rights and civic action.  But they tend to advocate for groups instead of working with them.  They also address problems as tactical not political.  Perhaps the artistic engagement with civic struggle must be unrecognizable as art.


I think about a huge interconnected chain of oppressors and the oppressed.  While your artwork might not directly affect those workers in China maybe your work does produce a localized change and through a chain reaction you are indirectly producing viable results to people on the other side of the world.

I am basically advocating for trickle down artistic involvement.

Also with direct involvement there is an assumption that you know something that they couldn’t figure out for themselves.

Movements of protest are often linked. 

Protest in Wisconsin around Governor Scott Walker could be related to momentum in Tahrir Square in Egypt which shares some tactics with the Tiananmen Square protests which could be further related to the actions of the Chinese avant-garde art group The Stars.

“How these things relate is very complicated and I think artists can contribute.  I think there are events and moments where they contribute more directly and maybe an ongoing artist dialogue prepares them to do that at some juncture. “

“In an attempt to marry what you (Becket) are saying with Suzanne’s comment, I think art making is inescapably political and moral as an aesthetic engagement.   And I think we give gravity to things as we represent them.”

As artists we can draw attention to the issue we choose to represent.

The Occupy Movement was tragic in very small doses.

Like 24 people on a street corner in Spokane, Washington.

Maybe art making can provide the attention where the physical presences is wanting.

I think our time is up. Let’s let that be the questions that echoes on into eternity.  Thank you everyone for coming.