Crowds and Power


Image via innis22mara on Flickr

I’m away from LA this weekend, missing what, by several heated emails, is a curious event at the MOCA. Struck by a financial crisis, a public meeting is being held at the behest of the private, mostly downtown institution. Without too much info on the affair, the tidbit about the seemingly grassroots organized chat that most intrigued me was this tidbit from the LA Times blog: “MOCA Mobilization [a new Facebook group], formed by artist Cindy Bernard, currently boasts more than 200 members. Its mission is to ‘generate support for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles…disseminate information on the current financial crisis, discuss options, and advocate for an autonomous MOCA if necessary.'”

Self-organizing a kind of museum on strike? A People’s MOCA? Think of what a fabulous moment that would be and think, how that could be be possible? How does one distill the academic work, the selective hierarchy, the collective labor of top-down management into a suddenly turned-out museum?

One wonders if the result of such a project would be half as interesting as the road to it. The terms seem far more challenging to navigate than the outcome (we do know what a MOCA looks like). I find the questions of social organizing as interesting as the performance of the completed institution…stillborn projects make a fascinating study.

Recently I had the fascinating experience of being in a near-riot at a mall (please believe me when I say I really don’t go to malls that often). For fire-code reasons, the mall was blocked off; too many people inside were celebrating (?) a christmas tree lighting. Hordes of people on the outside wanted to get in, blocked by security guards at all pedestrian entrances (this was the worst of LA malls: a block of turned-in walking city shops around Italianate town squares). I was meeting someone at a movie that had already begun and so I had no choice but to wait at the shuttered gates of the mall money pile. Upset shoppers and restaurant goers streamed up to the guards trying to work their own little deal to be let in. After walking around the whole block, I was certain there would be no entrance. Soon too, I noticed that no one in the waiting crowds was talking to one another; the sole focus of those outside was to get in, and if not then to cut deals with an unbending security staff. I imagined I was with an operative of the Center for Tactical Magic and asked myself, “if they were in this situation what would they do?” I began giving unsolicited advice to those around me, “Go home.” “They don’t need your money tonight. Read a book instead.” “Go knit your own clothes instead of shopping.” Though it was 7:30pm in front of a mall in SoCal (or because of that), my action to create a timely network of subversive power was frighteningly easy and also so frighteningly singular. It was clearly a moment when counter-narratives to the mall culture inside were very effective.

(The old book Crowds and Power by Elias Canetti is pretty amazing. Up next, if all goes up to plan is a post involving the recent Prop8 protests that have swept across the city).