True story: I used to hate activist art. “Why so shrill?” I thought. “Can’t we just talk about this rather than producing a bunch of bad art?” I don’t always think I was wrong; a fair amount of unsuccessful activist projects tell a story we already know in a predictable fashion, but there was a time when I let my discomfort with the tone dictate how I evaluated the work. Once I allowed myself to engage and even become an active participant in these works, I became much more moved by the genre.
Certainly the work I’ve done as a blogger has forced me to engage in ways I wouldn’t have considered otherwise; the web in and of itself almost demands action. I mention this because the way I came to appreciate work in this vein influences how I respond to art. Does the piece effectively communicate the problem? Does it incite action and demand engagement? Will it present alternative ways of thinking? If the answer to all these questions is yes, I’m interested. As such, I’m providing a write up of three activist artists worth watching.
Aaron Gach, Center for Tactical Magic
Like ice cream with your activism? Aaron Gach’s Tactical Ice Cream Unit not only distributes fine candied goods, water, and other rest station goods at rallies, but it is also outfitted with all your bullhorn needs! Divided into a “mother ship” (Central Command Van) and a “scout” (Tactical Ice Cream Cart), its pamphlets, videos, and buttons can be distributed at a wide range of events. Activism has never tasted so good!
Other notable projects include, the Cricket-Activated Defense System, an electronic device that receives distressed cricket chirps and translates the sound into a firing signal for anti-logger missiles, and Bechtel Predator Drones, a remote control toy truck delivering amongst other things, the CIA [workplace] Sabatoge Manual to its employees. *[from the website] Bechtel was responsible for building chemical production facilities in Iraq prior to the second U.S. invasion of Iraq and has been listed among 24 U.S. companies that supplied Iraq with weapons and/or weapon-making capabilities during the 1980’s.
Jill Magid, System Azure
In 2003 Amsterdam police headquarters decided their security cameras needed a little bling after Jill Magid approached them through her company System Azure Security Ornamentation. Originally turned down as an artist proposal, Magid founded her company as a possible means of executing her project. It worked. Not only did she receive the proper permits to beautify police security cameras, but the city paid her to do it. Magid observed in a talk at the New Museum recently that the previously ignored cameras became very visible to citizens after they were bejeweled.
Carrie Moyer and Sue Schaffner, Dyke Action Machine
Few artists have as firm a grasp on the language of advertising as DAM (Dyke Action Machine), the two-person public art team of Carrie Moyer and photographer Sue Schaffner. Between 1991 and 2004, the collaborative canvassed New York City with posters inserting lesbians into popular ad campaigns. Early personal favorites include their wildly popular Do You Love The Dyke In Your Life Calvin Klein ads (1993), and The Girlie Network (1995), an all-lesbian television network. Their primetime line up included OB-GYN, Leave Us the Beaver, and The Snip Squad.
Visit the Steal This! section of their website to download your own DAM paraphernalia.