Monday, January 30, 2012

Occupy as Form: Betti-Sue Hertz

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session “Occupy as Form” on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Betti-Sue Hertz, Director of Visual Arts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

Keyword: Publics

Publics act historically. They are said to rise up, to speak, to reject false promises, to demand answers, to change sovereigns, to support troops, to give mandates for change, to be satisfied, to scrutinize public conduct, to take role models, to deride counterfeits. — Michael Warner

How do members of gatherings, from theater audiences to protestors, model the potentialities of a civil society? How do publics intersect with site-specificity? How does art shape transformative experience at sites inclusive of concert halls and urban parks? These questions emerged from the research and development of a two-part exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. Central to Audience as Subject: Part 1, Medium (fall 2010) is a question posed by Alain Badiou: “Why would a crowd which does not revolt against flagrant injustice actually constitute itself as a collective subject through the grace of a theatrical summoning?” It leads to a series of considerations about individual identities within the agencies of the collective, and the connection between being a member of an audience and one’s availability and right to engage in democratic process. Audience as Subject: Part 2, Extra Large (winter/spring 2012) puts audiences at live events center stage, where participatory publics—spectators, fans, and activists—are considered through relative terms of engagement: collectivity and anonymity, spontaneity and fear, pleasure and danger, freedom and socio-political mechanisms of control. Crowds of different sorts share identity formation characteristics determined in part by scale, kind, and site. Occupy Bay Area (summer 2012) will display works of various aesthetic and documentary visual forms—posters, photojournalism, and aligned art projects—to provide a platform for considering the specificity of site as a defining factor in the locality of Bay Area identities within the larger Occupy movement. Here, as elsewhere, historical specificity defines public space. Consider that Oakland’s activist legacy is tracked through its public parks as well as the revolutionary art of Douglas Emery. It is through examples such as this that we can come to reconcile the creative agency of individuals and the force of commitment of the collective towards progressive artistic and political drives within spheres of social action. When events and their images lodge in memory it makes for a uniquely potent mixture for positive action in the public sphere. It makes mobile that which is site-specific.

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