Friday, September 29, 2006 - The definitive online source of Latin American Art

The Collaborative Art of inSITE: Producing the Cultural Economy
by George Yúdice

"To show that its programs are relevant to nontraditional publics, inSITE accommodated to an already existing bureaucratic rhetoric whereby “community” functions as a code word for poor and racialized people.

inSITE is not alone, of course, in having to manage the distribution of cultural capital, an issue that is particularly sticky when it migrates from communities to institutions, whether this involves the “development” of tribal uses of rain forest plants for producing pharmaceuticals, the fusion of indigenous rhythms into world music, or the “processing” of community practices by relatively well-off directors, curators and artists for the biennial and art festival circuit. When it comes to artist-community relations, it really doesn’t matter whether we are dealing with “minority” artists such as those involved in BAW/TAF or the directors and curators of museums and new institutional venues like inSITE. The pursuit of legitimacy for claims to represent a community adequately, that is, to exercise cultural property rights with respect to community experiences and resources, is certain to produce tensions. Native Tijuana residents, for example, have taken exception to the BAW/TAF’s representations of their experience, protesting that “these . . . people . . . have just arrived and immediately they tell us who we are, they dictate how we should discover ourselves.' It is thus clear that neither the artists in BAW/TAF, nor the directors, curators and artists participating in inSITE, are “organic” to these communities. Legitimacy can only be established by discursive strategies and when these lack verisimilitude, it may be best to take another tack.

...and Helen Escobedo’s By the Night Tide/Junto a la marea nocturna (1994), an installation on the Mexican side of the border of three wire-mesh sculptures resembling ships armed with coconut-loaded catapults, suggesting a defiant but quixotic counteroffensive against the power of the Goliath next door. Similarly, Vito Acconci’s unrealized Island on the Fence/Isla en la muralla (1997), each of whose halves was to be placed on either side of the stretch of fence that extends into the ocean, would have risen and fallen with the tide, thus constantly separating and joining the persons standing on it.

At a further remove, there were more allegorical projects like Francis Alÿs’s The Loop (1997), that avoided the border altogether. It consisted of a twenty-day trip around the world, starting in Tijuana and following a “perpendicular route away from the fence . . . heading 67º SE, NE, and SE again until meeting [the] departure point,” but on the San Diego side. What the audience got to see was documentation from his brief stopovers in airports and hotels in tourist must-visit cities. According to 1997 co-curator Olivier Debroise, there was a “very political stake” in Alÿs’s effort to not cross the border the way Mexican migrants do, going to the extent of circumnavigating the globe. For Debroise, Alÿs’ politics reside in his self-reflective cynicism. Rather than sympathize with the “wretched of the earth” by assuming their plight, Alÿs turned his gaze on himself as a relatively privileged artist who rather than parachute into a site, took a round-the-world tour. In this way, he endowed the site with spatial insinuations, particularly cosmopolitan ones, not usually associated with this border. In doing so, however, he brings us back to one of the aspects of the material conditions of inSITE that is usually lost in the various projects that commiserate and collaborate with the downtrodden or attempt to unveil the ideological underpinnings of power differentials between the two countries. Alÿs’s allusive project reminds us of the cosmopolitan character of art festivals and biennials. Cosmopolitan artists who are “in the loop,” many of whom have participated in inSITE, are commodities “‘packaged’ . . . for this new, apparently marginal, diplomatic industry called a biennial.”

...The “community-engagement” projects introduced by inSITE in 1997 have as their direct predecessors the alternative (feminist, ethnic, Marxist and other activist) practices that by the 1980s began to be incorporated into the bureaucracy of government and foundation arts departments. Diversity and multiculturalism became rallying cries for the new public art, “emphasiz[ing] Otherness, marginalization, and oppression” and questioning prevailing (andro- and Eurocentric) values and privilege. By the mid to late 1980s, the role of the artist as educator, activist and collaborator was firmly established, although the effects of this “aesthetic evangelist” role have been questioned, both for the bureaucratization that resulted from it and for the governmental or pastoral function that artists took on with respect to poor communities. Indeed, as neo-liberalism took root and the responsibility for the welfare of the population was increasingly shifted onto “civil society” (as in Bush’s Thousand Points of Light), the developed arts administration sector saw an opportunity to tap resources for the arts, claiming that they could solve America’s problems; enhance education, salve racial strife, help reverse urban blight through cultural tourism, create jobs, reduce crime, and so on.

