Category Archives: Activism or Protest

Maraa Collective, The Olfactory Chambers of Ward No. 88 (2014)

an agenda

Credit: Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

Maraa Collective (2008-)

This walk took place in Bangalore, India in October of 2014, and used the format of a tourism walk to critically examine the processing of waste and the caste system. The walking route followed the same route as the street sweepers and waste sorters. In India, the Dalits caste has been traditionally responsible for clearing excrement.

This work may remind some of Mierle Laderman Ukeles’ work in which she shook the hand of every sanitation worker in New York City, shining a light on their labor and demonstrating respect for their work.

CreditL

Lucia Monge, Plantón Móvil (2010-)

Lucia Monge (1983-)

“Lucia Monge started bringing people and plants together as Plantón Móvil in Lima, Peru. This is a participatory, walking forest performance that occurs annually and leads to the creation of public green areas.

“Plantón” is the word in Spanish for a sapling, a young tree that is ready to be planted into the ground. It is also the word for a sit-in. This project takes on both: the green to be planted and the peaceful protest. It is about giving plants and trees the opportunity to “walk” down the streets of a city that is also theirs. This walking forest performance culminates with the creation of a public green area.

Plantón Móvil started in 2010 while I was walking around Lima, my hometown, and noticing how many trees and plants had their leaves blackened with smog, were being treated as trash cans, or even used as bathrooms. I started to put myself in their place, and thought I would have left town a long time ago. Instead they are sort of forced to sit there and accept this abuse because of their planted “immobile” state. I wondered what it would be like to encounter a walking forest that had taken to the streets like any other group of people would do, demanding respect.

Plantón Móvil, however, is not a group of people carrying plants: at least for that time being we are the forest. I find it important to make this distinction because it changes the nature of the gesture. This is about lending our mobility to plants so that they can benefit from the speed and scale that draws people’s attention. In return; we may momentarily borrow some of their slowness. Essentially, it is about moving-with as a form of solidarity.” (credit)

Diane Borsato, Your Temper, My Weather (2013)

“One hundred amateur and professional beekeepers performed periods of guided meditation and slow walking together in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s Walker Court. While exploring the tangible effect of collective stillness, the work created a platform upon which to
reflect on the health and temper of bees and their keepers, and on the policies and environmental conditions that affect our shared future. The work was performed for five hours for Nuit Blanche at the Art Gallery of Ontario.”

Credit: Morrell, Amish and Diane Borsato. Outdoor School: Contemporary Environmental Art. Douglas and McINtyre, 2021. Page 134.

Hélio Oiticica, Paranglolés (1964-1980)

“Oiticica’s most iconic artworks: parangolés, or wearable, experiential garments that he initiated in 1964 and continued working with for the rest of his career. Parangolés are capes, or cloak-like layers of different materials that were intended to be worn by moving and dancing participants. They were made of colored and painted fabrics, as well as nylon, burlap, and gauze. Some contained political or poetic texts, photographs, or painted images, along with bags of pebbles, sand, straw, or shells. They also sometimes took the form of flags, banners, or tents.

It was through learning to dance the samba that Oiticica developed the parangolé. He said that dancing freed him from art’s “excessive intellectualization.”[1] He learned about samba through his contact with the community of Mangueira, a favela (Brazilian slum) located on the outskirts of his hometown of Rio de Janeiro. He began visiting the favela in an attempt to escape what he perceived as the constraints of Rio de Janeiro’s art scene. Oiticica was white, middle class, and educated, while the favela’s inhabitants were mainly Black, poor, and uneducated. Despite the significance of this disparity, Oiticica developed friendships with a number of residents and was eventually accepted by the community. He learned to samba and even became a passista (a highly skilled dancer who performs in Brazilian Carnival) in the Mangueira samba school (a club for dancing and playing samba in the annual Carnival parade).

Oiticica asserted that the favela made him more aware of social inequities. As a result, the concept of “marginalization” became fundamental to him, especially as a gay man. He began to associate the marginalized position of the artist in society with the marginalization of favela communities. This was thrown into sharp relief when Oiticica invited some friends from Mangueira to help him inaugurate the parangolés by dancing in them in their first public presentation at the Museum of Modern Art of Rio de Janeiro for the opening of the exhibition Opinião 65 (Opinion 65). The dancers were refused entry into the building, revealing the institutionalized racism and classism pervading Rio de Janeiro at the time. Even the word “parangolé” (meaning a sudden agitation, an unexpected situation, or a dance party) was rooted in marginalization: he adopted the term when he saw a piece of cloth with the word on it hung by a beggar on the street. Oiticica’s experience of the marginality of Rio de Janeiro’s most impoverished inhabitants awakened him to the social and ethical implications of art.

