YES! Association/Föreningen JA!, SMOKING AREA (detail), 2012. Installation view.


The YES! Association/Föreningen JA! is an institution, an art worker, and a group of people working to overthrow heteronormative, patriarchal, racist, and capitalist power structures by redistributing access to financial resources, space, and time within the art world. The collective’s first aim was to help Sweden’s public art organizations tackle their inequality problems by offering the chance to sign an Equal Opportunities Agreement. Their new multipart work SMOKING AREA is on view through December 21 in the exhibition “Anti-Establishment,” at the CCS Bard Hessel Museum in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York.

WE WANTED THE BREEZE THAT PASSES BY HANNAH ARENDT’S GRAVE, which is located on Bard’s campus, to enter the exhibition. We wanted to connect the collection, the gallery space, and the grave through her nonvisible presence—to have smoke that would linger. It was a physical reflection. We installed a sixty-square-foot Smoking Area inside the Hessel Museum of Art, which shows a possibility for changing, or disrupting, the legal structure within an institution. The floor is painted with solid yellow lines the color of traffic signs and the cordoned-off space (modeled after such areas in train stations and other semi-outside public spaces across Europe) boldly reads SMOKING AREA in large font, complete with graphics of two lit cigarettes. The museum had to reevaluate. “Do you actually intend to have people smoking in there? Or is it just a painting?” There’s no way to really answer that. Visitors are activated; they are asked to make a choice: to smoke or to not smoke. We borrow from Hannah Arendt when we say: There is no doubt that the ability to act is the most dangerous of our abilities and possibilities.

We used a large part of our exhibition budget to bring Swedish writer and translator Annika Ruth Persson to Bard for one month so that she could research documents in the college’s Hannah Arendt Collection for her literary project on Arendt in the 1940s. We titled her monthlong stay, which continues into November, Invitation. It’s a performance that you have to imagine.

Another work in the show, Hostilities/Events/Inclusion/Assimilation/Disruptions and Beginnings, is a thirty-minute-long performance which took place on June 23 when we entered the Smoking Area floor-painting, pushing a trolley with four bags of soil, thirty satchels of yellow onions, a small white pyramid, a knife, and a clipboard with text—greetings from letters between Arendt and the novelist Mary McCarthy—to be read among the gathering audience. A microphone on a stand was placed in the upper right corner of the square. Next to it, a music stand with the other text—fragments culled from Arendt’s writings—that was to be read out loud as well. Three of us began to move systematically around and within the audience. We took turns reading, distributing onions, and bringing objects into the painted space. One of us read: “Whatever occurs in this space of appearance is political by definition. Everything that appears carries a degree of reality. Each choice of material is in some sense an intervention in history. In art, we shouldn’t linger too long.” We bit into onions and some audience members followed suit. While chewing and crying we heard Arendt’s words: “The reason why we are never able to foretell with certainty the outcome and end of any action is simply that action has no end.”

— As told to Corrine Fitzpatrick