...Outside the U.S. there are also large-scale urban art programs like Nelson Brissac’s series of City Art (Arte Cidade) projects, which, although different in scope and intention from those of Jacob, also mobilize the features of their locale (in this case the urban blight of a de-industrialized São Paulo) as a resource that elicits the intervention of artists and architects, in collaboration with researchers, communities and public authorities, to provide new mappings for a more accessible habitation in and transit through the increasingly fragmented landscape of the post-industrial megacity. It is no coincidence that many of the artists invited to inSITE in the past two versions (e.g., Krzysztof Wodiczko, Andrea Fraser, Iñigo Manglano Ovalle, Mauricio Dias and Walter Riedweg) have also participated in Jacob or Brissac’s events.

Indeed, as inSITE evolved, its focus shifted from showcasing finished works to those process-oriented projects in the 2000 version that “enlist the active participation of the public in their development” and “interweav[e] artists and works into the fabric of communities . . . sustained over an eighteen?month period.”

One of the projects that best exemplify the complex of competing agendas is Krzysztof Wodiczko’s video projection of women’s testimonials of abuse by men, managers, and officials onto the huge globe at the Centro Cultural Tijuana. According to the project description, Wodiczko sought to “give visibility and voice, through the use of advanced media technologies, to women who work in Tijuana’s maquiladora industry.” Discussing his work after the projection, Wodizcko explained that he sought to bring the privatized suffering of women into a public space controlled by class and gender hierarchies, especially in the Mexican context. This intrusion of the repressed into public space no doubt has consequences, and Wodiczko and his assistants from the inSITE staff–Cecilia Garza Bolio and Tobias Ostrander–worked with these women over a one-year period to help them develop psychologically in order to make their denunciations and face the potential repercussions.

Wodiczko’s project condensed a social justice agenda, a psychological aim, and a public stratagem into an almost surreal event in which huge distorted heads talked of private traumas in the most public monument in Tijuana. The effect was more powerful than Breton’s characterization of the intoxicating surrealist image: a dewdrop with the face of a cat. But in Wodiczko’s project, the unconscious took on a public dimension, unlike the privatized and individualized surrealist image. If Breton’s Nadja dealt with an individual madness, the madness of the women in Wodiczko’s project was a public manifestation. The effect was quite powerful.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Leafy Green Sewage - New York Times: "First, some basic facts about this usually harmless bacterium: E. coli is abundant in the digestive systems of healthy cattle and humans, and if your potato salad happened to be carrying the average E. coli, the acid in your gut is usually enough to kill it.

But the villain in this outbreak, E. coli O157:H7, is far scarier, at least for humans. Your stomach juices are not strong enough to kill this acid-loving bacterium, which is why it’s more likely than other members of the E. coli family to produce abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever and, in rare cases, fatal kidney failure.

Where does this particularly virulent strain come from? It’s not found in the intestinal tracts of cattle raised on their natural diet of grass, hay and other fibrous forage. No, O157 thrives in a new — that is, recent in the history of animal diets — biological niche: the unnaturally acidic stomachs of beef and dairy cattle fed on grain, the typical ration on most industrial farms. It’s the infected manure from these grain-fed cattle that contaminates the groundwater and spreads the bacteria to produce, like spinach, growing on neighboring farms.

In 2003, The Journal of Dairy Science noted that up to 80 percent of dairy cattle carry O157. (Fortunately, food safety measures prevent contaminated fecal matter from getting into most of our food most of the time.) Happily, the journal also provided a remedy based on a simple experiment. When cows were switched from a grain diet to hay for only five days, O157 declined 1,000-fold.

This is good news. In a week, we could choke O157 from its favorite home — even if beef cattle were switched to a forage diet just seven days before slaughter, it would greatly reduce cross-contamination by manure of, say, hamburger in meat-packing plants. Such a measure might have prevented the E. coli outbreak that plagued the Jack in the Box fast food chain in 1993.

Unfortunately, it would take more than a week to reduce the contamination of ground water, flood water and rivers — all irrigation sources on spinach farms — by the E-coli-infected manure from cattle farms.