From participatory art to political resistance

The same year that Oiticica developed the parangolé, the Brazilian military (with U.S. support) launched a  coup d’etat, initiating a twenty-one year military dictatorship. It was against the backdrop of increasing political repression that Oiticica began engaging the spectator as a participant in his works, an approach known today as participatory art. This approach to art engages the audience in the creative process so that they become collaborators in the work. A common interpretation of the parangolés is that they were intended to liberate their wearers from the repressive military regime by enabling them to become aware of their capacity to rebel.

Some parangolés even included political statements such as “Of Adversity We Live” (1965) or “I Embody Revolt” (1967). Such statements went unobserved by authorities because state-sponsored censorship initially focused more on the press and pop music than on visual art. More widespread censorship gained momentum only after 1968, when the dictatorship enacted the Institutional Act Number 5, leading to the imprisonment and torture of dissidents. Many artists, including Oiticica, left Brazil due to the increasing oppression. He travelled to London to mount his solo exhibition The Whitechapel Experiment at Whitechapel Gallery in 1969.

Parangolés in New York and beyond

Oiticica came to New York in 1970 to participate in Information, a group exhibition of conceptual art at The Museum of Modern Art. After winning a Guggenheim Fellowship the same year, he stayed in exile in the city for the next eight years. In 1973, he organized an excursion with some friends into the subway system in order to invite riders to try out the parangolés.[3] The interactive encounter represented a continuation of his exploration of the intersections of art and life and his interest in engaging non-art audiences. Much like the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, in the 1970s New York’s heavily-graffitied subway had the reputation of being a site of criminal activity, its denizens thought to be beggars, drug addicts, and gang members. Bringing the parangolé into that space attested to Oiticica’s continued socio-political commitment to engaging marginalized people through liberating experiences. He would continue to play and experiment with his parangolés until his untimely death in Rio de Janeiro in 1980 at the age of forty-two.

Parangolés demand to be worn and moved in, not observed as lifeless objects hung on a wall for display. Today, they are usually only seen in documentary photographs and films, rather than worn by the spectator. When samples are available to try on in exhibitions, they rarely match the lively energy they once inspired. Even so, they continue to have a lasting impact on participatory and socially engaged art practices.

Notes:

[1] Hélio Oiticica, “A Dança na minha experiência,” November 12, 1965, in Renato Rodrigues da Silva, “Hélio Oiticica’s Parangolé or the Art of Transgression,” Third Text vol. 19, no. 3 (2005): p. 214.

[3] Despite image captions that indicate the subway excursion occurred in 1972, the Projeto Hélio Oiticica affirms it took place in February 1973. See “Biography,” Projeto Hélio Oiticica.” (credit)

Daniel Buren, Seven Ballets in Manhattan” (1975)

Image Credit

Seven Ballets in Manhattan. Performed by Sue Bailey, Joanne Caring, Peter Frank, Susan Heinemann, Mark Levine. Choreography by Daniel Buren. May 27 – June 2, 1975.

Daniel Buren (1938-)

The artist Daniel Buren explored the idea of ​​movement through performance, it is no longer a question of static works but of an orchestrated choreography. It is in the form of an ambulatory ballet in the streets of New York, that he manages to put his emblematic motifs into action.

Indeed, for 5 days, 5 actors marched in different areas of the city, each of them carrying a poster covered with white and colored bands. In the manner of protesters, the performers walked according to the precise directives of the artist. They had to follow the imposed route and only respond to passers-by by the name of the color present on their respective poster. What could be described not as a peaceful demonstration, but rather as an artistic demonstration, comes to be placed as a questioning of the public. In fact, spectators no longer travel to museums or galleries, but the work comes directly to them.

This performance was not perceived in the same way on the different courses. Indeed, in each district evolved distinct socio-professional categories, the population of Soho was very curious and sensitive to the work, while the residents of Wall Street interpreted it as a threat in the image of a real demonstration.

Thus the performance, which is not a very common mode of presentation with Daniel Buren, creates a real tension with the public. It contrasts with the static aspect of its striped pattern, but manages through the use of posters to dialogue with the spectators and the city.” (credit)

Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds, Most Serene Republics (2007)

Hock E Aye VI Edgar Heap of Birds, (Cheyenne/Arapaho, 1954-)

This work was a temporary memorial for Native Americans who died in Italy as part of Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show in the late nineteenth century, and was installed at the Venice Biennale in 2007. It consisted of a series of 16 outdoor signs to remember and honor their loss, 8 outdoor signs that serve as commentary, several signs in the water-taxis encouraging repatriation of the Native people’s bodies from Europe to the U.S., as well as a large billboard at the Venice airport that stated ‘welcome to the spectacle, welcome to the show’ as a faux welcoming sign, which was visible as people walked through the airport check point. These Lakota warriors were formerly imprisoned in the U.S. and were given the choice to remain in prison, or go perform in Europe, which was not much of a choice.

