TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT May 2019

ART’S UPRISINGS: ACTIVISM NOW

WE WANT ART TO DO MORE. 

To be modern, art must follow a simple edict: Don’t instrumentalize. To seek utility is to sacrifice art’s special force. Art is at once valuable and invaluable, secular and sacred. It is porous nearly to the point of its own extinction—but its permeability is also the source of its tenacity. These contradictions form art’s uneasy, fertile subduction zone. They give it eerie energy.

How can something with such unique power accomplish nothing? I’ve recently been in a lot of rooms with justifiably angry people trying to figure out whether art can do more. Even worse, some think that maybe art, as a camouflage for insidious forms of control, has done too much already. I’ve been outwitted by my own ambivalence. I have found grace in the memory that anger at systemic oppression, as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick argues, “does not intrinsically or necessarily enjoin [the angry] to any specific train of epistemological or narrative consequences.” I’ve been thinking about what could be done. 

What follows is a colloquy around art’s action in a shattering world. The three sections, drawn from a Turiya Alice Coltrane koan appearing in Cauleen Smith’s 2018 video Sojourner, emphasize artists, themes, correspondences, but they are not mutually exclusive. Find your guide through the rupture. Read the essays in whatever order. Be, as Gregg Bordowitz has put it, “heat, light—a grand attractor.” There must always be another way.