The United States Department of Agriculture does recognize the threat from these huge lagoons of waste, and so pays 75 percent of the cost for a confinement cattle farmer to make manure pits watertight, either by lining them with concrete or building them above ground. But taxpayers are financing a policy that only treats the symptom, not the disease, and at great expense. There remains only one long-term remedy, and it’s still the simplest one: stop feeding grain to cattle.

California’s spinach industry is now the financial victim of an outbreak it probably did not cause, and meanwhile, thousands of acres of other produce are still downstream from these lakes of E. coli-ridden cattle manure. So give the spinach growers a break, and direct your attention to the people in our agricultural community who just might be able to solve this deadly problem: the beef and dairy farmers.

Nina Planck is the author of “Real Food: What to Eat and Why.’’"

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

More interesting Mumford ideas:

Lewis Mumford - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: "Necessary to the construction of these megamachines is an enormous bureaucracy of humans which act as 'servo-units', working without ethical involvement. Technological improvements such as remote control by satellite or radio, instant global communication, and assembly line organizations dampen psychological barriers inherent in every human against the end result of their actions, according to Mumford. An example which he uses throughout his works is that of Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi official who conducted many of the logistics behind the Holocaust. Mumford collectively refers to people willing to carry out placidly the extreme goals of these megamachines as 'Eichmanns'.

The clock as herald of the Industrial Revolution

One of the better-known studies of Mumford is of the way the clock was created by monks in the Middle Ages and subsequently adopted by the rest of society. He viewed this device as the key invention of the whole Industrial Revolution, contrary to the steam engine, writing: "The clock is a piece of machinery whose 'product' is seconds and minutes."

Urban civilization

In his influential book The City in History, which won the National Book Award, Mumford explores the development of urban civilizations. Harshly critical of urban sprawl, Mumford argues that the structure of modern cities is partially responsible for many social problems seen in western society. While pessimistic in tone, Mumford argues that urban planning should emphasize an organic relationship between people and their living spaces.

Mumford uses the example of the medieval city as the basis for the "ideal city", and claims that the modern city is too close to the Roman city (the sprawling megalopolis) which ended in collapse; if the modern city carries on in the same vein, Mumford argues, then it will meet the same fate as the Roman city."
An incisively critical idea on transportation in America, by Lewis Mumford, courtesy Wikipedia.

Mumford commonly criticized modern America's transportation networks as being 'monotechnic' in their reliance on cars. Automobiles become obstacles for other modes of transportation, such as walking, bicycle and light rail, because the roads they use consume so much space and are such a danger to people. Mumford explains that the thousands of maimed and dead each year as a result of automobile accidents are a 'ritual sacrifice' the American society makes because of its extreme reliance on highway transport."

Sunday, September 17, 2006

On Fair Use.

Publisher Larry Flynt made disparaging statements about the Reverend Jerry Falwell on one page of Hustler magazine. Rev. Falwell made several hundred thousand copies of the page and distributed them as part of a fund-raising effort. Courts ruled that reproducing the magazine page without permession fell into the category of Fair Use. Important factors: Rev. Falwell's copying did not diminish the sales of the magazine (since it was already off the market) and would not adversely affect the marketability of back issues. (Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Moral Majority, Inc., 606 F. Supp. 1526 (C.D. Cal. 1985).)
Excerpts from the review of Frank Rich's new book, including some insightful commentary on the machinations of the media:

The Greatest Story Ever Sold - By Frank Rich - Books - Review - New York Times: "The changing nature of gathering and publishing information has made mainstream journalists unusually defensive. That more people than ever are now able to express their views, on radio shows and Web sites, is perhaps a form of democracy, but it has undermined the authority of editors, whose expertise was meant to act as a filter against nonsense or prejudice. And the deliberate confusion, on television, of news and entertainment has done further damage.

THERE may be one other reason for the fumbling: the conventional methods of American journalism, marked by an obsession with access and quotes. A good reporter for an American paper must get sources who sound authoritative and quotes that show both sides of a story. His or her own expertise is almost irrelevant. If the opinions of columnists count for too much in the American press, the intelligence of reporters is institutionally underused. The problem is that there are not always two sides to a story. Someone reporting on the persecution of Jews in Germany in 1938 would not have added “balance” by quoting Joseph Goebbels. And besides, as Judith Miller found out, what is the good of quotes if they are based on false information?