Alan Michelson, Mantle (2018)

This work sits at Richmond’s Capitol Square Park in Virginia. The spiral shaped walking path honors the original inhabitants of the region, especially seventeenth-century Chief Powhatan (d. 1618) who united thirty-four Algonquian tribes. The site incorporates cast images of corn, squash, and bean plants around the edge of a reflecting pool, and is surrounded by groves of trees native to the area. The site requires active participation, unlike a statue on a plinth, thereby becoming a reflective activation of this space of reintroduced Native life and cultural memory.

— Michelson, Alan. “Mantle, 2018,” Alan Michelson. Accessed June 25, 2022: https://www.alanmichelson.com/mantle

Jeremy Deller, Battle of Orgreave (2001)

“In 1998 I saw an advert for an open commission for Artangel. For years I had had this idea to re-enact this confrontation that I had witnessed as a young person on TV, of striking miners being chased up a hill and pursued through a village. It has since become an iconic image of the 1984 strike – having the quality of a war scene rather than a labour dispute. I received the commission, which I couldn’t believe, because I actually didn’t think it was possible to do this. After two years’ research, the re-enactment finally happened, with about eight-hundred historical re-enactors and two-hundred former miners who had been part of the original conflict. Basically, I was asking the re-enactors to participate in the staging of a battle that occurred within living memory, alongside veterans of the campaign. I’ve always described it as digging up a corpse and giving it a proper post-mortem, or as a thousand-person crime re-enactment.” (credit)

Alex Villar, Temporary Occupations (2001)

man jumping fences and fitting into narrow passages

Alex Villar, Temporary Occupations, 2001, USA, miniDV, colour, silent, 4 min. excerpt of 6 min.

“Drawing from interdisciplinary theoretical sources and employing video-performance, installation and photography, I have developed a practice that concentrates on matters of social space. My interventions are done primarily in public spaces. They consist in positioning the body of the performer in situations where the codes that regulate everyday activity can be made explicit. The body is made to conform to the limitations of claustrophobic spaces, therefore accentuating arbitrary boundaries and possibly subverting them. A sense of absurdity permeates the work, counterpoising irrational behaviour to the instrumental logic of the city’s design.
Theoretical references cover the extensive work done on the problematic of space, especially the works of Foucault and de Certeau, which describe panopticon and heterotopic spaces as well as the potentialities for everyday re-writings of urban space. Aesthetic traditions foregrounding my work go from the sixties and seventies performative-based sculpture and installations by Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark and Cildo Meirelles, to the urban strategies of the Situationists and the anarchitecture of Gordon Matta-Clark. Like the in-between activities it seeks to investigate, my work lives between various fields: part nomadic architecture, part intangible sculpture and part performance without spectacle.

Temporary Occupations from alex villar on Vimeo.

Temporary Occupations depicts a person running on the sidewalk in New York while ignoring the city’s spatial codes and therefore resisting their effects upon the organization of everyday experience. The clips in the video register situations of temporary invasion and occupation of private spaces located in a public setting. The action simply articulates the continuity of these spaces with the remaining areas from which they were extricated, drawing attention to, and possibly subverting, the boundaries that demarcate them.
This piece is part of a long-term investigation and articulation of potential spaces of dissent in the urban landscape, which has often taken the form of an exploration of negative spaces in architecture.” (credit)

ACT UP, Crash the Market (1997)

“Formed in New York City in 1987, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (more commonly known as ACT UP) brought widespread attention to the AIDS epidemic and helped make significant advances in AIDS research.

ACT UP’s first-ever demonstration in 1987 — as well as three others in 1988, 1989, and 1997 — took place on Wall Street, the world’s leading financial center, and targeted pharmaceutical companies that were profiteering from the epidemic.” (credit)

While not all ACT UP actions included walking and marching, their 10th anniversary demonstration did:

newspaper from 1997

Newspaper advertisement for a 10th anniversary march organized by ACT UP. The ad appeared in the Village Voice, March 25, 1997 issue, and features a black and white photograph taken by Robert D. Farber in 1990 called “Fight AIDS.” The photograph features several men holding a banner that says “Fight AIDS!” on the roof of a building.

Tenth Anniversary of the 1987 Demonstration
On March 24, 1997, the ten-year anniversary of ACT UP’s first demonstration, the group returned to Wall Street. The action, called “Crash the Market,” again protested the profiteering of pharmaceutical companies, but also cutbacks in Medicaid funding. ACT UP chapters from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Las Vegas, Philadelphia, and Oberlin, Ohio, brought over 500 activists, who gathered at 7:30 a.m. by the fountain in City Hall Park. They then marched south to Wall Street, chanting “We die — they make money” and “Wall Street trades on people with AIDS!” Demands for Congressional hearings on the price of AIDS drugs were also made. Protesters rushed the doors of the Stock Exchange or sat down in the streets. During the demonstration, 73 people (mostly women) were arrested for acts of civil disobedience.” (credit)