Teasing out more nuanced notions of socialism than those recently fired by pundits attacking President Obama’s health care bill, the artist-run space SKYDIVE in collaboration with the Oakland, California–based group Autonomous Organization recently solicited proposals to redevelop its headquarters as a socialist colony. The subsequent exhibition of submissions—itself occupying an off-site storefront—eschews propaganda to thoughtfully probe the promises and pitfalls of collective organization and equitably shared resources. Twenty works by a multigenerational, international roster of artist-activists pose more questions than solutions in a cacophonous but tidy installation. The result is an engaging DIY forum.
Zanny Begg’s installation Post Purchase Dissonance, 2010, comprises a video projection, table, chairs, surveys, and a bowl of Life Savers, inviting viewers to consider the perverse task of rebranding socialism. Other works on view range from documentary films assessing historic cooperatives to a grid of forty loose-leaf pages of ideas for classroom lessons, including “Collective Locomotion” and “Setting Up a Distillery.” The exhibition’s best proposals knowingly balance the idealistic and the imaginative with the pragmatic, if not the pedantic. The collective N55 offers plans for a smart-looking hexagonal oven in their Communal Bakery, 2010. Erin Elder generously welcomes visitors to the open social space of a fire ring in Each Campfire Lights Anew, 2010, although the flame here is a recording of a real campfire, playing on a floor-bound TV.
Several other projects warn of capitalist appropriation, but none more effectually than Amy Balkin’s presentation of a deed for one square inch of land in Liberty County, Texas, purchased on behalf of the colony. Balkin complements the framed certificate with Land: Four Case Studies (Dawson, YK; Huntington Beach, CA; Newark, CA; Richmond, CA), 2010, a selection of archival materials documenting micro or marginal US land “giveaways.” Each is a timely comment on property, greed, economic destiny, and dispossession—shared stakes regularly turned unfair shakes.