Bob Woodward, one of Rich’s chief b�tes noires, has more access in Washington than any journalist, but the weakness of his work is that he never seems to be better than his sources. As Rich rightly observes, “reporters who did not have Woodward’s or Miller’s top-level access within the administration not only got the Iraq story right but got it into newspapers early by seeking out what John Walcott, the Knight Ridder Washington bureau chief, called ‘the blue collar’ sources further down the hierarchy.” This used to be Woodward’s modus operandi, too, in his better days. Fearing the loss of access at the top and overrating the importance of quotes from powerful people, as well as an unjustified terror of being accused of liberal bias, have crippled the press at a time when it is needed more than ever. Frank Rich is an excellent product of that press, and if it ever recovers its high reputation, it will be partly thanks to one man who couldn’t take it anymore."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A section that caught my fancy from a brief bio of Kwame Anthony Appiah:

Presidential Lectures: Kwame Anthony Appiah: "Appiah is sensitive to the risks of this advice, and his more recent work refines the position he takes in Color Conscious. Characteristic is his essay, “Liberalism, Individuality, and Identity” (2001), which examines John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859), perhaps the classic defense of autonomy from social constraint. Mill’s insistence on self-invention is close to Appiah’s own, but the personal freedom both philosophers advocate poses a pair of ethical dangers: “arbitrariness” in choosing our characters and the “unsociability of individuality.”[8] Together these threaten the human bond itself, and Appiah counters their corrosive effects by rewriting Mill. His argument is complex, following a conceptual path between romantic and existentialist notions of personal identity. But the indispensable element of Appiah’s argument is his connecting our acts of self-creation to the quality of our engagement and care of others. This reconciliation of Mill’s laissez-faire independence with the global interdependences of our postmodern condition is dazzling. Appiah summarizes his synthesis in a passage that also captures the spirit and vision of his work as a whole:

A free self is a human self, and we are, as Aristotle long ago insisted, creatures of the polis, social beings. We are social in many ways and for many reasons: because we desire company, because we depend on one another for survival, because so much that we care about is collectively created.[9]"

Monday, September 04, 2006

An editorial from the New York Times outlines the ulterior motives behind recent Congressional designations of millions of acres of land to be permanent wilderness.

True Wilderness, and False - New York Times: "Under the radar, Congress has been quietly adding to the nation’s inventory of protected wilderness. In three bills approved by both houses and signed by President Bush, the 109th Congress has awarded wilderness designation to 11,000 acres of canyonland and desert in New Mexico, 10,000 acres of rain forest in Puerto Rico and 100,000 acres in the Cedar Mountains of Utah.

Four more wilderness bills have cleared one house or the other, and when approved will add another 750,000 acres of wilderness in California, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. More such bills are waiting in the Congressional wings.

The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits all commercial activity — roads, buildings, logging, drilling — in areas designated as wilderness, the highest level of protection given to any public lands, including the national parks. Congress has designated roughly 106 million acres as permanent wilderness, more than half of it in Alaska.

This is not to say that all wilderness bills are free of low motives and commercial intent. One particularly distasteful example is a bill introduced by Senator Robert Bennett and Representative Jim Matheson of Utah. It would sell off 40 square miles of federal land to private developers in Washington County, the fifth-fastest-growing county in the country and already something of a monument to suburban sprawl and strip development. In exchange, it offers wilderness protection to about 220,000 acres.

Wilderness bills often involve land swaps — small amounts of land for commercial purposes in exchange for lots more permanent wilderness — and the Utah deal would seem to fit the pattern. It doesn’t. First, about half the proposed wilderness is already protected. Second, some of the proceeds would go not for local conservation projects but for off-road vehicle trails and, most alarming, for a 120-mile pipeline to draw water from Lake Powell, which is already stressed by undisciplined development. Third, there has been little public input. Finally, there appears to be plenty of private land available to satisfy the county’s insatiable needs.

This is, in short, a raid on national resources aimed at helping private developers. It is the worst sort of Congressional earmarking. And it gives true wilderness bills a reputation they do not deserve.
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